How do you make difficult decisions? You may think you use reason and logic to weigh the pros and cons and then choose the best alternative. But did you know the primitive part of your brain is working against you? Because its primary job is your survival. It’s working behind the scenes in your subconscious, lobbying for you to choose the option with the least amount of danger. This is usually the option that requires the least amount of change. It subtly influences you by using its most effective tool: fear of the unknown.
How this plays out is that the option most familiar to you is weighted so it compares more favorably with those that are unfamiliar. In other words, your primitive brain creates scenarios in your mind where the safest option has a good outcome and the riskier option has a bad outcome. You can’t make an objective decision when this is happening because you’re not accurately weighing the pros and cons. It’s not balanced.
Comparisons like this can leave you feeling uncertain.
Because you’re not comparing apples to apples. You’re comparing what will go wrong if you choose Option A, with what will go right with Option B. Option A doesn’t stand much of a chance, and it creates confusion in your mind to evaluate choices this way.
For example, if you compare keeping your company to selling it, you may think about all the things that could go wrong if you keep it. You could lose money in the future, an innovation could occur in your market, making your company less profitable; the economy could tank, driving down demand; a competitor could create a much lower-priced solution and on and on. When you think these thoughts, you feel anxious.
Then, with your mind swirling with thoughts of these negative outcomes, you compare the option of selling your business, and it seems more attractive because you’ll avoid all those negative consequences you just imagined. But this is just your primitive brain trying to keep you safe.
And depending on your beliefs, this situation could be completely reversed, and your brain could be sounding the warning bell about selling, because what if you miss out on the potential for selling it for more money later? You can’t win when you’re comparing apples to oranges.
Ask yourself, what if there was no wrong decision?
Because no matter which decision you make, no matter what the future holds, you decide what you make it mean. Now, I hear you saying, “Right, Debbie, but I don’t want to be that person who sells my company now for $5M only to find out the buyer ends up selling it again a few years later for $10M!” And I say, “Why not?”
How do you know how your life might change during those few years? What joy and freedom you might experience during that time? Besides, what’s to stop you from creating another business that is even more interesting to you and more financially successful than your first one? Who’s to say you don’t meet the man of your dreams in the meantime, or partner with another entrepreneur and build an empire? How do you know that your future would have been better if you had kept the company? How do you know you would have been able to sell the business in the future for $10M? You don’t. You are imagining a negative future. It’s completely normal, but it’s not helpful.
Here’s what you do instead.
Choose on purpose to evaluate your options as if BOTH lead to equally great results.
You will never know how the option you didn’t choose would have worked out in the end. So rather than comparing one option working out great and the other not working out at all, imagine both options working out beautifully and decide which of the two you would prefer.
If you keep the company, you are free, fulfilled, and wealthy, and if you sell the company, you are free, fulfilled, and wealthy. THEN you choose which future scenario you prefer. Because in the end, the way the future scenario plays out is entirely up to you. You can make either option be the right one, based on the way you think and feel about it. Given that both are amazing, which one do you prefer? For example, you could have this thought model:
or this one:
In this example, you can see that the result is based entirely upon the way you choose to think about the circumstance. You decide what everything means.
What about risk?
What about looking at the potential downsides of each choice? Yes, there is value to doing this, as long as you compare the disadvantages of each, instead of the downside of one, with the upside of the other. But consider that every outcome is still a neutral circumstance. It’s negative when you have a negative thought about it, which will create a negative feeling. Say you keep the company and the following year you are down $1M in revenue. You decide what that means.
What else could this mean?
It could mean an early warning sign that it’s time to pivot. It could mean you need to find a way to add more value. It could mean that you invested in infrastructure and are now positioned to leapfrog the competition in the next year. The worst thing that can happen is you decide it means you are not a smart, successful entrepreneur and you regret you didn’t sell while you could, or you feel foolish and embarrassed. Those feelings will keep you from taking the action that you need to take to turn it around and you could indeed lead to a result you don’t want. Same thing if you decide to sell the business and it takes off like a rocket ship. There is no benefit to choosing to make that mean you made a mistake.
Not reaching for your dreams is the worst-case scenario because of the lost opportunity cost.
When you evaluate your worst-case scenarios be sure to ask yourself what would be the cost of either decision if it would have worked out, but you didn’t do it? All the things that you would lose from not having tried. This is the lost opportunity cost.
If you don’t sell your company, what is the cost of what you might miss? If you do sell the company, what is the cost of the opportunities you would lose? For both decisions, weigh the things you and those around you would learn, the ways you would grow, the relationships you would develop, the experiences you would have, the people you would meet, the opportunities you could create for others, including your family. That’s how you evaluate the worst case. Imagine either scenario working out exactly as you would have liked and then picture taking all that away. That’s lost opportunity.
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Bronnie Ware writes in her book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” that the biggest regret most people have at the end of their life is that they didn’t live the life they wanted. They didn’t go after their dreams. That’s the biggest lost opportunity of all. When you are uncertain and don’t decide because you are afraid of the worst-case scenario, it’s like failing ahead of time. Not making a decision to live the life you choose is the worst decision of all.