The Virtue of Jam & 9 Other Tools to help you become a Better Decision Maker


Struggle with making decisions? Glad to know I’m not alone. I find myself in a constant state of flux – my mind and soul – a jumble of limitless options and alternating possibilities. My mind fools me into the illusion of progress, in thinking about, imagining, researching and navigating a rich landscape of thrilling opportunities. This all takes place, however, within the confines of the vibrant mental tapestry of my brain. In reality, I end up in my inevitable resting place – Destination Nowhere. The rollercoaster journey of Analysis Paralysis leads to my default choice – No Choice. I’m left in a pool of exhaustion, a sticky sap of unrealised potential. Stuck. Imprisoned by my own inability to choose.

A rich fruity toast-loving sauce re-inspires me

I realise all is not lost, on stumbling across a blog post promoting the virtue of jam in transcending the allure of Analysis Paralysis. Reading it re-inspires a belief in me that I could try to master the art of decision making, once again, after endless attempts. I am reminded that I have indeed discovered and developed my own tools to help navigate the murky waters of decision making. I’m still on a journey to becoming a proficient and confident decision-maker, but here are 9 tools (plus jam) that have helped me along the way thus far.

1. CATEGORISE JAM
2. KNOW YOUR (CELERY) FILTER
3. THERE’S FREEDOM IN LIMITATION
4. UNRAVEL THE ORANGE
5. THERE IS NO CHOICE
    A. SACRIFICE FOR WHAT YOU WANT
    B. THE THIRD WAY
    C. UNCOVER THE IMPOSTER
6. FETCH YOUR SHOVEL
7. CHUNK IT DOWN
8. SATISFICE MORE THAN MAXIMISE
9. LET IT BREATHE
10. VOW IT DAILY      
         

1. CATEGORISE JAM

Can’t decide between a wide variety of options? The seemingly innocuous task of shopping for jam can present such a dilemma. The famous Jam Study of 2000 revealed that too much choice leaves people feeling paralysed and overwhelmed – the classic Paradox of Choice. When faced with a multiplicity of options – luxury jams, curds, compotes, marmalades, sugar-free options, seedless options, exotic flavours, traditional recipes, organic options … customers, overwhelmed by the sheer variety of choice, will more often default to making no choice at all. The study found that customers were almost 10 times more likely to make a purchase when presented with a small range of jams to choose from, compared to a much larger selection. It in part explains the rise in popularity of limited choice supermarkets and shops, who in doing so “take the decision making out of the purchase equation”.

Instead of allowing overwhelm to triumph, and subjugating your power to choose, adopt the mindset of a UX designer. Categorise your jam. As Mehek Kapoor suggests, group your jams (or equivalent item) into categories such as sweet, citrus, smooth, sugar-free etc. Now you have created a limit your brain can deal with, you can move onto making a choice between these categories. You could go further and group your favoured category (e.g. sweet) into sub-categories (e.g. by flavour, price) to aid in making a final choice. You can apply this categorisation approach whenever you are trying to select between a multiplicity of options. E.g. if you are building a team and have numerous candidates to choose from, you could categorise by dominant skill-set (e.g. finance, sales) and choose within these classifications.

2. KNOW YOUR (CELERY) FILTER

Knowing your Filter can also prove to be an indispensable aid in your arsenal of decision-making tools. And here again, another food source comes to our rescue – you can blame Simon Sinek for this one! In The Celery Test – Knowing Your Why before you “go shopping” – before you need to take a decision – can help you choose the option that most aligns with your purpose. If you are given advice from a number of sources trying to help you grow your business, by suggesting you stock it with either Oreos, Celery, Rice Milk or M&Ms, Knowing Your Why helps you cut through the advice you are given.  Your choice is clear – your business as a health food store is there to promote nutrition – your purchase is Celery or Rice Milk. Knowing your criteria for making decisions saves time, money and mental fatigue – your decision-making process is more efficient and avoids overwhelm generated by information overload.

From a personal perspective, knowing your purpose provides a filter for making decisions. In The Blank State, I expand on this from a systems perspective – promoting the benefits of viewing yourself as Project with a Purpose with guiding paradigms, goals and rules. Taking time to understand your highest priority – your life purpose – can help speed up and ease the process of decision making, and overcome seeming areas of conflict. All decisions, goals and supporting systems should flow from your highest purpose. In The Blank State, we see how Ama is able to generate a creative solution that both satisfies her own values and allows her to partake in an important activity, circumventing the part that lies in conflict with her values. If you are in a partnership, taking time to identify your joint purpose, as well as identifying individual priorities and interests should ease the process of decision-making in the long run.

3. THERE’S FREEDOM IN LIMITATION

Instituting rules and limits in your life can help to reduce decision fatigue, by reducing the number of (trivial) decisions you need to make. For example, whilst working from home during COVID-19 lockdown, I found myself overindulging in tea and eating more unhealthy snacks than I ever used to – mainly as it provided an excuse to have a break. This led to the creation of The Corona Treat Diet – limiting myself to one snack treat and one drink treat a day. This limit has been incredibly effective, in waking me up to the full value of what I have – particularly in seemingly small things. I now savour my full cup of tea, knowing it’s all I can have for the day, and look forward to my choice of treats each new dawn. In fact, this limit feels like the opposite of a restriction – I now feel I have a greater sense of choice, paradoxically. This simple rule continues to be productive, and I realise the value of constraints even more. Limitation, after all, is the birthplace of creativity.

We can tend to go through life thinking we have limitless choice and limitless time, which can inadvertently lead us to having less choice and less time. Thinking we can have everything, we become consumed by analysis paralysis and endless deliberation. We can end up making no choice at all, and our lives can start to lack substance. We can end up drifting through life without realising. Taking decisions gives our life meaning. Setting limits can force us into making those meaningful choices.

4. UNRAVEL THE ORANGE

Unravelling the Orange can aid in the process of decision making between two or more parties, helping to identify a solution that truly satisfies all sides. In fact, it is actually the variance between interests that can aid in finding an ideal solution. Getting to Yes uses the example of The Orange Conundrum to illustrate this point. (Sorry if you were hoping to get away from yet another food analogy…) Two parties are squabbling over an orange, each trying to dominate the other to get it – effectively playing a WIN-LOSE, zero-sum game.  It’s only when both sides talk further and uncover why indeed each of them wants the orange – one wants the rind to make an orange cake, the other wants the fruit to make juice – that they identify a WIN-WIN solution. Getting beyond positions and uncovering underlying interests allows them both to have the share of the orange they truly need.

Unravelling the Orange can be applied to a wide variety of situations where there is a seeming conflict over making a choice. For example, you want to live in a city, but your partner wants to live in the countryside. Instead of arguing over these positions until one side gets worn down, you get curious and try to uncover why you both have differing positions – because you love the convenience of city life, and a quick commute to work allowing you to spend more time with the family, and your partner loves the peace and quiet of the countryside. This leads to you to finding a solution that truly satisfies you both – a home in a quiet suburb of the city with a 10-minute walk to a natural park and beautiful countryside.

5. THERE IS NO CHOICE

Difficulty often arises when we have an apparent conflict of values and feel we have to choose between them. For example – frugal v healthy – at lunch you want to be frugal but the healthier choice is more expensive (cheap sandwich v the more costly salad). A job you love v a job that pays – you spot a job vacancy that excites you, but it doesn’t pay enough to meet your current lifestyle. You feel pulled in two different directions, like an ongoing tug of war, stuck in a never-ending cycle of analysis paralysis. To transcend this, you could explore the following:

A. SACRIFICE FOR WHAT YOU WANT OTHERWISE WHAT YOU WANT WILL BECOME THE SACRIFICE

Struggling to choose between two competing values could indicate an unwillingness to do what it takes to meet one of those values. There is nothing wrong with wanting a job you love AND one that pays well but perhaps this is not a realistic option currently. Perhaps the conflict reveals that the right salary is of greater importance right now, and that you should instead delay applying for the role you love until you are in a better financial position e.g. with savings that can make up the shortfall. Perhaps you realise that a job that pays, is in fact, more important to you –  that you are not indeed willing to experience the sense of loss nor make the sacrifices that would be needed to realise the first option. Sacrifices such as taking less holidays, downsizing, becoming more frugal. Some values and goals necessitate making sacrifices – there is no way they can be achieved without doing so. Competing as an Olympic level athlete, for example, demands trade-offs such as giving up social time, late nights, and eating as you like, in order to focus and maximise time and efforts towards this one single goal. There really is no choice.

“If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice”

B.  THE THIRD WAY

Similar to the case of Unravelling the Orange (as above) – where the impetus is on finding a remedy that pleases differing interests – there is no choice to be made between seemingly conflicting values, when focus lies on  discovering a creative solution that satisfies both values. For example, you can be both frugal and healthy but it may require more planning. By preparing it yourself, you can have a healthy salad at a frugal price, and ensure you achieve this outcome, rather than leaving your choice of lunch to chance – determined by what’s available in a cafe or shop at that time.

C. UNCOVER THE IMPOSTER

“One of the values in this conflict is Fear pretending to be a value” (Dan Munro)

Values aren’t truly in conflict – instead, one of the values is an imposter, masquerading as a value. Dan Munro raises this point in his blog post 5 Value Conflicts That Freeze Your Decision-Making. Sometimes, we appear to be struggling to make a decision due to competing values, when the true reason is that it’s because we are scared of what will happen if we choose to honour a particular value. For example, perhaps you value justice (true value) but honouring that value by speaking up risks losing social status (fear).

““Why would fear lie to us? Because the truth can be painful. I’d rather believe I have a values conflict than face the truth: That sometimes I need to let go of someone or something in my life, if I want to have integrity.” (Dan Munro)

                     ————————-

So, when you think you are experiencing difficulty in making a decision due to an apparent conflict in values, consider the above tools and see whether a decision becomes clear. Sometimes the difficulty in making a choice is actually requiring us to go deeper.

6. FETCH YOUR SHOVEL

A struggle in making a choice, could be a calling for you to dig deeper, and lead to greater understanding of your core needs and beliefs. Perhaps the choice you are going to make is not the one you actually need to make, and is the reason why you are getting stuck. It’s a superficial decision – the real decision point lies at a much deeper level – like the difference between a leaf and the root of a plant. Get your shovel and dig! For example, you could be struggling to take the next step in your relationship and commit because you feel there is yet more of you to discover, and a commitment may limit you in some way. Perhaps you need to uncover a stronger sense of self before making such a commitment. Perhaps instead of trying to narrow down, a struggle in decision making is requiring that you widen your perspective – that the choice need not be limited to X or Y, but could be both X and Y? Or even  unconsidered Z?

“If all the air were sucked out of the room you’re in right now, what would happen to your interest in this [blog]?  You wouldn’t care about the [blog] ; you wouldn’t care about anything except getting air. Survival would be your only motivation. But now that you have air, it doesn’t motivate you.  This is one of the greatest insights in the field of human motivation:  Satisfied needs do not motivate. It’s only the unsatisfied need that motivates.” (Stephen R. Covey)

Sometimes you may struggle to make a decision because you are focusing too much on a longer term ambition, and ignoring a more pressing need. You may want to quit a job you hate, in favour of a sector you are more passionate about, but you may be wavering on this decision because you have a more immediate need – to pay off some debt. This could be the underlying reason why you are struggling to make a choice either way – starting in a new sector means a drop in pay, plus more funds to undertake new training. Facing up to and tackling the more immediate issue of your debt and getting it under control first, may then free up your energy and allow greater bandwidth to put a plan in place for a career change. Perhaps you could undertake some volunteering in your chosen sector in the meantime.

What is your deepest need? Right now…? Is the choice you are about to make in alignment with this? What is going to serve that need best? Reading, blogging, and journaling can all help you to uncover needs that may have hidden or buried away whilst engaging in the pursuits and demands of everyday life. Writing forces you to get out of the swirling vortex of your head – and start unweaving the jumbled threads of thoughts cluttering your mind space – it can be a great discovery process. A coach or mentor could also help in achieving this – acting as a mirror to reflect undiscovered parts of yourself back to you.

7. CHUNK IT DOWN

For someone like me who would feel comfortable being categorised as a polymath, scanner, or a multipotentialite, having to choose between options can feel like a painful death. The pressure to try to fulfil many varying interests in one lifetime can lead to a blind panic, especially when faced with cutting off an option before having fully explored it. It’s why I end up feeling paralysed at facing yet another juncture in my career path.

But the other day I was blessed with an insight. Perhaps I do not need to choose, I can simply delay. By chunking down my life into 5 or 10 year chunks, I can dedicate myself to each topic of interest in each chunk, knowing that still leaves me the freedom to pursue a career change or new revenue stream in the next slot of time. I’ve generally been adverse to making 10 year, X year or life-long plans, feeling that they restrict me in some way. As the saying goes, “life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans”, However, I now realise that such a plan actually helps me gain a sense of freedom, just by knowing that I can explore all my interests at some point along my timeline.

Michelle Obama left her job so her husband could be president. Now it’s her turn to shine.”

The “chunking down” approach can also work when in a partnership. Michelle Obama supported her husband’s “pet project” of merely becoming President of the most powerful country in the world , knowing in time it would be her turn to dominate. The Obamas have what Hanna Rosin terms as a “see-saw marriage”, where each partner takes it in turns to support the other in their chosen career path, allowing space for both partners to succeed.

8. SATISFICE MORE THAN MAXIMISE

Do you tend to be a Satisficer or Maximiser? I first came across these two terms whilst reading Successful Women Think Differently, and realised that I tended to be more of a Maximiser, aiming to make the best possible decision for each and every choice. This could mean hours of research and deliberation to choose anything from “the right” vacuum cleaner, to the right shade of magnolia paint for my bedroom wall. When I learnt about the benefits of satisficing – I was freed from the shackles of this perfectionist habit – of drawn out decision-making over relatively trivial matters. I could simply set minimum criteria, that once satisfied, could free up my energy for decisions requiring and deserving of more time – where a Maximiser approach would be more beneficial. For example, when buying a new toothpaste, as long as it’s within my price range, is suitable for sensitive teeth, and has a minty flavour, I can pick the first one I see that satisfies this criteria, and move on, without any further deliberation.

Obama, alike Steve Jobs, adopted the Satisficer approach in setting limits on his wardrobe. In setting simple criteria – only wearing tailored, single breasted grey or blue suits each day – he freed up valuable bandwidth for the not so trivial decisions to be made in his role as President of the United States of America.

9. LET IT BREATHE

Sometimes, all it takes to arrive at an effective decision, is to allow some breathing space. Drop the decision – for now, for a brief moment at least. As they say, “sleep on it”. Give the grey matter of your brain some time to process and digest, without the pressure of having to make an immediate decision. Alike the process of aeration to enhance a wine’s aroma, allow your decision the room to develop its full flavour. Gain some distance, gain some perspective. Zoom out – and consider the wider picture. After some time, zoom back in, to your current decision. How does your potential choice fit into the wider landscape?

10. VOW IT DAILY

Some decisions naturally involve long term consequences, requiring commitment and dedication to the path to realise growth and results e.g. starting a business, a course of study, marriage, having a baby, training for a marathon, learning a language. Before deciding, ask yourself, “Am I willing to commit to this path for long enough?” “Am I willing to commit to this course of action, again and again, day after day?” This last question is significant – The Slight Edge reveals that it’s the compound effect of our everyday small actions that have a profound impact on the results we generate. Our commitment is not about months and years – it’s in what we do each and every day, before we can even begin to visibly see the results of our actions. Often these actions are easy to do… and easy not to do.

Choices involving longer term loyalty, require you to make that same choice with each new dawn. Are you willing to take that vow? Are you willing to Vow It Daily? If you find yourself wavering, and the reason is more than fear, perhaps the choice you are about to make needs reviewing. Perhaps the path may not be the right one (for now). To paraphrase Robin Sharma, as a guide to your path, let your joy be your GPS”.

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