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How to Make a Decision
They should have taught us this in school
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Welcome back to Mindset Mastery!
This month, I want to talk all about making big decisions for your small business. Many of us started our careers at full-time jobs, where decisions about your career direction were probably somewhat mapped out for you. If you’re working in a corporate setting, there’s often a hierarchical structure that dictates how and when you can advance to the next level. And even if you’ve worked at a start-up, there was still probably a path laid out for ways to achieve a promotion. But when you work for yourself, there’s truly no set path. This can feel incredibly freeing — you can change your mind any time you’d like! — and totally overwhelming, all at once.
As small business owners, we are constantly pressed into making big decisions about next steps. Even if you’re a business of one, you’re still a CEO. And at each inflection point, we must question where we want to go next. Should we expand our business or compress it so we can work less? Should we add a new service line? Does a new gig align with our overall direction? When does it make sense to pivot?
All of this comes back to a key skill: making decisions. It might sound silly, but no one teaches you how to make a decision you feel good about. And that’s what I want to dig into today.
As always, let’s start with a story: K.J. had been working part-time for a writing client for the better part of five years when she first signed up for coaching. During our initial session, she explained that the client was stable and reliable; they gave her the same amount of work, month-over-month, and the money was pretty good. But the work was also incredibly boring. Because she’d been doing it for so long, it required no problem-solving or creative challenge. And it took up so much of her time each week that she was beginning to feel like she was in a bit of a creative rut. Her contract was up in six months and she wanted to talk about possible next steps.
There were a few options that we identified right away: First, she could quit the part-time job to open up free time, which she felt like she needed in order to hunt down new clients. Alternatively, she could stay with that client and ask for different projects or more money. She could also change her hourly requirement with that client, to work less. Or she could work to add new clients while still maintaining her current client relationship, so she had a soft place to land when she eventually let the boring client go.
K.J. decided to ask her friends and family to weigh in. She couldn’t decide what was best, so she figured it might be helpful to poll the room. But everyone had different ideas about how to approach the change, so she ended up feeling even more confused than when she started.
I proposed a different metric for making a decision: Instead of asking other people, I suggested K.J. “poll” herself first using a strategy called holographic thinking (which I learned about in IPEC’s coach training program). Here’s how it works:
Each person has 3 different metrics they can check when making a decision. Drawn out, this looks like a triangle:
Most of us have one go-to mode that we rely on when making big decisions:
Head: A head-centered decision maker focuses on the logical perspective. They make pro and con lists, gather facts, and make practical observations. People who make decisions from the head tend to pick options that “make sense.”
Heart: If you’re a heart-centric decision maker, you rely heavily on your feelings. You make decisions based on the emotions that arise in a given moment and will tend to pick options that make you feel a certain (good) way.
Gut: Relying on intuition, or gut, means listening to your inner voice as a guide. Often, intuition-focused decision makers struggle to explain their choices to other people. If you make decisions in this way, you will probably say that you “just knew” when something was right. Intuition can be felt physically, heard, seen, or gathered during prayer or meditation.
Which is your primary mode of operation?
K.J. was a head-dominant decision maker. She wanted to gather all the facts and make a practical choice, which is why she asked everyone in her life to weigh in. She came to our coaching call with a big list of pros and cons for different outcomes. And when she relied on that logical approach, she figured that she should probably gather other clients before letting go of her boring client. It would mean more work for the coming few months, but it seemed like the safest route.
But here’s the crux of holographic thinking: You need all three perspectives in order to make an aligned choice. So I pushed K.J. to think about what it might mean to rely on her heart or gut to make a choice.
“Heart” can be the toughest perspective for head-dominant decision makers. Emotions often feel completely impractical and untrustworthy! But emotions are signals worth investigating and when K.J. acquiesced to giving them a shot, she realized adding more work to her current load made her feel afraid. That fear showed up as a tight neck and shoulders — protective armor, if you will. The option that felt most joyful to her was walking away from that client entirely, immediately. And she felt excited about adding a new service line to her business, too. If you struggle to identify your emotions — which is the case for many of us! — you might find it useful to do a body scan with a feelings wheel in mind.
K.J.’s gut sense also gave her useful information: She told me that she usually knew that something was “right” when she felt grounded and physically calm. She described it as the opposite of panic in her body. So we went through each possible option and assessed how her body felt. It turned out that she was most calm when she considered reducing her hours with her current client fairly significantly. She also had a sudden thought: What if she took 2 weeks off to recalibrate before diving into the next season of her business?
Holographic thinking gives us multiple perspectives; none is more “right” or more “true” than the others, but it can be valuable to see an issue from many sides. In K.J.’s case, she decided to listen to her intuition and take a few weeks off. When she came back from her break, she cut her hours with her client down to part-time and started building a new segment of her business based on the practical insights she’d gathered from friends and colleagues. This felt practical and it also prevented panic, which was important. In the end, K.J actually felt more excited and sure of herself than ever before, which led to making stronger decisions that supported her well-being. Months later, she still sits down to journal about her head, heart and gut’s perspectives when she’s confused about where to go next.
I want to say this, too: Usually, there’s no one “right” decision. I wish there was! But truly, you cannot mess this up because the “right” decision is the one you choose. The “right” decision is the one that feels aligned for you. No one else can make that choice for you.
I invite you to use holographic thinking when you feel confused about where to step forward and where to step back in your business. (Paid subscribers will get journaling prompts to help you walk through this process!)
After coaching dozens of people through huge life and business shifts, I deeply believe that we hold all the information we need to make big decisions within us. Sometimes it can be helpful to consult others, but only as a supplement to tuning into our own sense of what we need first. Our bodies hold signals and information that can tell us exactly where we need to go; it’s our job to listen.
Head. Heart. Gut. All three provide a complete view of where you could go, and how you might get there. And once you know for sure where you want to be, it’s so much easier to start the work.
PS. If you like what you’re reading, I think you might like Notes from Eva, a free monthly newsletter for creatives. Freelance writer and editor Eva Recinos writes about the challenges of the creative process and the nitty-gritty of getting your work out there. Each issue includes a list of curated opportunities for creatives, including grants, residencies and contests. Sign up here: https://bit.ly/2CJv0Mh