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It's Not a Decision. It's an Experiment

Struggling with a tough decision? A simple change to your mental model of choosing could reduce your stress and increase your speed.

These days business owners have more information at their disposal than ever before. Think you might need a new supplier? Google will give you 784 options in milliseconds. Considering launching a new product? With online tools you can survey your customers until you’re neck deep in statistics (probably contradictory ones).

All these choices are marvelous…. and paralyzing. With so many decisions to make, so many avenues open and so much information to weigh, it’s easy to find yourself wasting huge amounts of time fretting about which path to choose.

You can’t put the genie back in the lamp and hide all the available data. Nor can you pretend that choosing badly is a painful but real possibility. So how can you get moving despite the quantity and weight of decisions you face?

Zen Habits Leo Babauta recently offered a simple trick and all it requires is your brain and a willingness to change your thinking. Stop calling all those forks in the road decisions, he suggests, and instead consider them as so many experiments:

See decisions not as final choices, but experiments.

The anxiety (and paralysis) comes when people are worried about making the perfect choice. And worried about making the wrong choice. Those are two outcomes that aren’t necessary to make a decision, because if we conduct an experiment, we’re just trying to see what happens.

With an experiment, you run a test, and see what the results are. If you don’t get good results, you can try another option, and run another test. Then you can see what the outcomes of the choices are (the info you didn’t have when first thinking about the decision), and can make a better-informed decision now.

Want lots of examples of how to reframe decisions as experiments? Check out the complete post. Babauta also answers a number of objections to the technique. Aren’t all these experiments costly, for example. "A bigger-picture perspective helps here. Experiments might take months, or a year. That’s a tiny amount of time in the space of a lifetime, and those bigger experiments are worth learning about," he responds.

Plus, the benefits of viewing choices as experiments far outweigh the costs. Babauta claims this view of things can essentially erase much of the fear of failure from your life. "When you’re just conducting experiments, there’s no failure. Any result is learning. If there’s no failure, you don’t have to worry," he concludes.

Could this approach ease your decision-making anxiety?

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Last updated: Aug 20, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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