When we are faced with difficult decisions in business and work, it is rare that we are faced with the same decision twice. What this means is that each decision is unique, with a new set of circumstances, considerations and potential consequences. Even if we may have been faced with a similar situation before, it’s unlikely that the variables, and therefore the impacts, are the same.

We often get consumed by the “what ifs?”, where we overestimate the likelihood of something occurring and under or overestimate the impact (typically we overestimate the negative impact). Coaching helps to challenge our thinking on these things, to understand the assumptions that are useful, and those which are unhelpful so we can think objectively. A lot of us coaches talk about clarity. This is what we mean.

This is why good coaching isn’t about giving advice. No one person, regardless of how successful they are can predict the outcome of a given set of circumstances and no one person can know your unique set of business circumstances better than you.

And this is also why talking to a coach rather than trusted friends, family or colleagues can be so effective. Where colleagues, family and friends will of course care about the right outcome, they will also be considering things from their own perspectives, with their own assumptions beliefs, hopes, and fears. Coaching provides an impartial and objective framework for identifying possible courses of action, to consider in a structured way the implications, consequences (including the unintended and undesirable ones that might cause us problems elsewhere) and the intended impact so that you get really clear about which decision is right for you and your business.

Here are my top tips when faced with a difficult decision:

Get to know your own optimal decision state

I have my best, clearest, most logical thoughts at two different times during the day (and not every day!). Firstly, in the morning when I’m getting ready for my day mindlessly doing a few chores and letting my brain wander after a night of unconscious processing. Secondly, while I’m out for a run in the evenings which has a similar effect of letting the brain process in an unconscious way. Being outside and moving my body helps, literally as oxygen is more freely moving around my body and to my brain while I run.

Do you know when you have yours?

Sleep on it

But only after you’ve processed the matter objectively. If I really want some clarity on a matter, I write down the question I want answering before I go to bed after having made notes (see next point below). Journalling is a great way to get jumbled, half-baked thoughts into clearly defined ideas and actions. I struggled with journalling for years however after sticking at it, I now find it happens automatically when I use these questions as prompts:

  • What is the outcome I would like?
  • Why do I want it (for what purpose or what will be different/better when I have it)?
  • What is stopping me from having it/doing it?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What else do I need (to get it done/to achieve it)?

Avoid ruminating

It’s easy to slip into a pattern of ruminating about a topic which is causing us to think, feel and behave negatively. We can even convince ourselves that because an issue or a topic has been on our minds a lot, that we’ve considered it deeply. This is rarely true! Unstructured thinking means we are just considering the same thoughts with the same limited insight, information and assumptions. We are not challenging ourselves and this is what is meant when we talk about being in an echo chamber. This isn’t good quality thinking.

Not everyone can afford a coach to help us explore our own negative thoughts in an objective way when we find ourselves in a set of challenging circumstances. Instead, self-coaching can improve the quality of your thinking. I use Brooke Castillo’s self-coaching model when I find I am ruminating in a negative through pattern. You can access the model here.

Write down your options

I see this time and again with my clients, we think we have numerous options and often we think we have more options that are actually viable. We can get overwhelmed by the all the things we “could” do without knowing which options will yield the best outcomes. In this scenario, doing a brain dump of all the things you think you “could” do and then picking them off one by one can be very effective. Usually, the non-starters become clear almost immediately, leaving us with one or two possible courses of action. From here, we can then use a simple pros and cons list, or, in more complex scenarios, we can use prompts like these:

  • What are the likely impacts of X and Y action?
  • Are they positive or negative impacts in relation to what I am seeking to achieve?
  • What resources or others things do I need in place (timescales, agreement from other parties, finance, etc.) to achieve the thing I want?
  • How achievable is it to have these resources in the timescales I have?

Usually, you will find that by doing this, you are left with  one clear option.

The caveat is that if there are other things going on, you may need some additional steps. Examples could include not being clear on your “why” (read my post on procrastination), you may be driven to a sub-optimal action because of a commitment to others (check out my post on people pleasing), or there may be other unconscious limiting beliefs such as fear of failure at the root of what you are encountering.

I hope you have found this post useful.

If you still need more help, my coaching programme could be the answer. As part of this programme we identify all of the different options you have regarding your specific business context and the challenges you may be experiencing.  You can find out more about the programme, including the benefits of working with me,  here.

And if you would like to book a free consult call to discuss your current situation, you can get in touch here:

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