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by Jennifer Shannon, LMFT

My client Tom had been working from home since the pandemic hit in March, but now his boss had set a date for returning to the office, in only three weeks. Tom felt anxious about prolonged exposure to his co-workers, as his partner had an underlying health condition. He was stuck on what to do. Should he negotiate to continue working from home, or comply with his boss’s request to go back to the office? One choice could put his job at risk, the other his partner’s health.

When there is no downside to a decision, we can feel confident about our choice. But many of the decisions we face today have pros and cons, complex situations like school options for our children, vacation and wedding trips, and making doctor and dentist appointments. Our limbic system is designed to warn us away from negative consequences with negative emotions like anxiety and fear.

This anxiety keeps us stuck in a loop of worry and indecision. Before we can make complex decisions with confidence, we need to understand that our purpose is not to eliminate choices that have cons, but to accept the uncertainty that accompanies them.
 

4-Step Decision Making Protocol

To help my clients move from of obsessive worry to confident decision-making, I’ve developed this 4-step decision making protocol.

Step 1. In two separate columns, write down the pros and cons for one of your choices. My client did this for returning to the office.

PROS

 

CONS

 

Get back into a normal routine

Please my boss

Reconnect with co-workers

 

Increase my exposure to the virus

Possibly get my partner sick 

 

 

Step 2. Assign a numerical importance to each pro and con, on a scale of: 3=Very Important, 2=Important, 1= Somewhat Important.  Don’t overlook this step; not all reasons are equal. Tom had more pros than cons, but putting a numerical value on each helped him weigh the importance of each.

PROS

 

CONS

 

Get back into a normal routine

Please my boss

Reconnect with co-workers

1

2

1

Increase my exposure to the virus

Possibly get my partner sick

 

3

3

 

Step 3. Total up each column.

Pros 4, Cons 6. For Tom, clearly the cons of returning to the office outweighed the pros.

Step 4. Make a final decision.

Tom decided he would negotiate with his boss to continue to work from home. This triggered anxiety about displeasing his boss and appearing demanding, but the exercise he’d done had convinced him he’d chosen as wisely as was possible. Rather than retreating from his decision, Tom chose to accept the cons that came with negotiating with his boss.

Accept Uncertainty = Confidence

The confidence that Tom sought could only be gained by standing up for his choice, owning it, despite the uncertainty of the outcome. Only when we accept the risk inherent in every choice, can we grow from the decisions we make. This is how to make the “right” decision and how to gain true confidence in ourselves.


About the Author

Jennifer Shannon, LMFT is a cognitive-behavioral therapist and author specializing in anxiety disorders. She is the co-founder of the Santa Rosa Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the author of Don't Feed The Monkey Mind, The Anxiety Survival Guide for TeensThe Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens, and The Anxiety Virus, 3 Essential Strategies to Build Immunity to Uncertainty in the Covid Crisis.

 All published by New Harbinger Press. 

 

Kaitlin Soule,…

September 18, 2020

This is great! I have so many client's struggling with these types of choices and I am going to put your protocol into practice. Thanks for sharing, Jennifer!

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