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My Favorite Easy (and Free) Decision-Making Tool

One of the most common struggles I hear is around decision making. Our daily lives are full of small choices, most of which we navigate effortlessly. Navy dress or black pants. Hair down or pulled up. Make the bed or leave it undone. Salad or sandwich for lunch.

To foster positive habits, experts advocate you pre-plan healthy decisions. Put your jogging gear by the bed so you’re reminded first thing to get up and go for that run. Make a fruit salad the night before to have for breakfast with yogurt. Block time off on your calendar to prioritize your most important tasks for the week. By reducing in-the-moment decision making, these rituals, repeated often enough, can become automatic healthy habits.

Of course, we’ll also face more difficult choices that, on their own, have long-lasting consequences. Should I relocate for a better job? Should I buy this condo or stay in my rental apartment? Should I let go of this toxic friend? These decisions will require more time, analysis, and introspection.

But what if you’ve done all the research and reflection and you’re still torn?

I’ll give you an example. My client Mary had the opportunity to join a board that would provide new connections and experiences, with an organization that matched her philanthropic goals. At the same time, this position required her to commit to a substantial donation, would take up time she wanted to invest in a career change, and would be reporting to a leader with inconsistent communication skills.

Mary had written down the pros and cons; she’d done the SWOT analysis; yet she was still unsure. After talking it through, I suggested we try a simple tool. I took out a quarter and explained that I’d be flipping a coin to make the decision for her (we were having a phone session). She was game. I asked her to designate which side would lead to which decision: She said heads meant she’d join the board, tails she’d decline the position.

I flipped the coin and announced the quarter had landed on tails (it really did). Then I immediately asked her how she felt. She sighed and said, “relieved.” We talked about her feelings and her thinking. I wanted to make sure that fear was not a driver and that this was indeed the best decision for her. For the first time, Mary was confident it was.

Now you’ve probably guessed that the coin toss is not intended to leave your decision to chance. Instead, the idea is to tap into your intuition. You can do all the analysis you want but if you’re stuck, one way out is to go right brain and check in with your gut. What are you feeling deep in your body? If the tails result had caused Mary to feel “disappointed,” for example, this would have been a clue that deep down she really wanted to figure out a way to join this board. Then we’d have worked to see how we could make the board position work for her—including challenging some of the parameters she was given.

While I don’t advise making important decisions with the flip of a coin, it’s a very helpful tool to use when you’re feeling really stuck.

YOUR TURN: Facing a difficult decision? Try the coin toss method now. How do you feel?

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