The perfect 10

Wrestling with a career or life changing decision? Does your heart tell you one thing, and your brain something else? Did you ‘sleep on it’ only to wake up feeling even more unsure?

In this age of information overload and jam-packed schedules, we’re often faced with confusing options and competing priorities, making it even more difficult to make smart life choices. In fact, many of us make decisions based on the demands of the moment, governed by impulse, stress or what seems most expedient. Or conversely, we may defer too many pleasures in the short- or medium-term in hopes for a big payoff later on.

In her book 10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Idea, author Suzy Welch argues for a more disciplined, balanced approach to decision-making whether it pertains to your personal or professional life. The central idea of the book is simple: whenever you’re faced with a dilemma, put your immediate emotional response to the side. Instead think about how you’ll feel about your decision and its consequences from three distinct perspectives: how you’ll feel 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now and finally, 10 years from now.

How does it work?

Welch breaks down her system into three basic steps:

•  Define the question. Every thorny, complicated decision is based on a simple question such as “Should I quit my job to try something new?” or “Should I end this relationship?” Welch says that having a clearly defined question is essential since many problems are complicated by side issues, distractions and red herrings. It’s important to determine exactly what it is you’re trying to resolve.

•  Collect data. Make note of your various options, and then consult resources such as your computer, public library or trusted friends and family members to gather information necessary to answer the following questions: What are the consequences of this option ten minutes from now? Ten months from now? Ten years from now? To make the best choices, Welch argues, we need to take into account the short, medium and long-term implications of any decision.

•  Make your analysis. Take the information you’ve compiled and compare each option to your needs, goals, and values to find the best fit.

Life is complicated, and admittedly, not all solutions are clear cut or easy to implement. Often what is desirable in the short-term may not be so later on; and the same could be true of a decision that seems solid in the long-term, but involves too big of a sacrifice in the present or medium-term. While there may be no perfect answer, Welch says, you can find what is, for you, the best possible one.

After devising the 10-10-10 system and using it in her own life, Welch says, “Much to my surprise, I found that it invariably led me to faster, cleaner, sounder decisions. And as an unexpected bonus, it also gave me a way to explain myself to all the relevant ‘constituents’ — my kids or parents or boss or — with clarity and confidence.”

In her book, she also takes a look at the science on how our brains work when we’re faced with making decisions. Apparently, research has shown that our brains are hard-wired to protect and guide us for short-term situations — but when it comes to the longer-term implications of our decisions, our imaginations often falter. This inclination, known as ‘hyperbolic discounting’, means that people tend to act as if the future doesn’t exist or that it will be ideal.

And while Welch recognizes the value of insights gained from instinct or our gut reaction to a situation — especially when it comes to the small calls — she argues that to make more cogent, self-aware ‘life’ decisions, we need to “10-10-10” it.

Photo © Enrico Fianchini

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