Earlier today, the people of Scotland voted on whether to stay part of the United Kingdom or to split away and go it alone as an independent country. It seems an appropriate time to talk about decision making.
Just after the referendum was announced, I was chatting with friends online. “Two years?!” they exclaimed, when I said how far away the date had been set. This has been one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever taken and I’ve been glad of every one of those 730 days.
Here are some questions that helped me make a decision I couldn’t make. Think of a decision you’re wrestling with right now and see how they help you work through it.
What do I believe?
When you’re making any decision about the future, you’re operating on faith. Faith that the world is indeed as you perceive it and faith that the conclusion of your decision/action/inaction will bring about the results you predict.
It works for basic things in the same way as it works for more sophisticated complex issues.
I believe that this dress will be expertly made and last a long time. I believe that wearing it will make me look and feel great. I believe that if I put every penny I would spend on clothing into a piggy bank for that dress, I’ll be able to buy it eventually. (Even if it takes me a LONG time.) I also believe that there are other, similar dresses out there that cost considerably less. I believe that they are probably not as well made and therefore probably won’t last as long. I believe that even a very cheap version will at least last one season.
By figuring out what I believe the world is like now, and what I believe it could be like in the future, I can get a little closer to working out what to do to get the results I want.
When working out my decision, it helps to examine all the beliefs I hold around the issue, and to test if they’re true. Maybe the belief that I need to buy a new dress is false. (It normally is!)
Of course, with the referendum, I could have abstained from voting, but I believe that it’s my duty and responsibility to vote.
What do I value?
Some decisions are pretty simple and you can make them simply by examining your beliefs. Others, like the future of a nation, take a little more thought.
Linking in with my beliefs, I want to figure out what I value. If I value the working conditions of the person who made my clothing, I perhaps don’t want to buy a dress in the £25 and under category. If I value local sourcing sufficiently highly, perhaps I’ll only look at clothing made in Scotland. If I value frugality, perhaps I’ll re-shop my wardrobe or find something to alter from a charity shop down on Leith Walk.
See where I’m going here?
If my decision is not in line with my beliefs and my values, the chances are I’ll end up regretting it.
What is my identity?
We do this all the time.
“I love that dress, but I’m not the sort of person who would wear it.”
Who says you’re not the sort of person to wear that dress? Who says I’m not the sort of person to vote yes, or vote no? (Who says you’re not the sort of person to follow your dream?)
What sort of person does?
By figuring out who does wear that dress, or vote in that way, I can figure out how well I match that model of being. It doesn’t have to be my final answer - but it can help me along the way to my decision.
Who wears Lanvin dresses?
Confident girls with somewhere to go and £2,975.00 to spend on a dress. Am I confident? Yes. Do I have somewhere to go? I can dress up for the movies. A spare 3 grand? I can save.
In short, if I’m not already her, I can identify things I can do to become the sort of person who wears that kind of dress – if I want to.
What is my ability?
I said that pretty glibly didn’t I, “I can save £3,000 for a dress.”
Is it true?
How long will it take? Can I hit my target before the change in seasons and that dress is no longer available? Maybe I can’t.
Maybe, in spite of all my beliefs that the independence would benefit Scotland, in spite of my attraction to the opportunity to be part of building a greener, more equal, more liberal society, in spite of the fact that I am exactly the sort of person who could vote Yes - maybe I just can’t bring myself to do it.
Maybe, in spite of all my beliefs that the union can be changed to the benefit of all of us, in spite of my commitment to the idea that we should seek always to find the areas of agreement between us and my love of the concept of union, in spite of the fact that I am exactly the sort of person who could vote No - maybe I just can’t bring myself to do it.
I believe voting is a private matter and should remain that way, so I’m not going to tell you how I voted. But I hope these questions help you if you’re struggling with an impossible decision of your own.
(Edited to add in the images as promised.)