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A Guide to Making Hard Decisions

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
1 min read

A difficult decision is a wretched thing. It’s agonizing. It uncomfortably gnaws at my worst inclination to assume catastrophe. Often, these decisions feel to me like I need to choose between the North and South Pole: they couldn’t be more opposite.

Two things to point out about this.

Number 1: It Shouldn’t Be So Sard
I was offered a job out of grad school that seemed like a dream come true. It came with a wonderful title, good pay, and authority and autonomy that I didn’t deserve at the time. But there were some serious red flags about the company, its leadership, and its prospects in the near future. My gut told me that I shouldn’t take the job. I spoke to a friend, seeking his counsel, and he said something really wise to me:

This is a great opportunity. But if you really wanted the job, it wouldn’t be a hard decision.

Well said. And the company folded less than 12 months later.

I was right to not take the job, and I’ve since resolved to listen to my gut when making hard decisions.

Number 2: There Are Always More Options
I tend to artificially limit the choices in front of me. And that boils down to two options like “make a change” or “don’t make a change.” Said differently: this, or that.

There are more than two choices, though.

Each choice has variations, and there’s a whole set of outcomes or choices that have yet to be considered.

Instead of setting up a false dichotomy – a common flaw in decision-making – I sit down and think about the other options I haven’t considered. Some people are better at this than others. It doesn’t come naturally to me at all, so it takes some labor and intention to do the exercise.

I also make a lot of common cognitive distortions that lead to assumptions that further limit my choices. You know, since I’m a mind reader, I don’t need to consider all alternatives because I know what everyone else is thinking. It’s hard work being this wise, especially because I’m wrong so much.

Better Decisions
I spend a lot of my time studying why people do the things they do. Making hard decisions isn’t easy, so making better ones is a good place to start.

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