The “Millimeter Strategy” in Decision Making

A fork in the road with the words, The Millimeter Strategy of Choices.

Most people have been in a dilemma like this one: Your life has come to the proverbial fork in the road – it’s time to make a decision.

Sometimes, decisions are fast and easy. You know exactly which path to choose.

Other times, though, decisions can be challenging, maybe even frustrating. How do you know which direction to take?

The easiest way to decide, using the “millimeter” model, is to assess and compare negative and positive outcomes. Positive usually wins – but not always. Negative outcomes sometimes prevail when the decision involves a negative choice with probable long-term positives (for example, filing for divorce).

But the most difficult decisions involve the “gray” areas. You can’t easily tell which outcome will arise from either choice.

Here is the “millimeter” model to make those difficult, unclear decisions: Make a small move in both directions, simultaneously, and monitor the results.

For example, you might be deciding between two career moves. A teacher might be torn between taking a tough, challenging, perhaps lower-paying position in an inner-city school where she could make a real difference – or a post in a school that would give her the satisfaction of stimulating highly motivated kids toward academic and social success in a comfortable environment.

If you’re that teacher, and you don’t know which option would be more rewarding for you, here’s how the “millimeter” approach can help. First, try to visit or volunteer in schools of each type. Evaluate how you feel in both settings. Which matches your temperament? Which makes you feel the greatest sense of accomplishment at the end of the day?

If you still aren’t clear, write two resumes, one for each situation. Then begin your job search through whatever means works best for your goal (e.g., online, recruiter, etc.). Find jobs for both options, and send the appropriate resumes to each one. It’s almost like fishing: See who bites.

When you receive responses, go ahead and begin the interview process. Ask questions. Monitor how you feel about the answers, the interviewers, the schools. When you get offers, evaluate them as well. By then you should know – and feel without a doubt – which position is right, which one you want to take. Accept that one!

The result of this process may surprise you. That’s why it’s important when you’re at the fork in the road not to simply ignore one or the other pathway.

Now this might sound pedestrian, but it is in fact a great tool to figure out what isn’t obvious. Take baby steps before you make a long-term commitment, testing the waters first. Do you really want that promotion that will take you away from the tasks you now love? See if you can work temporarily in the new department. Do you want to go back to school to change careers? Volunteer in an organization that specializes in what you think you might like to do.

The main thing is that while you’re deciding, you should let the process unfold – nor force it. Don’t try to hurry or control it, but give it a chance to just happen. That process should clear up the gray areas. Sometimes what doesn’t seem obvious will suddenly be so.

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