Baby pink living rooms and decisions about fatherhood

Decision Making

decision making

Some choices are just impossible to make

I’m in Holland, as I write this, living in the house I inherited from my mother in 2016.

2016 was a year of decisions. Decisions about the care of my mother in her final months, decisions about the funeral and about what to do with the house, about my work and about my life. 2017 is off to a decisive start as well.  Now that I’ve decided to keep house for the foreseeable future, I’m making decisions every day about getting the place ready so I can rent it out when I’m not using it myself.

I had to make a big decision this weekend about the colour of the walls. I’m not great with colour myself, so I called for help from three people whose skill in matters of colour is vastly superior to mine. All three of them are artists and all three advised me to pick three totally different colours. The suggestions went from white to pink to green. After some deliberating, I made a decision and I’ll let you know how it (I chose a colour called Stylish Pink, It was Valentine’s Day after all).

Schrödinger’s cat dilemma

Decision Making But it’s a tricky thing this decision making. I am normally considered the decisive sort. I don’t think I am ever accused of dilly dallying when a decision is to be made. But there’s a lot of decisions we have to make in life for which there is no “right” or “wrong”. Some of those fall in the category of decisions I wrote about in my Linkedin Pulse article here. These are the kind of decisions that are all about being in alignment with your personal values, or even your personal preference. The last is best illustrated when I go out for dinner with my wife in a restaurant. There’s usually 5 options on the menu I would equally like to order, but any decision of course, leads to missing out on the other 4 options. It’s a bit like the famous “Schrodinger’s cat” thought experiment, the instant I make a selection from the menu, all other options collapse (I often attempt to convince my wife to order one of the remaining 4 options to lessen the anxiety).

Everyone has a different opinion

But other questions that can leave us struggling, are those we feel entirely unqualified to decide upon. The paint colour of my mother’s (and now my) living room is one such example. All three suggestions by my three artistic friends seem perfectly fine to me, because I don’t really understand colour (although the aforementioned Stylish Pink, that the painter is currently applying is looking rather intense).

So how can we make a choice, when we feel unqualified?

One of the strongest memories I have of being confronted with an impossible decision came about 35 years ago, when we found that my then girlfriend was pregnant with our first child. I was 22 at the time, we were travelling the world, living in the Caribbean and liberally partaking of a well known grassy herb with a distinctive smell. As you might imagine, having babies, getting married, finding a regular job and settling down were not high on my agenda. Yet a decision had to be made. My girlfriend made it clear that we each had to make our own decisions about this situation, and she made hers quickly. She left me alone to work through the process on my own for a week.

Sheer brain-crunching agony

I remember, as if it happened yesterday, the sheer brain-crunching agony of trying to come to the right decision. I simply didn’t have a frame of reference or a set of principles to apply to the process. Noone could help me make the decision. The decision was entirely mine and mine alone and there was no right or wrong. How do you weigh up the pros and cons of an enormous life choice like that? Being religious would have helped, but I’ve never been that way inclined, so it was down to my own brain. Even now, 35 years later, I am no closer to understanding what led me to decide to become a father. But I did and my daughter was born 5 or 6 months later and she was lovely and I’ve been a reasonably good father and it was good and I’ve never had any cause for regret.

There have been many such decision points in my businesses and my life since, although none quite so agonisingly difficult as that one. I think what I’ve learned is that there are moments in life where you simply have to make a decision and all that matters is that you make one, any one, and then you get to live with the consequences.

Taking the other fork in the road

I’ve looked back a lot over the first 5 (nearly 6) decades of my life and checked in to see if I regret any of the decisions or choices I’ve made. I do regret various inappropriate emotional outbursts at different times in my life (as recent as yesterday as a matter of fact), but no matter how deep I dig,  I can’t find any moments in my life where looking back now, I say: “I wish I’d taken the other fork in the road”.

I hate the “No Regrets” Facebook meme, because it seems to hint that we must never heed the consequences of our actions and besides, it’s trite. But I firmly believe that all of us make the best decisions we can, given everything we know and understand at the time. The big decisions in life are impossibly difficult to make (such as the menu choice in the restaurant) and it’s important to get as much information as possible and to act responsibly. But when two choices are equally valid, we can do nothing much else than go with our instinct or alternatively randomly pick one (as in Oliver Burkeman’s article on random decision making here).

We couldn’t know then what we know now

And if later on it turns out that that decision you made, has caused a bunch of undesirable outcomes, there is no point in thinking: “Knowing what I know now, or if I had my time over again, I wish I’d made a different choice then”. You didn’t know then what you know now and nor could you. If you were to have your time over again I expect you would make exactly the same decision again.

The only thing that matters, 35 years later is that I continue to live with the consequences, and you’ll be glad to hear, that I do so happily, even more so now that I have two insanely cute grandchildren. (Oh and the living room looks like a baby’s room now so we’ll change the colour tomorrow).

#DecisionMaking #DifficultChoices #RandomDecisions



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What’s Worse Than Tough Choices?

measure love

Making Hard Decisions is Hard

But what might be worse?

ruth chang I watched a fantastic TED talk this weekend by a philosopher named Ruth Chang. I had never heard of Ruth Chang and that is what is so wonderful about the whole TED phenomenon, you get to see and hear amazing people you might otherwise never come across.

Ruth Chang in her Ted talk explains some of the misunderstandings about decision making that lead to our frustrations when faced with difficult choices.

Those of you who have read some of my thoughts in the past will know that one of my passions is to encourage people to be kinder to themselves. Beating up on ourselves and allowing our “critic on the shoulder’ free reign is not healthy. Sometimes the best we can do for our health and wellbeing is to give the ‘critic’ the night off.

It’s always lovely to hear other people, coming from a different standpoint, reach similar conclusions to your own and Ruth Chang clearly does just that.

Better or worse?

The thing I’d never really thought about in decision making was this: In many truly difficult decisions, one choice won’t actually be better than the other. But when we find ourselves paralysed by a difficult decision, we will often berate ourselves for not thinking clearly enough and letting emotion get in the way of a rational decision: One choice must be better than another, it doesn’t make sense to think that a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ to a marriage proposal or to a decision about opening a business in Melbourne can be of equal value… either ‘Yes’ is the best choice or ‘No’ is the right answer given all the circumstances…. Clearly… all our friends/partners/mothers certainly seem to think so too.

So we go off and do an exhaustive pro’s and con’s list and at the end of that exercise, we still don’t know which is the right decision and so we often don’t make one at all.

choices Not making a decision means we feel stuck and it gives us another opportunity to berate ourselves over our indecisiveness. Some people will drift around in that place forever. And sometimes we do make a choice by flipping a coin, or by listening to our friends/partners/mothers, only to switch back to the other choice again a short while later, and in this way we see-saw from one choice to another… At other times we’ll make a choice and stick with it, but regret the decision for ever after and always wonder what our lives would have been like if we’d made the other choice.


Ruth Chang made the point that our society and upbringing has not equipped us very well to weigh up and choose amongst the relative merits of two conflicting choices, we believe (and I have said so myself many times in the past) that we can’t manage what we can’t measure. It’s a lovely simple statement, and it’s also one of the many clichés we ‘business gurus’ love to quote as gospel… Simple, Obvious, Profound… and… Wrong

Or at least not right all the time. Yes if you want to lose weight, you need to use some kind of measurement to see how you’re going, similarly if you want to be more profitable next month and you decide to do so by producing and selling more widgets, you can only achieve that outcome and manage the process by taking one or more measurements… undoubtedly


But some things can’t be measured.

measure loveI can’t measure how much I love my wife or my children and I can’t measure if their mother loves them more than me.

I can’t measure how important money is to me and nor can I measure how important freedom or creativity is to me.

These things are in the realm of values and values are immeasurable.

Tough decisions are nearly always about values… weighing one set of values up against another.

  • Do I take the redundancy and start my own business or stay where I am?
  • Do I take the promotion and move to a different city, uprooting my family in the process, or stay in this job?
  • Do I invest in this new technology or don’t I?
  • Do I continue to expand the company or stop growing?
  • Do I fire the employee who isn’t performing as well as she used to, or keep her on?
  • Do I take on this highly profitable contract even though we’ve never done something like this before, or say no to it?
  • Do I sack this client because she’s hard work or persist with her?

Imagine yourself facing those kinds of dilemmas; your friends/partners/mothers (and business coach) may all have an opinion about the choice you should go with but for you it may not be so clear-cut.

Core Values

These choices all come down to your core personal values, not mine, not your mother’s.

Two people faced with the exact same choices in exact same circumstances may make opposing choices and do so entirely appropriately.

Choices such as those above do not come down to weighing up relative quantities of ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ … that’s why they are so hard.

And that’s as it should be.

Because confronting choices like those, is what it means to be human.

what do you stand forTo be able to make a choice like one of those you have to ask yourself to commit to who you are being, to decide what you stand for and what your core values are.

The question is not: ‘Should I sack this employee or shouldn’t I, what’s the better choice?’. I can make a compelling argument either way for you in such circumstances and so can you. The question you should ask yourself is: ‘Am I the kind the person who sacks this employee or am I the kind of person who doesn’t?’

The question is not: ‘Should I continue to expand the company, Or shouldn’t I?’. Again I can give you an equally compelling argument for either choice. Rather, the question should be: ‘Am I the kind of person who is happy to consolidate the company at this stage it is or am I the kind of person who keeps growing it?’

Being confronted with hard choices in life forces us to ask ourselves the questions: “Who am I? What do I stand for? What do I passionately believe in? What am I prepared to fight for? What is truly most important for me in my life?”

Now those are actually the kind of questions I want to be confronted with in my life… don’t you?

Next time you find yourself facing a tough decision, remind yourself that it may indeed be tough, difficult and frustrating, but it could be worse…

It could be easy.

Lovely Article in Inc Magazine – Remember How Little You Know

This also reminds me of a book I recently read… stumbling on happiness by daniel Gilbert… we think we know so much more than we actually do… and we constantly make decisions based on what we think we know. The lesson must be that we have to be prepared to change our minds and do something different….quickly… don’t get stuck trying to push a decision just because we thought making it was such a good idea at the time