What do you do when faced with tough decisions?
Many of us feel worried, anxious, overwhelmed or even paralyzed because we imagine what might happen if things do not work out as planned. On the one hand, we’d like to commit to a decision and move forward, but on the other hand, we often do not feel congruent. This inner conflict is especially common when navigating rapid change without sufficient guidance or certainty.
If you perceive, at a conscious or subconscious level, that your decision could lead some threat, danger or loss, you are biologically wired to resist the change. Why is that?
Contrary to what you might believe, you make most of your decisions at a subconscious (emotional) level, and the corresponding pattern of neural signals then travels from the heart to the brain, where you get to apply logic and justify the decision with your conscious mind. So, whenever there is a battle between emotion and logic, emotion always wins. Therefore, it is important to become conscious of those subconscious thought patterns that might lead you to resist making decisions.
Here’s a simple tool that I use with clients and myself to uncover potential resistance to change so decisions can be made with even more ease. It is a set of four questions that you can ask to explore new options and the potential consequences of your decisions. They are called Cartesian questions because they are based on Cartesian logic.
These questions offer powerful linguistic patterns that challenge your thinking, uncover limiting mindsets (beliefs) and allow you to perceive your decision from different angles for greater clarity and certainty.
The questions are as follows. The letter “X” is the possibility that you are exploring, such as starting a business, taking on a different role, hiring a new team member, traveling to Europe or purchasing a home.
1. What will happen if you do ‘X’?
This first question helps you brainstorm what you expect will (or might) happen if you move forward with an intention. For example, starting a business can lead to higher income potential, flexible lifestyle, decision-making authority and the ability to pursue an idea or follow one’s passion. On the flip side, the person might have to invest their savings to launch the business, which can be risky. Give yourself time to explore all the possible responses to this question.
2. What won’t happen if you do ‘X’?
This question clarifies those things that you believe will (or might) not happen if you follow through with the possibility. It is a powerful question because it uncovers the perceived losses that might not otherwise be conscious. This is important because the perception of a potential threat or danger could lead to self-sabotage. By becoming aware of these underlying thoughts, you can choose to shift those thought patterns into more empowering mindsets. For instance, in the example of starting a business, a person might believe that starting a business will lead to not having enough time with their family or to invest in their health. On the flip side, they will not have to continue with their current situation or wonder, “What if?” You get the idea.
3. What will happen if you don’t do ‘X’?
Asking this question often leads to an emotional response because it requires us to perceive our future reality as if nothing changes (i.e., if we maintain the status quo). You get to examine the truth of the situation. There will be negatives and positives. For instance, in the example of starting a business, not taking an action might lead to a feeling of dissatisfaction or of giving up. On the other hand, this question could also invite us to consider new options that we had not yet considered, such as creating a transition plan to set us up for success. The important thing here is simply to capture all of your responses without needing to make sense of them yet. Allow yourself to imagine the possibilities.
4. What won’t happen if you don’t do ‘X’?
This question requires you to consider what won’t happen if you stick with the status quo. It can be a bit confusing because it is a double negative and might appear to invite the same responses as the first question. However, exploring possibilities from this unique angle can lead to ideas that you had not previously thought of.
It is best to ask these questions in the order presented and to capture your responses on paper. After asking each one, go even deeper by asking, “And what else?” to become aware of even more outcomes and possibilities. If you are deciding between more than one possibility, you can explore each of the four questions for every alternative.
As you explore your responses to the Cartesian questions, consider the possibility that the potential upside/downside will actually occur, and come up with ways to mitigate the potential risks. Then, select the option that provides you with the greatest amount of certainty so that you can feel the highest degree of safety. When you do so, you’ll feel more congruent to commit to that decision because your conscious and subconscious minds are more aligned.
Take your time when doing this powerful exercise. It is beneficial to come back to these simple questions several times to explore new possibilities and insights before making a decision. Some of my clients came up with innovative solutions that they had not considered before. Some became conscious of limiting beliefs that were holding them back, which allowed us to do work to release those beliefs so they can release that resistance to change and feel more congruent moving forward.
This is a fantastic tool to use with others at work or in your personal life to facilitate problem-solving and invite people to think beyond their self-imposed boundaries.
Feel free to leave a comment and share this article if you found it to be helpful. If you’re curious to learn about my coaching programs or live workshops on the topics of mindset, resilience, and peak-performance, feel free to visit my website at www.veredkogan.com or reach out directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.