Decision Making – opening perceptive doors

I was talking with a client about, ostensibly, his current stress and frustration at work brought about by the quality standards of his small work force (and one employee in particular). We explored the situation he encounters and he was comfortable with the notion that it all boils down to his needing to make a decision from a number of choices, scenarios, and based upon certain actions and inactions.


Of course once having decided that he needs to make a decision, he discovered that his stress levels were noticeably eased! Resolution of unclosed situations can be very liberating for us in this regard, because within any lack of closure are bonds that restrict our progress. These restrictions can spill over to many aspects of our life, by affecting our mood, the general level of our state of mind on a regular, even on a day to day basis.
One of the most useful things to know that will help us break down the barriers to resolution are a particular set of questions known in NLP as the…

Cartesian Questions

The strategy of the 4 ‘Cartesian Questions’ helps to explore the ramifications and ecologies of decision making. The questions are as follows:-
• What WILL happen if I DO X?
• What WON’T happen if I DO X?
• What WILL happen if I DON’T do X?
• What WON’T happen if I DON’T do X?
Understanding how to run the process of this strategy is very simple – however, what it gives us is a much broader perspective of consequences, especially in terms of going down the route of inaction – the route of DON’T DO.

Another revealing outcome about the route of DON’T DO is to allow yourself to consider this:
“It’s not just about not X though, isn’t it?”

The Cartesian Questions help move us from vacillation and/or procrastination to action and/or resolution.

What happens next?

Although the Cartesian Questions have revealed for us some possibilities, they don’t actually look at the structure of how we perform actions or tasks. Because the “HOW TO DO” structure also begins with a decision making element, this leads on quite appropriately to the next stage to consider.

I was at a workshop once where the presenter asked us to consider how we might perform a task in terms of four stages –

• Making a decision to do the task 5-6/10
• Start the task 3-4/10
• Persevering with the task 9/10
• Completing or finishing the task 6-7/10

She next asked us to objectively mark ourselves out of 10 in terms of how we perform each of the four elements – and above I have illustrated the scores I gave myself. For me this assessment process threw up many learnings and understandings. One of these was how and where procrastination makes an impact, as illustrated by only a 3-4 score. Another was that if we are in “doing mode” all the time, ie begin to do the task before completing the decision element, then our starting action is muddled with lack of total focus and with some score out of 10 of INDECISION or unclosed decision-making (in my case this was 4-5!).

So, with my score of 9 for perseverance, I am very diligent at sticking at the task once I’ve started, but I haven’t started with enough clarity of thought about all of the decision making process – and this might be in the area of “how to do it”.
Plus, would I start pushing up my finish/closure scores if I FINISHED the very first element (with a resulting higher score) BEFORE I actually started the task?

Ask yourself this….

Consider getting a piece of self-assemble furniture. Do we methodically lay out all the pieces and match everything up to the set of instructions? Do we read the instructions through and understand them BEFORE we start, or do we do this as we go along? Or do we jump right in and then have to make changes, backtracks as we go along – and then might be left with some screws, nuts, bolts etc at the end, wondering what we haven’t done properly!

More practical applications…..

I was coaching a sportsman recently who complained of having his “head full” and “not having enough time” to play shots at balls coming towards him. I explained this process to him and centred on what was happening for him around elements 1 and 2. Are you starting the whole action of hitting the ball (preparatory footwork and other physical movements) BEFORE you have closed the element of making the decision? He looked at me as if a lightbulb had suddenly come on inside his head. “That’s how I feel in a nutshell. That is exactly what’s happening to me.”
I then told him to face the next 10 throw-downs and not start the task UNTIL he had completely closed the decision making process. He and I would then talk about what (if anything) was different for him. He played the next 10 shots in a way he had not done previously, and before we’d even had a chat about it he started smiling with satisfaction.
What he didn’t realise was that part of the decision making process is gathering information about the flight of the ball, and that the bulk of this information is gathered by visual means. By delaying his starting to take action, the QUALITY of that information is enhanced, thus making the decision based upon better and more meaningful data. In essence, his concentration was improved.

Exam Strategy

At school I can remember us being told about examination strategy, one part of which was to read the whole question paper through first and then decide which questions to answer and which ones to leave. Then to read those questions again and then sketch out how we might answer them. Once happy we were then to make a start.
With hindsight, this is fascinating in that the helpful advice given to us reflects elements 1 & 2 almost exactly – even though no-one ever analysed it or told us WHY this strategy would be more helpful than approaching things another way.

The fact is, although we can multi-task very well, we are not so good at concurrent multi-decision-making. This would be made more clear if we were to call what we mean as “multi-tasking” as “multi-action” or “multi-doing”. Ask people to do two things at the same time, each task involving making separate sets of decision making as they go along. They don’t function anything like as well as they do when the multiple elements are undertaken non-concurrently.

So – to return to my client and his stress and frustration – for him this whole decision making process has a “soft” time scale. That is to say, there is no immediate urgency. The most important part of this for him is to be comfortable with the action to take by running and examining a range of options and possibilities.

Action and the “Starting Gate” of decision

I next drew a metaphorical analogy for him of the start of a horse race – where each horse represents one particular choice he could make. The horses are loaded into the starting gates and when the starter is happy they are all in, then he pulls the lever that opens the gates and the horses emerge into the race. Each horse emerges in a different way, and they progress down the time line represented by the course. Leading horses and back markers will emerge in the course of the race, and eventually there will be a winner. The winner will be the optimum choice to make – the back markers will be horses not to put money on.

Using the Race

This particular metaphor might be useful for you, as you consider a number of options and you might want to “play out” how they will emerge from the “starting gate” of decision.
Map out the chronology of events down the course of time, and then be the jockey on each of the horses in turn as they might go down the course. By physically walking or “riding the course” your body will reflect to you a number of nuances and feelings – the more being revealed the more you are able to associate into each choice scenario.
You will notice which “horse” gives the best ride, which the smoothest ride, which might fall along the way – all pointers towards the most appropriate choice to make. Take time to turn around and look back towards the starting gate, just to reinforce the paths you have taken, and to further “notice what you notice”.


Whatever type of decision making process you need to perform, there are elements here to really expand your perception of what options are there for you and how to “clean up your closures”. Whether you need to make “instant” decisions for sporting or other time-specific performance reasons or whether it is something more along short, medium or even long term lines that demands that you play out a number of scenarios to ascertain the better ones and the ones to avoid – the 4 Cartesian Questions and Action and the Starting Gate of decision are going to make life a lot more straightforward, reduce stress and frustration and help you perform in a much better way.