Making Pros & Cons Lists is a HUGE Mistake (Here’s What You Should Do Instead)

Better Decision-Making_ Avoiding Pros_Cons

You have a decision to make. It’s a big one. There’s a little voice in your head that says, “Do it! No, don’t do it. Wait! You have to do it! No, you can’t. Can you?” You’re waffling. And it’s no wonder. Big decisions take careful consideration. What’s a person to do?

Most people turn to a trusty pros and cons list. And that’s not a bad way to go, but what if you didn’t boil down your decision to a long list of positives and negatives? What if you reframed this decision and thought about it in a different way altogether? Surely there is a lot to be gained from going with this decision. Similarly, most decisions come with a cost – in time, money or sacrifice, be it short or long term.

Scrap Your Pros and Cons List

Weighing the gains and costs is a better way to frame a big decision. The main reason is that things aren’t always as black and white as a pro or a con. Have you ever made a pro and con list only to find yourself putting the same thing on both sides of the list? Plus, it’s really hard to focus on the positives when you have to bring all of the negatives to the forefront of your mind. Even when your gut may be telling you yes, you should go for it, it’s tough to listen to your gut in light of all the cons you’ve just plainly laid out. They can sabotage your self-confidence. 

Why a Gains and Costs List is a Better Approach

Instead of thinking in absolutes and dissecting your decision into yeas and nays, think about your gains and what it will cost you. Ask yourself:

  • What am I going to gain from making this decision? What benefits are there to saying yes or no? 
  • What is it going to cost me? What will I have to sacrifice by saying yes or no?

By examining your decision in this way, you make the pros and cons more tangible. You also can start examining your decision in terms that are forward-thinking, maybe seeing how a cost will be short term but how it will bring about a particularly long term benefit. 

We’ve done this exercise with a lot of our clients who are facing a big life decision. Our clients have made this list when thinking about moving, changing a job, choosing to go back to school and get a degree, or buying a new car.

Here’s How It Works

Let’s take the decision to go back to school and get a degree. Think about all of the long-term gains associated with that new degree. A degree usually means an increase in salary over the course of your life. It also might lead to greater job satisfaction or even a greater sense of purpose. The flip side of that coin is that there are definite costs associated with going back to school. You would consider not only the cost of tuition but also time and energy. Your schedule will change most likely leaving you less free time, which if you have a family will be a big sacrifice for everyone in your household. 

With your list set, ask yourself: Do the long-term gains outweigh the short-term costs? Getting a new degree might mean time away from your family and a tighter budget or increased debt. But it could also lead to a better chance of making more money down the road and maybe finding a job that would allow you more flexible hours or fewer working hours so eventually, you can spend more time with your family. Only you know the answers to these questions, but by laying out your decision in these terms, you can get a more full picture of your choice than a pro and con list can provide. 

Why It Helps to Name Your Fears

When we’re faced with a big decision, oftentimes we’re left wondering what if. And what if can be a scary prospect. We’re like a kid who thinks there’s a monster under her bed. Thinking about the monster makes it feel more real and making it feel real can turn that imaginary monster into a larger than life 7-foot-tall, hairy beast with fangs. Without truly examining your what-ifs – what your decision will actually cost you or give you – you can endlessly spiral.

When clients come to us facing a big decision, we never tell them “Don’t worry. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re fine.” Why? Because it’s not helpful. It’s dismissive. It doesn’t assist them in moving their decision forward.

When you can name your fear you can begin to face it. Whenever we’re afraid to do something or it’s giving us pause, it’s important to clearly identify it. If it’s losing time with your kids because you want to go back to school, maybe you can find ways to maximize Sunday mornings together. You can designate it as family time. But if you don’t identify that fear or those costs, then it’s just a big nameless what-if.

Like that scared child conjuring a monster out of thin air, if you can name your costs – identify and make them more real – it becomes easier for your rational brain to take over. You flip the light switch on and suddenly that scary monster becomes an old teddy bear lodged under the bed frame. It’s identifiable. You know what you’re up against. And most importantly, you can make a decision that is rooted in rational thought, not guessing at what-ifs. 

That’s what a gains and costs lists will do. It will help you identify what you may have to sacrifice in the short term to gain something greater down the road. And you may make your gains and costs lists and realize the costs – at least as they stand now – are too high. 

By asking yourself, what am I going to gain in my life, be it as a partner, as a mom, or a business owner, and what will it cost me – what will I have to sacrifice – you can better assess the worth of this decision and its outcomes. Our clients can often see just how powerful the gains are and it motivates them to make the decisions they wanted to make without hesitation and far less fear. We hope it will help you in the same way. 

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