A Guide to Making Decisions

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  • South Africa

Author:  Pierre du Plessis

Decision making can be daunting (just choosing a type of peanut butter in the grocery store can be a mammoth task), yet if we are to move forward in life and business we need to make decisions, and we need to make good ones if we are to navigate this chaotic world properly.

In order to choose well we need a process that is more than flipping a coin – although flipping a coin is not actually that bad of an idea, because for that brief moment when the coin is in the air you actually know what you really want 🙂

Luckily there are other processes and practices that people have been using for centuries. These here are mine, which is a combo of Tony Robbins, St Ignatius and Ikigai… (strange but true).

What are your options?

First list your options. Sounds simple, right? This is where most of us get trapped. If you are like me, you’ll get stuck on one option and the decision is something like:

Either do X or not, take the new job or stay where you are, marry the girl or stay single.

One option isn’t a decision. It is much more difficult to choose between something and nothing, than choosing between two somethings. Take the new job OR reinvent the one you have, marry the girl OR move to another city, or marry another girl ;). And two options function more like a dilemma, a rock and a hard place, three or more are ideal.

To recap: X or not isn’t a decision, X or Y is a dilemma, but X or Y or Z… now we are talking.

What do you need to choose between? Sit down, WITH a pen and paper (this can’t be figured out in your head) and put down your options. Keep going till you have at least three good ones.

. . . but wait, why?

Often the decision we are trying to make is a symptom of something else. We want a new job because we can’t handle conflict at our current one. Perhaps we should rather dig into why we can’t handle conflict, before making massive decisions?

What is the question that really needs answering?

This will take some work and by work, I mean get out that pen and paper and start getting those thoughts out and down. The decisions that we need to make or the need to change something in our lives almost always has to do with something else.

This is really about that.

Are you asking the right questions, why are you even considering the new job? Is there a deeper change that needs to happen, deeper decisions that need to be taken in order to initiate that change?

Do the lists

Once you have identified your options (you need at least two, preferably three or more) and you have figured out the motivation behind the decision, the next step is to list pros and cons. This might seem tedious and even childish, but it is a necessary part.

St. Ignatius teaches that when we list the pros and cons, we need to list both on all options. Not all the pros on option A and all the cons on option B but pros and cons on each option. In order to make a wise decision you need both on both. Take proper time to think (and write) through them, speak to your partner, your family, your friends, ask advice, do research and dig as deep as you can.

Do this, again, with a pen and paper.

Use your imagination

If you still can’t decide, try this method. Two great practices using your imagination to help you decide.

Ignatius believed that our imaginations are where we meet the divine. Whether you believe that or not using your imagination can be a powerful tool to you help you make a difficult decision.

Here are two exercises you can do using your imagination,

First, imagine that a stranger comes to you and asks for your advice. They need to make the exact same decision you need to make, they tell you all about it in detail, why they are considering each option and what the pros and cons are. What would you say, what advice would you give this stranger? Pull up two chairs, even make two cups of coffee, and start talking, the more real you make this, the better. Tony Robbins would ask, “but if you did know the answer, what would that answer be?”

Second, imagine that you are at the end of your life, how would you feel about this decision looking back? You can even go and lie down as if on your deathbed, to add extra kick into the exercise.

Make the decision, in secret.

If you are still not clear about which road to take here is one last exercise. Make the decision but don’t tell anyone about it (I literally learnt this from a nun about 10 years ago).

Choose one of the options, and decide to follow that path, but don’t tell anyone and feel what that feels like. Run with it for a week or so.

One writer asks, does it feel like water dripping onto a sponge or water hitting a stone? For me, a wrong decision feels like a sweater that is too small, and even itchy. Whereas the right decision fits perfectly, feels warm and comforting.

Then after a week, choose the other option, and feel what that feels like. Does it offer consolation or desolation, is it moving you closer to a whole life or further from it?


I believe the key to continually make good decisions is to continually be aware of your own experience of everything in your everyday.

How do feel about what just happened?

What was good or bad today?

What were you grateful for and what not?

Does it feel like a good sweater or a bad one?

Recording these experiences daily in a journal will be insanely helpful to identify patterns long before you need to make a decision. It will also help you to lean into the right decision, for you, daily.

Imagine being able to make a thousand good decisions for the rest of the year, what would your life look like at the end of the year?


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