Big Decision? Flip a Coin!

Flipping a coin can be a powerful aid in decision-making.  No, I’m not kidding … hear me out.

Like it or not, emotions are at the source of all our motivations.  When faced with any decision — from “what to eat tonight” to “what career to pursue” — the decision always comes down to emotion, though it’s often buried under the surface.

You accept a job because it makes you feel fulfilled … or secure … or powerful … or noble.  You eat ice cream because you’re depressed, or because when that cold sugar hits your tongue you feel contented, blissful.  Maybe you choose veggies and tofu because you don’t want to be disappointed at the scale reading tomorrow morning, or because nutritious food invigorates you.  It all comes down to emotion.

That emotion-based decision is often preceded by data gathering, as if the numbers alone could drive the decision, which they virtually never do.  Then after we’ve made the decision, we rationalize:  we build reasons around our emotion-based decisions, sometimes citing the data we collected earlier.  But really, it all comes down to emotion.

Whichever way the emotion goes, so goes the motivation …

There’s a 5-second exercise I do with clients who are on the fence about an important decision.  (Well, the exercise is 5 seconds.  Unpacking its meaning can take an hour, or maybe years ….)

I have them pretend that a coin toss is really going to make their decision for them.  They assign “heads” to one course of action and “tails” to another.  They flip the coin.  Whatever the result, I ask, “How do you feel now that the decision has been made?”  And that’s exactly the point:   what’s your emotional response to the coin’s decision?  Because that might just tell you whether that decision is right for you at this moment in time.

This exercise has provided a powerful experience for some of my clients.  Some feel relieved when the coin speaks, others disappointed.  Some are matter-of-fact, as if it’s the decision they expected all along.  Whichever way the emotion goes, so goes their motivation for that particular path.

YOUR PATH FORWARD: Next time you’re stymied by an important decision, try the coin-toss test.  It might not represent your final decision, but it’ll give you intriguing information about what you’re really feeling about the course ahead.

About the Author

Steve Motenko
Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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