When I was working at Heidrick & Struggles (a publicly-traded executive search firm), a book publisher offered me a contract to write my book titled “Work Stronger.” The opportunity was very exciting to me. However, I was not sure how to proceed. I saw two options on how to move forward, and both had major drawbacks.
The first option was to quit my job at Heidrick & Struggles and focus 100% on writing. This would give me the time and focus necessary to write the best book possible. However, I would have to leave a lucrative job and take a big risk. What would I do after the book was published?
The second option was to keep my job and write my book in my free time outside of work. This would help me maintain my income and current role. However, it felt impossible to write an exceptional book while also working a very demanding full-time job.
I discussed my dilemma with one of my mentors at Heidrick & Struggles. He agreed that the book contract was a tremendous opportunity for me. He also understood my hesitation about trying to write a book in my free time. So, he suggested a third option: keep my job and take a sabbatical to write my book. With his support and guidance, that’s what I decided to do.
There are many times in life when we are faced with a difficult decision. During these times, it is easy to fall into the trap of making the deadliest mistake in decision-making: narrow framing. I first learned the name of this concept through an exceptional book by Chip and Dan Heath titled Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.
Narrow framing is when you fail to consider all the options that are actually available to you. We often make this mistake by thinking in binary terms. If you have ever asked yourself whether or not you should do something, chances are you are making this mistake. There are usually more than two options. You simply might not have identified them yet.
In my example above, my initial thought process around my book deal was binary. I could either (1) quit my job and write my book or (2) keep my job and write my book in my free time. In reality, there was a third option that was far superior: keep my job and take a sabbatical to write my book.
2 Steps to Prevent Narrow Framing
Whenever you feel stuck about making a difficult decision, follow these two steps to prevent narrow framing:
Step 1: Think “and,” not “or.”
Rather than forcing yourself to decide between two options, always ask yourself if there is a way to pursue both, rather than one. For example, taking a sabbatical to write my book enabled me to keep my job and give myself the time and space necessary to create a book that met my high standards.
Step 2: Identify more options.
Sometimes, “and” is not possible. In that case, you need to identify more options. Ask yourself what you would do if you could not choose any of the options that you are currently considering.
For example, imagine you have been working at a company for a while, and you have lost enthusiasm for your work. There are two obvious options. First, you could quit your company and find another place to work. Secondly, you could continue with the status quo and hope your work somehow becomes more interesting. However, these are certainly not your only two options.
There are many other options on how to proceed. For example, you could hire a career coach to help you brainstorm ways to make your current role more exciting. Or, you could speak with your boss about taking on a new project(s) at work. Or, you could speak with your HR department about taking on a different role at your company. Or, you could keep your current role the same and use your time outside of work to challenge yourself intellectually. These are just a few examples.
Summary and Final Thoughts
When you are faced with a difficult decision, beware of narrow framing and thinking in binary terms. There are usually more than two options on how you could proceed. Begin by thinking “and” not “or.” There might be a way to combine both/all of the options that you are currently considering.
If that is not possible, then identify more options. Ask yourself what you would do if you could not choose any of the options that you are currently considering. You will almost always find another option that is superior.
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About the author: Pete Leibman is the Creator of StrongerHabits.com. He is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, executive recruiter, athlete, and peak performance coach. His work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and CNNMoney.com, and over 500,000 people across the world have read his articles.