Today is all about the 5 Steps to making aligned decisions, even when all the options suck.
This is a continuation of my last episode, titled how to handle unexpected change and come out better than before. In that episode I discussed how the nature of my relationship with a professional organization changed which required me to make a decision to continue that relationship or end it. The details of that situation are contained within that episode so if you would like to hear more about what happened I suggest listening to that first because it provides some context to this week’s episode.
This week I’m going to share how I used my own aligned decision making process to make my final decision.
My particular situation involved what felt like two crummy options, which made it harder for me to figure out what I really wanted. Not all tough decisions are surrounded by challenging circumstances.
Deciding between two amazing options can be just as difficult as deciding between two awful ones. The process I’m describing today will help you become better at making aligned decisions when there is not an obvious winner among the choices.
To begin the process of making a decision, it’s important to do a self check and become aware of our mental state before we evaluate the options. It’s best to feel centered, confident or even empowered when we are reviewing each choice. This is important because when we feel this way our brain is able to evaluate the options from a place of objectivity. That allows us to clearly see possible desired outcomes of each choice without getting caught up in the emotional anguish of undesired outcomes.
For me and my decision to remain connected to that professional organization or to walk away from it, I reached the state of empowerment when I realized that my success was inevitable regardless of which choice I made. The decision at this point was actually about how I wanted that success to happen. Again, you can learn more about the process I used to reached the point of empowerment in the previous episode which will be linked in the show notes.
The next time you’re faced with a tough decision, start by doing a quick check of your emotional state. Make sure you’re at least in a place of neutral emotions before you begin with Step 1.
STEP 1: Narrow the options to only 2 choices
Now that we’ve checked in to see how we’re feeling, we are ready to begin the process of actually making a decision. The very first thing we must do, Step 1, is to eliminate the options down to only two choices.
The reason we do this is to avoid information overload. When confronted with too many variables and too many outcomes our brain goes into overwhelm. In order to allow our mind to fully explore the options, we must constrain them down to two.
It’s been my experience with myself and my clients, that this is usually pretty easy to do. Third and fourth options tend to be outliers and not real contenders.
If you find that you absolutely cannot eliminate some to end up at 2 choices, here’s what to do. Pick 2 of the choices and pit them against each other using the decision making process I’m describing in this episode. Then take the winner and pit it against the next option and go back through this process. Continue with a process of elimination to get to your final decision.
For the decision I had to make, I only had two choices. Did I want to continue my professional affiliation with this company and forfeit future business opportunities or did I want to discontinue my relationship with them and forfeit current business opportunities? Those were my choices.
STEP 2: Explore the options independently
This is the point where most people with two choices would bust out their notepad and start writing a pros and cons list. Then they try to do side by side comparisons of the lists. This is a great first try and if it gets you to an answer, then by all means follow that.
Often we don’t get to our answer this way and may even end up more confused. We start to think, “This one will give me this but that one will give me that” and our brain spirals into infinite loops that consumes a lot of time but does not bring us closer to a decision.
Step 2 is where we begin to evaluate each option separately. No more comparing the two because we are going to go deep into each of the choices.
In this step we start by taking each option and we extrapolating it out to the extremes. We ask ourselves questions to explore the worst case scenarios. Questions such as, “if everything goes wrong, what does the end result look like?” or “what is the worst possible thing that can happen?”
It may seem counterintuitive to talk about the awful things first, but there’s a reason why we begin here. We explore the worst-case scenario because unacknowledged fear creates indecision. We are so worried about the bad things coming true that we won’t entertain the idea of what those things actually are. That’s why this decision making process works…because we face fear head on.
Here’s how the worst-case scenario looked for me. If I decided to continue my professional relationship with this organization and agree to their terms, I would be limited in the types of products and services that I can create for my audience and customers. If they desired those types of products, and their needs are going unmet, it’s likely they would go elsewhere. It’s reasonable to assume that they would turn to other coaches because those coaches would not have these limitations. They could provide products and services that I could not.
Now, I’m not worried about my clients going to another coach. I truly believe that if I’m not the right person then they should by all means find the person who is the right person for them. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much we like someone, if we have a problem that we want solved, we will find someone to solve it.
In my mind I imagined it’s like wanting someone to hang a piece of artwork in your home. If you have a phenomenal handyman who can do anything but she’s contractually not allowed to use a hammer, when it comes time to hang that art, you’re going to find a person who can use a hammer, even if that person is not your first choice.
This is what Choice 1 would create for me. It would be limiting my options in creating products and offers that serve my audience, both now and in the future.. There are financial and creative implications to this. My ability to meet the needs of the women I help would be restricted, my business would be negatively impacted financially and I as the visionary would be creatively stifled. The external and internal limitations could possibly stall my business to the point that it failed entirely.
That’s the worst case scenario for option 1.
My second option is to discontinue my professional relationship and give up the opportunities it provides in my business right now. I would feel the effects of this almost immediately. I would no longer be considered for certain paid opportunities, I would lose the publicity they provided, and access to exclusive workshops, trainings, and mentors. Essentially, I would trade pre-packaged opportunities for creating my own opportunities. If I am unable to create equivalent opportunities for myself, my business could sputter out and die.
In both cases, the worst case scenario was having to close the doors on my dream. If you’re thinking, that I’m really stretching it here. that’s the point of this exercise. Get into the extremes. Allow your mind to generate all the drama and doomsday scenarios it wants. This step is about acknowledging our worst fears.
That’s when we have to ask ourselves a question that only we can answer…what am I actually trying to avoid?
When I reached this point in my decision making process, the answer was immediately obvious to me. Based on the worst-case scenarios, you might think I was trying to avoid the failure of my business. That’s not what came to me when I asked this question. I realized that my brain was doing everything it could to avoid one singular emotion: REGRET.
Regret is something I am quite familiar with. I was afraid that I would one day look back and regret the choice I made. I won’t go into my experiences with overcoming regret or how I specifically coached myself through it when making this decision because it will derail this episode. I will say that the fear of regret in the future will zap your confidence in the present moment.
Here’s what you should know when you ask yourself the question “what am I trying to avoid?” Regardless of what answer you land on, your brain will do crazy things to avoid whatever it is.
That’s because our mind is biologically wired for certainty. It wants certainty that things will work out for the best and the fears will not come true. In entrepreneurship, and even in all of life, certainty is an illusion. That doesn’t make our brain want it less but it does mean that we don’t have to respond to the mental drama it creates when we can’t have it.
Knowing that I couldn’t have certainty but that I could chose to let go of my worst fear, regret, I knew it was time to move on to the next Step: Deciding
STEP 4: DECIDING
Now that we’ve spent some time exploring what we are avoiding, it’s time to discover what we are pursuing. This is where between our two choices, we imagine the other extreme. The best possible scenario for each one. You may be tempted to skip over the detailed exploration of how it would look if everything went perfectly, but go as deep here as you did on the worst case scenario. What does your business actually look like as you live with the best outcome of each choice? And once you’ve explored that, ask yourself the opposite question from before – what am I pursuing?
When I explored my future business, with its thriving community of women entrepreneurs inside a truly supportive environment, being the head of a dream team that would make The Avengers jealous, I imagined how it looked and felt with each choice.
In the choice where I did not continue the professional relationship, stepping into that future, I felt completely autonomous. I imagined how fun it would be to always live in the creative space of exploring how I can help women entrepreneurs. Living in the space of possibility and unlimited options felt free and exciting.
For the other choice where I continued the professional relationship, I imagined having the same successful community and amazing team, but my relationship with this organization looked different. I was no longer dependent on them to provide publicity or opportunity. I was creating it on my own. Their role in my business was minimal. Except for one detail – I was bound to an agreement that limited my ability to serve my audience in certain, clearly defined ways. This choice felt equally exciting, but it did not feel free. It felt like I was trapped by a glass ceiling that I created when I agreed to maintain my association with an organization who didn’t even fit into the big picture.
I would love to say that this is the point where I made my decision to threw my middle fingers up in the air, turn my back on that organization, and live happily ever after.
That’s not what happened. My brain freaked out and started backpedaling on what I knew was the right choice. I’m not surprised by this…my brain can be quite predictable when I take the time to notice it’s patterns.
Here’s our real growth opportunity. It’s a chance to really take the time to understand ourselves at the deepest level. I walk myself through a series of questions that are designed to help me discover what I truly want for myself. I’ll go through them now but you can also find a link to them in the show notes.
Here are the questions I ask myself when I think about the option I know want to choose but still feel uncertain about fully committing to the choice.
What emotion is driving this choice?
Where does this choice fall relative to my values?
Am I trying to find an elevator?
What would I choose if I wasn’t afraid of either outcome?
What is the decision in its simplest form?
First I ask: What emotion is driving this choice? We can pursue emotions or we can avoid them. This distinction is the difference between feeling empowered by our choice and feeling trapped by it.
Then, where does this choice fall relative to my core values? We apply this same question to our Entrepreneur Identity and the overarching Vision we have for our business. Taking an aligned choice, even if it’s not the choice we would prefer, will always lead us to creating a life and business that is right for us.
The next question is one that I struggle with often – am I trying to find an elevator to success? What makes this hard for me is that I can sometimes want to bypass the work and effort but still want to get the results as if I hadn’t. I’ve said it time and time again, there is no elevator to the top, you have to take the stairs. If we’re trying to buy a shortcut, we may actually be buying disappointment.
Now that we’ve called out a few emotional sticking points, let’s move on to the next question: What would I choose if I wasn’t afraid of either outcome? This is a gut check question. Pay attention to your very first instinctive response. If there’s too much going on in your mind, have someone else ask you this question. You can ask them to phrase it as a yes/no question “Would I choose Option A if I wasn’t afraid of the outcome?” Listen for that very quiet nudge that tells you yes or no.
If you’re still on the fence with fully embracing your decision, there is one more thing you can do to help you get clear. You can make the decision, start taking action, and give yourself permission to reevaluate it in 24 hours. There are a couple of key details here. When you decide you’re going to practice living with the decision, you have to start taking action. It can be an action that is reversible but you do have to take some type of action to allow your brain to get comfortable with living with the decision. The second part of this is that you cannot reevaluate the decision until after the 24 hours is up. You go all in for 24 hours. After that, you can explore what new thoughts and perspectives showed up.
STEP 5: COMMIT
The last step seems obvious but like everything else its not as simple as it seems. Once we land on our choice, it’s time to commit. There are 2 commitments we must make.
The first is to make a promise to ourselves that we will make the absolute best out of the choice we’ve made. That means going all in on the decision. We’re agreeing to look for the upside and embrace whatever benefit it may offer.
The second is to commit to giving ourselves grace with whatever happens. There’s a level of comfort in knowing that we’ve done the best we can with what we knew at the time. That’s why we must leave no room for regret but lots of space for compassion.
As for me, I decided to walk away from my relationship with that organization. As I asked myself the questions I mentioned above, I realized something significant about the difference between the two options. Staying meant I was letting an external outcome create an internal shift. Leaving meant I would make an internal shift to create an external outcome.
I firmly believe that success is made from the inside out. I believe this with every ounce of my being. If I’m going to make my big, bold audacious dreams a reality, I have to start with the internal shift.
And to be fully transparent, I knew this was the right choice from the beginning. And I’m willing to bet that 9 out of 10 times, you do too. So often we override that initial knowledge because we are either afraid of the consequences of the decision or we feel like we need a reason to justify our choice.
Sometimes, even once I know the right decision, my brain likes to revisit old talking points and choose to be confused and uncertain. When this happens, I remind myself that my brain is doing what it’s biologically programmed to do, present fear in an effort to keep me safe.
In one last attempt to appease my mind, I always try one more thing. I reevaluate the decision by narrowing it down to its simplest form. I do this by asking myself, “what am I really deciding here?” In this case, my decision boiled down to one question, “Do I accept these terms and conditions?”
The answer to that simple question is No, I don’t.
With that, the mind drama ended and I felt an overwhelming sense of peace about the choice.
As of this recording, some time has passed since I made the decision to no longer connect myself to that particular organization. In reflecting back, I can see that my decision allowed me to step into the next best version of myself. Deciding from a place of empowerment has created in me a new level of confidence and self-reliance. I have a different kind of energy that I can’t fully describe.
This isn’t to say it’s all sunshine and roses. The fear of missing out is very real for me, especially when my peers talk about new training opportunities and future in-person events they’re planning to attend. But I know that the choice I made is without a doubt the right one for me so the FOMO never lasts long. I feel a level of self-trust that I’ve never experienced before.
When it comes time for you to make a decision between two options where there is no clear cut winner, I hope you’ll take the time to go through this 5 step process. Let your mind have the opportunity to explore, question, and freak out. Follow your curiosity and honor your intuition. But more than anything, I hope that you’ll remember to trade regret for compassion and know that you are doing the best you can. That’s all you can ever ask of yourself.
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