My coaching client Sophia had explored a business opportunity with a franchising organization and was very excited to tell me about it. It combined many of the activities that she found motivating; it would enable her to work from home, set her own schedule, work in a people job and use her communication skills. It seemed great. She could see herself doing all those things and being happy.
Sofia contacted them to arrange attending their open house and was dismayed to find that there was no room left in the one next week and she would have to wait a month before being able to attend the next one. Then two days later they phoned to say a space had opened up and she could go right away. She also told me about another similar business opportunity but up to this point had yet to explore it in any great detail, because she was very motivated by the first one.
Here’s where I intervened. “Did you have an image of working in this business?” I asked. “How did it feel?” “It was great!” she replied, “I could see the whole thing.” “Did you have an image of the second business opportunity and how that might be?” I asked. “Well no” she said, “but when a space in the open house for the first one opened up, I thought it was a sign this was the opportunity for me.” “Perhaps it was a sign” I said “that they really want you to buy this business.”
One Image Can Create a Commitment
The purpose of visualization is to make something real, and it is a very effective technique. When Sophia visualized the first business opportunity, she not only saw it in detail, she lived it. She jumped into the image and had the experience of what she imagined it would be like. When she had done this it was very difficult for her to consider any other opportunities. She began to interpret events as signs that this was the right thing to do.
Having only one image, she became committed to it. I did the same thing a few years ago when I visited a house that I was considering buying. I could see my family living there; saw us hanging out in the living room, was able to walk around the kitchen knowing that I could cook there, the back yard was a great one to be sitting in, etc, etc. The same week I put in an offer on this house, interest rates went up two points, and I lost my contract with the local college. Buying this house was not to be. But because I had already imagined us living there, I felt a deep depressing sense of disappointment, as if my dream home had just been taken away from me. At the time I thought that was such a weird reaction to have since I’d never actually lived there.
That’s the problem with having a vivid imagination. Having conjured up an image of living there made it feel like I actually had or that I was going to live there. Having imagined what it would be like to work for this franchise made Sofia commit to the idea.
A friend of mine said that many women do essentially the same thing when they first meet a potential partner. They immediately visualize, sometimes in great detail, their whole future unfold with this person. No wonder this puts enormous pressure on the new person in their life!
Your brain, in need of closure will do it’s best to complete the image and then the handy-dandy process of self-justification jumps in to find reasons why this image is the right one*.
Once you have a clear image it is as if your brain has shut down and stops being open to other possibilities. For instance, imagine you are sitting in a chair in front of a large window, looking out at a large beautiful pine tree. Look out the window towards the tree. There may be other trees around, but notice now how prominent the pine tree is in your image and how it takes some voluntary effort to bring the other trees into focus.
In and of itself this is not a problem, but when you have not clearly defined your decision-making criteria or considered alternatives, this ability to become focused on one sole image can lead to bad judgment simply because you took the first available option.
This means that you had no real choice. Or, there was no opportunity to evaluate the choices against what is important to you and therefore make the best choice. In this system, where you visualize and then choose the first option, you miss the opportunity to:
- learn from your experience,
- analyse risk, as well as
- analysing potential opportunity
and you may end up making a bad decision.
Real Choice and Great Decision-Making
So what is the alternative? Different people, of course, have different decision-making strategies. Good decision-making strategies however all have a few points in common.
- Define outcomes,
- Identify criteria for knowing when an outcome is reached and
- Present a minimum of three choices.
Three choices are better than two, because two choices tend to be the extremes of an either/or kind of relationship. “Either I leave or he leaves.” Not many options there. With three choices you have a real opportunity to see and experience alternatives against what is important to you without only considering the extremes.
Here is a decision-making process that keeps you real choice and will help you make great decisions:
- Define the outcome you would like to achieve.
- List your criteria for what is important to you about your decision.
- How will you know, what evidence will you use for each of the criteria?
- Imagine three choices. One at a time, see each choice in your mind’s eye, holding your most important criteria in your heart. Step in and out of each choice, exploring them one at a time as if you were there. What happens in each situation? How do you feel each situation? What are the future consequences of each choice, as you explore them through time?
- Step outside these three options. Which of them most closely matches your criteria, your outcome and feels the best? Are there any downsides to this particular option that you need to take into account?
Example Outcome: I would like to have my own business.
Criteria: target annual income $100,000, with the take-home income of $50 – $75,000, by the end of three years. Work in a consulting role with both individuals and teams of people, using proven methodologies for IT solutions in small business enterprise software work and maximum of 40 hours per week, based from home, with visits to local businesses. Well-defined successful sales model with lead generation to be part of the business.
This is an example for someone who wants to start their own IT consulting business. He or she could then try out 3 different models or opportunities.
Imagine walking along the road in the country, with beautiful scenery on either side and you come to a place where the road branches in three different directions. At first, you are not certain which road to take and you realize it is because what you want is not yet clear. You pause, reflect, and come to understand that the thing you want most is now clear in your mind. You can see it , hear it, smell it, touch and taste it. You look at the three paths in front of you and imagine taking each one, exploring where the path leads you, knowing what it is you truly want. You come back and now you know which of the paths is for you.
One image is no choice; three or more helps you have great judgement.
***Let me know what you think – firstname.lastname@example.org
* In Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (2007) Harcourt Books, the authors detail the exact process by which human beings reduce conflict (dissonance) and then justify whatever they think and do.
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