No-Lose Decisions: Moving Beyond Fear

A classic paradox of free will is the story of a donkey that is both hungry and thirsty but is equidistant from a bale of hay and a trough of water.  It can’t decide between the two choices and consequently starves.  Absurd though this example may be, from time to time, most of us are guilty of making no decision, even when any of the available options would be an improvement over no action at all.  Failure to make a choice is always disempowering.  Yet, this issue comes up all the time. 

Lawyers often have trouble choosing which approach to take for business development.  There are so many choices. Should you write a book, speak at conferences, be active in organizations pertinent to your industry, develop relationships with key influencers?  Why is it so hard to select a focus?  We are scared of making a mistake.  Lawyers are trained to anticipate problems and to make everything as perfect as humanly possible, which makes us even more susceptible to this trap than other people. We agonize over decisions because we are convinced that there is a right and a wrong answer; one will lead to positive results and the other to negative ones.

This way of looking at the world yields unnecessary stress, and actually, the more you think about it, really doesn’t capture the reality.  Any decision will have both positive and negative results.  Even the “best” decisions may have unexpected challenges, and even the “worst” ones may yield remarkable new opportunities. People often think that they need to focus on the negative in order to be realistic, but, without also seeing the positives, they end up living with a skewed vision of reality.  It’s like looking in a carnival mirror; the negatives get expanded and distorted.

Susan Jeffers’ classic book, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway presents a simple but very powerful approach to decision making. The No-Lose Model focuses on the “goodies” that you get down each path.  Goodies can include clearly positive results like an enhanced reputation, new clients, more money, or they can be new learning experiences, insights, and clarity.   For example, say you don’t really like meeting people, but you design a business development plan that requires a lot of networking.  You could view this either as a foolish mistake or as a terrific growth opportunity.  You may learn to speak up more, or discover that sitting in the corner talking about how much you hate meeting new people is a surprisingly effective way to find new clients who also hate meeting new people.  Or maybe you realize that you follow the advice of experts too blindly without tailoring it to your own needs.  Or maybe you make a new friend. Even if you don’t achieve the goal you were hoping for, there are a lot of valuable “goodies” that you could discover along the way.

Next time you are agonizing over a decision, try using the “no-lose” model. It could be a life changer.