Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

How To Decide (Without Using A Coin)

Should I or shouldn’t I?

That question comprises about half of our thoughts every day, and the answers we give create the lives we have.

If the answer to that question is so crucial, it would seem that we should do a bit more than mentally–or actually–toss a coin. Maybe you will find some common decision-making and risk analysis techniques to be useful.

Pros and Cons: Almost all of us have done a list of pros and cons or for and against, something we were considering. When I started in high school I had the option of taking choir during the first hour of the day–which would have meant I could have been the pianist for the choir and would have enjoyed that tremendously.  Plus, Mr. Kenneth Judd, the choir director, had repeatedly asked me to do it and I didn’t want to let him down. Or, I could join the debate team, which seemed like a fun activity as well, but a lot of work. My mother told me to do a pros and cons list. But, I found as you may have found, that I had plenty of things on both sides.

Describe the Results: Since I still couldn’t decide between choir and debate, my mother told me to write a paragraph describing what I might say about the results of my decision in a year: My feelings, the possible good and bad things, the results, what I would have gained from it and so forth. Then, she said, I could decide what result appealed the most to me.

I wrote several pages about the results of being the accompanist for the choir for a year and the results for being in debate for a year. That made up my mind even before I was half way through the debate pages. I would never be able to use my choir activities in my future life, but I could easily use the knowledge and skills I obtained from debate. Yes, it would be more fun and less work to be in choir, and all of my friends were in choir, but debate ulimately would offer more.

I was only 14 at the time, but I learned a decision making method that has helped me since then: Write down possible results and decide which fits with what you want out of life. (Just think how my life would have been different, if I had not gained so much public speaking experience then!)

Incidentally, if I had called that concept, One Habit of Moderately Successful People, I could have made money, huh?

BT/WT: Last week I was given a wonderful book by Ben Carson, M.D. (and Gregg Lewis), called, Take the Risk. Dr. Carson is the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and is tremendously gifted in his work. The risk analysis concept he discusses in his book is not unheard of, but he applies it particularly well. It is essentially, BT/WT. Or, “What is the best thing that could happen if I do this? What is the worst thing? What is the best thing that could happen if I don’t do this? What is the worst thing?”

Throughout the book he gives examples of how that has helped him think through issues. He also does that analysis from the perspective of others, as a way to include their viewpoints in his decisions. I found that to be especially useful.

SWOT: This is a way to look at situations to consider risk as well as to make decisions. You consider the Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat related to a situation, and you can apply it in a number of ways. For the strength aspect you could consider what are your strengths or the strengths of your team. Or, you might think what are the strengths of the person you are negotiating, collaborating or competing with. The same multi-approach applies to the other aspects of this concept. You can find more about that concept on the internet or in various management books.

Decision Trees: These are highly complex and often involve computer assistance, but I use the concept in a much more simple way. The idea is to look at the branches of results and actions from your potential decisions. If you do this, what else must you do, and what will that cause, and what will be the result of that, and so on? If you don’t do this, what will you do instead, and what will that create and where will that take you, and so on? I have found that to be really interesting for considering cause and effect, and how we create the paths of our lives on a daily basis.

The Assessment Center Method: In my Assessment Center training I say that “Every day is an Assessment Center.” I often advise people to pretend they are filling out an assessment form for various aspects of their lives. On one side are the key positive results they want to attain. On the other side they can list their options and give each of them a rating according to how well it fits the positive result–one to five, for example. Or, even just yes or no. When you total the numbers you are more likely to have a clear answer to  the question: “Will this get me where I want to go?” If you weight the most important issues (x2, for example) you will have an even better result. I’ll discuss this in more detail in another article, but this is a quick version of it.

Perhaps you have a method of your own, or you have read about methods for helping you make decisions. Let me know about those. In the meantime, put the coin away and use a more thoughtful method to decide!


August 4th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work | 4 comments


  1. Well, I am personally glad you didn’t toss the coin. Your mother’s wise counsel resulted in you choosing debate and gaining experience that has served you exceptionally well in life. But, little did you know when you were 14 that there was a 12 year old lad in your little city who had no clue what debate was. A couple of years later and you would talk him into taking debate, too. That young man was me, and the skills and experience I gained through debate have also served me well.

    Maybe we could co-author a book together. “One habit of two moderately successful people.” I’m sure we wouldn’t make any money, but it would be fun. Thanks for your influence in my life.

    Comment by Jeff Adams | August 4, 2008

  2. Thank you Jeff! You were such a cute kid! I used to look forward to seeing you in class. You have been far more useful in your life than anyone I know. So, if I helped in that, I’m glad. ACHS 4ever!

    Comment by Tina | August 4, 2008

  3. Hello Ms. Rowe. I found your site while researching decision making for my class on Life Planning. This article is just what I need, thanks!

    I saw the book for police officers, but wondered if you have written other books. If not, let me encourage you to do so. You have a very good writing style and have obviously put your thoughts into action. You would be a wonderful role model for young women or anyone else.

    I’ve put your site on an RSS feed so I can be reminded to read regularly. So many websites, so little time!

    Thank you again.
    Caroline Perkins, Ivy Tech Community College

    Comment by Caroline Perkins | August 6, 2008

  4. Thank you, Ms. Perkins, for your comments. I’m especially glad to hear you are using an RSS feed–that’s very handy!

    No, I haven’t written anything else, although I intend to one day. To paraphrase you, “So many plans, so little time!” 🙂

    I hope you continue to find the site useful. Keep in touch! Tina

    Comment by Tina | August 6, 2008

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