An article in Inside Higher Ed about saying “no” and a question on a forum I participate in combined to make me aware of a strategy that might be helpful when faced with a difficult decision.
What if the default was “No”?
In the article, Kerry Ann Rocquemore notices that her default response to a request is “yes”. Her decision making process then involves figuring out if she has a good enough reason to say no.
“once I became aware of why I said “yes” so often, I was able to develop a new criteria for evaluating requests and flip my default upside down. Now my automatic response is “no” and I require a special reason to say “yes” (and don’t worry, there are still plenty of those!).”
What about other kinds of decisions?
Later that day, I responded to a post in a forum in which someone was wondering whether to abandon her current direction for something new or to “push through” to her original goal despite changed circumstances.
I asked her what would happen if the default was to quit. What would be the reasons to keep going?
Interestingly, whereas her original post was full of all the negative stuff going on for her, in response to that question she was able to list half a dozen positive reasons to keep going towards her goal.
Not only that, she could identify only one thing that needed to change to make it a no-brainer to do so.
Making it a strategy
No matter what decision you are trying to make, you probably have some assumptions about what you should do.
If you find yourself become defensive or wondering if your reasons are good enough, ask yourself what your default response seems to be.
What happens if you treat the opposite response as the default?
What reasons come up? What barriers?
Does that help you get clearer on what is at stake? Can you identify how you might move forward?
It’s about learning and experimenting
My point is not that you should just do the opposite of whatever your default position is.
My point is that by changing your assumptions, you see things about your situation that you didn’t see before.
This is particularly useful when the decision is bringing up lots of negatives. Changing the context, even if only in your own head — temporarily, as an experiment — can reveal positive things.
It still might be hard but hopefully it moves you out of feeling trapped.
Originally published on Sept 28, 2010. It has been edited. Categories updated Nov 13, 2015.