The Simple Decision-Making Strategy We’re Borrowing From Bozoma Saint John
March 25, 2019
You know the saying, “I’m weighing my options”?
We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, whether it be deciding on a college, to take a new job offer, or even if you should stay in or go out on the weekend. It doesn’t matter how big or small a decisions is—we’re programmed to consider the alternatives.
And in 2019, it can feel like there are more alternatives than ever.
Case in point: The 40 minutes some of us might spend scrolling through Netflix before we commit to watching something. Yes, it’s a total First World problem—but still the decision-making process can be stressful and exhausting, especially when it’s a life-altering decision.
Sometimes the answer is clear: “This new job will offer me a higher salary and a better schedule for my lifestyle, I’m taking it.” Other times, not so much: “Should I stay with my partner or end things?” Which is why we often break out the handy, dandy pro-con list when we’re feeling conflicted over what to do.
Practically speaking, the pro-con list can be a lifesaver. But sometimes you’ll organize your arguments into those neat little columns—and there’s still no clear answer. Or worse, the “right decision” becomes evident and yet, something still isn’t sitting right with you.
According to marketing boss Bozoma Saint John, Chief Marketing Officer at Endeavor where she works with massive organizations like the global entertainment agency WME and the global sports leader IMG, there’s an easier, more intuitive way to make big decisions.
It’s one you’re likely familiar with: It’s called trusting your gut.
How to Chat With Your Gut
On an episode of the business podcast The Tim Ferriss Show, Saint John explained. “It's very personal to me and doesn't work for everybody," she told Ferriss. "But what I have found in my experience is that when I make pro and con lists, it's usually because I am trying to talk myself out of a good idea or talk myself into a really bad one."
No matter how the pros and the cons stack up, sometimes there are intangible factors and gut instincts you just can’t ignore. That’s why Saint John moved away from the pro/con list completely.
“There has been time and time again where I have been right and I couldn’t have explained it to myself or anyone else,” she told Ferriss. “So the pro/con list has gone by the wayside. I just don’t do that anymore.”
What she does instead: Ask herself four questions that speak directly to her gut. And her questions are so good, we’re dubbing it the Bozoma Saint John Strategy.
Before a big decision, she told Ferriss she likes to take time in a quiet place and ask herself:
●︎ What do I want to do?
●︎ What does this feel like?
●︎ Am I happy about this?
●︎ Does it bring me joy?
You might be thinking: That’s it? Just think through four questions before making a big decision?
But actually, according to Shabnam Mousavi, Ph.D., one of the leading researchers on how we make decisions, having too much information—like we might with a massive pro/con list—can backfire.
In her paper “Risk, uncertainty, and heuristics” Mousavi writes: “Dealing with uncertainty requires knowledge but not necessarily an exhaustive use of information. In many business situations, effective heuristic decision-making deliberately ignores information and hence uses fewer resources. In an uncertain world, less often proves to be more.”
In other words: You probably already know what you need to know to make a decision, you just have to trust yourself.
Of course, it’s easier said than done. For most of us, crowdsourcing our options and decisions is natural. But this form of asking for permission can start to affect our happiness. It all comes down to the human desire for acceptance, which is ultimately futile when there’s always something else around the corner we’ll be tempted to seek approval on.
Saint John has learned from experience that she can trust her gut, which is why she now embraces what her emotions and her instincts are telling her rather than wasting time rationalizing things she can’t always put into words.
The next time you have a big decision to make: Instead of drawing out a pro/con list on a piece of paper, try Saint John’s strategy and simply check in with yourself. Swap overthinking for trusting your gut—and get excited about where it can take you.
Today's recommended meditation: