Sometimes it’s hard to come up with ideas, we struggle to get our creative juices flowing to find ways to solve our problems. But what about the times when we have the exact opposite problem? We have two or more really good ideas (or goals) and cannot commit to both (or all). We need to pick only one!
A lot of people when faced with indecision just procrastinate and avoid choosing anything. We have these great ideas, but we know the moment we make a decision we are giving up awesome things we thought about but won’t be able to commit to. But we’re greedy! We don’t want to let go of our good ideas! What if I end up making the wrong choice? Will I have the chance to go back and use one of the other ideas instead? Will it be too late?
It’s interesting that there’s a lot of help out there to get us set goals, be more creative and have great ideas, but close to nothing on how to pick the right one once we come up with a plethora of options.
The thing is, sometimes each idea or goal would lead us to a completely different result. When we think about it, we find out we actually fancy them all. We would like the result A, but we would also like as much the results B and C. Committing to A means we are (probably) permanently letting go of the possibilities that B and C will ever come true. I’m jealous of those practical types that can just decide on a whim and feel at peace about all the possible futures left behind. I can be practical in some ways, but when it comes to ideas, I want it all! An idea is one of my babies, it came out of me! I don’t want to let go of it!
Sometimes the problem is the insecurity of making a wrong choice. Is it possible that B is the only way to solve this problem and A and C would lead me to failure? How can foretell for sure which idea is the one that will lead me to success on this matter?
The reality is, we don’t have the time to dedicate to every idea and goal we envision, also sometimes, when we try one possible solution to a problem, that’s it, there’s no second chance. For those times, making the right choice is crucial, the other options will have to be abandoned.
Being a goal glutton as I am, I had developed a system to deal with those dreaded moments when I have to play Highlander with my goals and ideas.
Beforehand, you should define some “big stones” that will guide any decision-making process:
– What is the main issue that you trying to solve?
When we start brainstorming ideas, sometimes we get so excited by the process and the imagination of them coming true that we lose focus of what exactly we are trying to solve in the first place. Writing it down and keeping it at hand at all times when thinking about what to do helps us to avoid “great ideas” that are awesome, but don’t solve our main problem.
– How important is this decision to you?
It’s important to define the importance of this matter to you! Very often when we spend too much time thinking about one particular problem, we start overvaluing it and when we do that we stress about the outcome way more than we should. Making it clear how relevant it really is helps us to keep our mind focused on the solution, not the what ifs that haunt us when we place a heavy value on the success of the goal.
Also, thinking about how important the issue is, helps when we’re thinking about the resources that will have to be allocated to put the ideas into place. The less important, the less resources it deserves. Why put a lot of money, time and other resources into something that you don’t even care that much about? But if you don’t think about it, you might do just that!
– What do you want out of life?
That’s a tricky question, of course! A lot of people have no idea. A lot of people will change that answer every few years. It’s normal, it’s ok. But it’s also important to think a little bit about the big picture of your life in perspective of the problem you’re trying to solve and the ideas you have come up with to achieve the solution.
Sometimes great ideas will demand so much effort (or other resources) that will drag us far away from what we imagine our lives in the future, even if we don’t have a crystal clear picture of it. We usually have a pretty good idea of what we like and what our preferences are, as well as the type of personality that we have and our tendencies. That actually paints a very good picture of our future!
We are not going to change our personality, our tendencies, our preferences and predilections. We are who we are. We are not going to be different in the future. Whatever we build, conquer and achieve will have to adapt to the way we are. So even if you can’t think about your life in terms of “big picture”, try to see yourself and think about your ideas and possible goals in this light.
– What are the priorities in your life NOW?
Maybe the previous question got you to think about your life in terms of big goals and achievements, your personality and the way you are.
But you need to make a decision right now and right at the moment you have priorities that may not fit with this big picture, but are there anyway.
When we’re thinking about ideas and goals it’s just too easy to forget about the present moment and just think about how that solution will fit into our future lives. If you reach a decision with this mindset you are at risk of failing because that great idea that you had doesn’t fit your life right now. You can’t put it into practice or it demands resources that will strain your other current priorities.
You should write those answers down and keep it in sight when brainstorming and thinking about the next questions that are related to each specific idea and goal that you’re trying to analyse:
1. Cost of opportunity
In business school we learn that to pick the best possible solution, we need to analyse ideas and opportunities based on its cost. This cost, however, is not only financial (or at all).
An opportunity’s cost is how much the chosen idea is worth in comparison to what I lose by not choosing the other options. The best way to understand this concept is by thinking about money investments: if I have the opportunity of investing an X amount of money on a new business that yields an ROI (return on investment) of 10% per year (A) or on a passive financial investment on the market that returns 12% a year (B), my cost of opportunity will be the loss of money if I choose A or B. B yields more interest, so why not just choose B? What would lead me to A (or B) would be the answers of the questions above that define my priorities, my preferences, the problem I’m trying to solve and so on. Not everything is a matter of extracting the most benefits out of every opportunity. We’re not robots! For some people, option B will be better not just because of the higher ROI, but because of their priorities and preferences.
The cost of opportunity also involves how much it’s going to cost in terms of general resources (time, attention, effort, money, networking, etc.) to put that idea into practice.
2. Time of implementation
This is something that will greatly depend on what you expect from the end results and how important the goal is to you. You are not going to dedicate 5 years of your live to something you barely care about, are you? Surprisingly, a lot of people do that! Why? Because they don’t do what I’m proposing here, they don’t think about it!
The time of implementation is closely related to the cost of opportunity. The longer the period it will take to reap benefits from your efforts, the higher the cost of opportunity. However, the more it is connected to your life purpose, the longer you can allow yourself to dedicate to the idea.
3. Probability of success
That’s a biggie! Most people who set goals don’t ever think about how probable it is that will actually succeed! Exceptions will always exist, but they are not the majority and there’s no guarantee that you will among this statistic. Most likely you’ll be with the ‘crowds’.
Self-help authors and readers hate that! They thrive on believing that they can do anything that is humanly possible. The reality is, most people will never do anything exceptional. The harder it is to achieve success in your chosen goal, the most likely it is that you will fail. That’s just plain mathematics.
What is the probability that if I decide to change careers, learn to sing and “put my name out there”, I will become as successful as Adele? I don’t know, but probably less than 0! Hey, you never know, maybe, right? So many people come out of the woodwork and breakout overnight! What about that? Well, what about giving up everything I’ve built so far, life as I know it, and risk everything on an unknown (for me) industry? No, thanks! remember: cost of opportunity!
Dreams are awesome – hey, the name of this site is Strategic Dreams! But as the name also says, those dreams must be ‘strategic’, not loosely based on ego and fairy tales.
4. Power of impact
And last but not least, how each of the options that you’re flirting with will impact your life and that of others (around you and the world)? Some ideas don’t impact anyone else but ourselves, others have the potential of changing the lives of the people around us (family, neighbours, relatives, friends) and some ideas can impact people we don’t know.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
You can adapt this decision-making technique to whatever feels better to you, of course. For very important decisions, I usually create a spreadsheet to fit all of those answers with the possible ideas visually and stare at the finished work so I can think more clearly about all of the aspects that involve that decision and each one of the options at the same time. Some people like to journal, others write down bullet points. Whatever you do, the important thing is to consider the four first questions in relation to each option that you have with its own questions answered. It’s incredible how much clarity we can get from forcing ourselves to write down the details of what exactly we think about each option and what we expect from it.