Success Strategies - October/November - 2020

How to Make Important Decisions

Is it time to move to a new location? A new state? Who should I vote for – the person or the positions? Should I hire or replace some people soon? Am I having fun yet?

In the wake of COVID-19, many of you are considering new strategies and other significant life decisions. Consequently, I’ve decided to expand on my article that appeared in the September 2017 issue of GEARS, titled Yes or No. I think the points in that article are worth repeating, and I’ll also include some helpful “how to tips” to demonstrate some ways to do it.

My colleague, former neighbor, and friend, Spencer Johnson, M.D., was a famous author. His many books included: The One Minute Manager (co-authored with Ken Blanchard), The Present, The One Minute Salesperson, Who Moved My Cheese, and Yes or No, The Guide to Better Decisions.

Spencer and I often collaborated about big ideas and important things. I remember one time while he was living in Hawaii, I stopped in for a visit. He gave me a manuscript of his then-upcoming book, Yes or No, and asked me for comments on it.

I took it with me to where we stayed on the “Big Island” and read it thoroughly. When I called him with some suggestions, he said, “These are the best ideas I’ve gotten from any of my other amazing colleagues! Would you come back, spend a week at my home here on the beach, and help me finish the manuscript?”

Of course, I said yes. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work side-by-side with one of the world’s most successful writers. During that inspiring week, we explored ideas, tested processes, and applied every aspect of the decision-making model described in his book. I left Hawaii excited about this better way to make important choices.

Here’s the gist of the model. Separate your main decision into two smaller ones – a practical decision and a personal decision. This article will share some of the basic principles for applying the Yes or No decision-making process. However, I highly recommend that you take it deeper by reading this entertaining book, Yes or No, The Guide to Better Decisions, A Story.

First, select a challenging decision that you’re facing today. It could be a life choice, a career strategy, a big opportunity, or a difficult situation. This step is crucial; so, choose something to think about as you read the rest of this article. Stop now and write it down.

Okay. We know that everyone has the capacity for both emotion and logic. Still, many don’t seem to use them to their greatest advantage. Our feelings often get in the way of our reasoning, and sometimes, our reasoning is blind to our feelings. The best decisions somehow reconcile both sides of that coin.

When decisions are based only in logic, we often can’t make an emotional commitment to the decision. Likewise, decisions that are purely emotional are often illogical and fail to produce the intended results. So, let’s separate them. We’ll consult our head for the practical decisions and our heart for the personal decisions. Once we’ve done that, we can reasonably and emotionally commit to the decision. There are basically three questions for your head and your heart. Ask your head these practical questions:

  1. Am I focused on the real need or problem – not just the symptom, but the underlying cause as well? Distinguish whether this is a want or a real need? Wants are generally, but not always, associated with feelings while needs are practical.
  2. Have I considered all the options? Is more research needed to check out other factors and possibilities? What information could help with understanding this?
  3. Have I thought this through to a “good, better, best” result? Think about what will happen next, then next, and so on…

Now, ask your heart the personal questions:

  1. Am I really telling myself the truth? Am I being brutally honest with myself?
  2. How does this feel to me? Can I trust my “gut” intuition, or is there something about it that bothers me?
  3. Does my decision show that I respect myself? Am I making a decision that says, “I deserve this,” or am I making too great of a compromise?

To get a better handle on how it works, let’s apply this to a potential real-life situation. You can use the one you’ve already written down, but here’s a sample.

Assume that you are 65 years old and you’ve had a good run in the transmission business. Your shop is respected, and your people are good at their jobs, but new investments in technology and training will be required to keep your shop competitive. You could probably find someone to buy you out and spend your “golden years” doing what old people do. But you still love what you do, and at the same time, you have a lot more life to live – I mean, LIVE, not just journey through it. How’s your health, and do you or will you have enough money to last you? There are still dragons to slay, mountains to climb, and cool things to do that you’ve never done. Hell, you’ve got a dumpster-sized “bucket list” of “not done yets” to still get done! Which direction will you choose? Well, let’s consider what your head and your heart have to say about it.

Head/Practical Decision

  1. What’s the real need? Happiness, security, finances, respect among your peers, self-fulfillment, wealth, stature, family? Remember, this is your practical side. Ask what you really need and not what you really want?
  2. What are your options? Think outside your familiar box. Could you repurpose your business or career to pursue a different path utilizing the same knowledge, skills, and relationship foundations? Are there others you could align with to help carry the ball? What else could you do?
  3. Then what? If you did one of these other things, what would happen next? How about next year, and the year after that? How would it affect other people? What would your colleagues and trusted friends say? As Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working for you?”

Heart/Personal Decision

  1. Is this really what you want? Ask yourself, “Am I telling myself the truth, or am I still trying to impress my mentors, or please my parents, or avoid conflict with my spouse?”
  2. Assume that you’ve made this choice. Now, describe how you feel about it. Does it get you excited and optimistic about what’s next, or do you feel a bit of dread or numbness? What does your gut tell you about this choice?
  3. Ask yourself, “Do I respect myself enough to go for better or even best? Am I making a noble decision that I’ll feel good about long after, or am I making a compromise that I’ll reflect on with regret? Will I avoid ever saying, “If only I had done this or that, instead. Things would have been so different.”

Once you’ve written out your answers to these six questions, you should have enough information to make a preliminary decision. So, make it. Don’t act on it yet but make it – just choose!

Now, look at your choice as though you’d already taken the action step. How does it feel to you? Would you like to make a different decision? You can, you know. If there’s something you don’t like about this choice, then simply make another choice. It’s not too late because you haven’t acted on it yet.

Someone told me that Sigmund Freud would sometimes flip a coin to make a decision. Then he’d look at the outcome and ask himself how he felt about that choice. If he didn’t like the feeling, then he’d go with the other option.

Remember, it’s your choice, you’re making the decision, you can change it if you like. Hopefully, this process will help you make better decisions. May all your decisions be right and feel right for you.


Jim Cathcart is a Mentor to High Achievers. He works with people who have decided to succeed and helps them refine their strategies and to succeed even faster. As the author of 20 books and a veteran of 3,300 professional speeches around the world, he brings a perspective that very few can. Contact him at info@cathcart.com or StartUpAgain.Me to see if you qualify to join one of his small group mentoring programs. Jim has been a friend of ATRA and GEARS for more than a decade. He’s a car guy and a motorcycle enthusiast when he’s not jogging.