My monumental questions are things that are of huge importance to me – but to others they may matter little. I’m not the president of a multi-billion dollar company. I’m an individual trying to make all good decisions for my life and for those that are close to me and those that I’ll interact with in the future.
Big decisions are HARD to make correctly.
Update 8/2014 – I created a video about Making Big Decisions Easily, you can watch it here, or read the article below. I think the video makes it very clear, but the article adds something if you feel like reading it. Cheers!
When I was younger and I had a big decision I would ask myself just two questions…
1. What do YOU want? I realized that I needed to make myself happy because nobody else is focused on that. Just me. Everyone else has their own motives for influencing your decision… they’ve had their own unique experiences in life and that has flavored their advice to you on anything you ask. Who knows better what to do than yourself? Nobody. Exactly the point of this question.
2. What is the WORST THING that could happen as a result of you following what you want? See, what I usually WANTED when I was young conflicted with many things – tradition mostly.
I grew up in a small town of 3000 mostly college un-educated people in Pennsylvania. When I was 17 years old I was trying to decide about whether to join the Air Force and go see the world or to stick around home and attend college like my other soccer buddies. I also had to consider tradition. How many others did I know going into the Air Force in my class? Exactly none. How many in the class before? None. How many were considering it in the class behind me? One.
Did my mom want me to go? Yes. Did my dad? No. Did my friends? No. Did my girlfriend? No. Did my aunts and uncles? Some yes, but most, no. Did my teachers? No.
So, when I decided at 17 that what I wanted was to go to the Air Force and see something outside of my small town area where most soccer players before me grew up and came back to work… without having seen much in the world. It was a tough call. This second question came in handy…
What is the WORST THING that could happen?
Answer: I’d grow apart from friends and eventually we all get over it. Nothing catastrophic. Life is full of changes – and I don’t hold onto much in my life because I know that things change very often. One thing that is constant in my life is CHANGE. It might be the only constant.
Now that I’m older and have made more than a few decisions along the way, I’ve come up with a logical way to make decisions that are monumental in my life. I’ve created an equation of sorts that I put all major decisions through.
It’s impossible for me to take all the pieces that are essential to creating an answer and manipulate them in my mind as to how important each piece is in relationship to other pieces… so I do it on paper – actually, in the computer.
Let me explain.
When recently I was trying to decide whether to return to Hawaii after staying in Thailand for 2.5 years my mind was just CHURNING stuff around all the time, for weeks on end. I would think about the positives and the negatives, the good points and bad points. I would think about money and how much I’d make in Hawaii versus how much in Thailand and I would think about time that I’d have to spend writing blogs and working in Hawaii or just writing blogs in Thailand because I didn’t need to work for a few months. I’d think about the weather – it’s pretty much the same. I’d think about how much free time I’d have in Hawaii versus in Thailand. I’d think about what there was available to do in each place with my free time. I thought about the quality of hiking and running trails in Hawaii versus Thailand (no contest – Hawaii is the winner). I thought about the benefit of networking with persons in Hawaii interested in web business and e-commerce like I am. I thought about leaving the great people in Thailand that I met. I thought about the political stability of Thailand versus that of the USA.
There are so many points that mean something when you’re making a decision. A big decision is rarely ever dependent on just one factor. There are many, and many small factors when added up can overtake in importance a large single factor.
So, here’s what I do.
I create an Excel spreadsheet. Don’t let that scare you if you’re computer illiterate. You can draw a chart on a sheet of paper instead.
For my “Comparison: Thailand versus Hawaii” decision maker I use Excel because it has a nicely formatted grid where I can just pop in factors and their ratings and see it all in one place, neatly formatted. I can print it out and change the font colors and sizes easily… etc.
Use paper if you don’t know how to use Excel at a basic level.
At the top, I label my table as “Comparison: Thailand versus Hawaii”.
The paper can be an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of unlined or lined paper turned vertically.
Down the left side column I write all the different factors that have some influence on my decision.
At the top of this table I labeled the headings for the columns:
Factors – Importance – Hawaii – Thailand – Hawaii – Thailand
Here’s a tool…
Actually, better if you click the image file below to download:
Monumental Decision Format: Hawaii vs. Thailand
If you want an image that isn’t so wide, click this link:
Monumental Decision Table: Hawaii vs. Thailand
This file is under 150 kB and should download quickly.
The “Factors” down the left side column things that are important to the decision. They can be as small as you like, as long as they have some bearing on the decision.
The “Importance of Factor” is where I take into account how important the factor is on a scale of zero to 1. If the factor is VERY important and there is nothing else more important, then that factor gets a “1” in this column. There can be many factors with a “1”, which would indicate that all those factors are of major importance to the decision and that none of them are really more important subjectively or objectively than the other ones with a “1” rating. Use decimals (.1, .2, .8) to signify importance less than “1”.
Under the first column labeled “Hawaii” I enter a number here from 1 to 10. This is the amount of benefit that I feel this choice will give me related to the factor on the left. Take a look at the first factor…”being with girlfriend”. Nou is my girlfriend here in Thailand. We have been together about 2 years. She is very important to me, but we are not at a point where she can easily come back to the USA. She needs to stay in Thailand and work for a while and then we’ll re-evaluate what we’re doing in the future. I may want to return to Thailand – so her moving to Hawaii immediately is not such a good plan. Under “Importance of Factor” this rates a “.8″ in importance. It’s very important and relevant to whatever decision came about. Under the Thailand column you can see that out of a maximum 10, I gave Thailand a “10” as having exactly what I need if I stay. Thailand HAS Nou here. Then, under the Hawaii column I give it a “3” because while Nou is not there, she could be. It’s still a possibility, it’s not a large possibility in the immediate future, but in the future – yeah, very possible. If it was impossible that she go to Hawaii then I’d have given it a “0” rating for providing me with “Nou” in Hawaii. Understand?
If you have questions – ask me in the “Comments section” by all means.
Ok – so, in this way I go down the entire list of factors and rate each one – how important is it to the decision and, which place is better for the factor – Thailand or Hawaii?
When I’m finished rating all the factors I multiply each of the “Importance of Factor” numbers by the Thailand and Hawaii columns. So, for the first one again… I multiply .8 times 10 and get 8 under the Thailand column. I then multiply .8 times 3 and get 2.4 for the Hawaii column. These numbers tell me something. The “8” under the Thailand column tells me that in the big picture staying in Thailand to be close with Nou has an importance and a degree of fact rated at 8/10. The “2.4” under Hawaii column tells me that for me to have Nou in Hawaii is not very possible and Hawaii would not be the obvious choice if this entire decision came down to just this factor. I would stay in Thailand if my monumental decision was based on this one factor of the equation.
But it can’t be.
I need to go through and assign ratings to all the factors and multiply them by the rating I gave each under the Hawaii and Thailand columns. In the right two columns, also labeled as “TH” and “Hawaii” I copy over the resulting numbers after multiplying.
At the bottom of the right hand TH and HAWAII columns I tally them all up – I add the numbers above and get a total.
When I have that total – I have the sum total of all the factors that are important in this monumental decision and everything is accounted for – even subjective and emotional factors. I try to take EVERYTHING into account because really, everything has a place in the equation. How much I want to be with my girlfriend for the next couple years weighs HEAVILY on my mind and so must be taken into account in the equation. Running over the ridge trails in the mountains of Hawaii is preferable to running on the flat concrete through the parks in Thailand that are close to where I live… so it must be taken into account because running is something I really enjoy and it’s different between Thailand and Hawaii.
Now, the totals of these two columns will give you the answer. The answer is only as good as your rating of the factors so you must take a lot of time to think through WHAT is most important to you… When you have a big decision you need to make a big equation that takes into account everything you’re thinking about.
I create one of these tables for all my major or “monumental decisions”, because it lays it out for me in an easy to read fashion. It’s easy to change – removing and adding factors as I think more about them. It’s easy to convince myself that one answer is the right decision if the scores are greatly different.
In this case, Hawaii vs. Thailand – I had a VERY difficult time deciding which one was right…
You know what I did?
I agonized for days more after I created this table because it didn’t show clearly that one place was that much better than the other place. I couldn’t let emotion decide it… so I took out a Thailand 10 Baht coin which has the head of the King on one side and some spires of a Buddhist temple on the back or “tails” side. I said to myself that – this is the decision. All the time you agonized and the true decision is in this coin right now. It has the power to choose FOR me because I was not capable of choosing the right decision.
So, I made myself go along with whatever happened on the coin flip. If it was heads – I would “head” back to Hawaii. If it was tails I would keep my “tail” in Thailand.
Fate, God, the law of Karma or whatever it was decided this one for me because I just couldn’t do it! I told myself that this decision would be good for a while – 4-6 months I think before I might have other options and can re-assess with an Excel spreadsheet table again. Hopefully a clearer picture will emerge next time and I don’t need to rely on a coin. But you know what? When it’s too close to call – and you MUST make a decision – what’s the difference?
So, next time you face a monumental decision try making this spreadsheet first and as a very last resort try the coin toss!