Decision Making and Thought

The Inside-Out dilemma

One of the constant questions I hear raining down in a regular discussion group I am part of is this:-
“Can we talk some more, and share some more, in the area of decision-making?”

Now although I’ve written extensively on this subject, I’ve not contributed one iota on decision making to our discussion group. I’ve even planned out a small book on the subject of decision making – yet still I am silent at all of our group discussions.
Why the reticence, I’m wondering? So much so, that this has now come to the foreground of my considerations as to what, if anything, I can continue to impart to the group on this – or indeed any topic. This is almost bordering on whether I, as a card-carrying maverick, am even a relevant contributor to – or a worthy participant in – the group.
Does this sound like a personal crisis, or just some ego-driven wayward thinking? Well, that’s for YOU to decide!

So, the question is now, in effect, what IS my dilemma? Or, to put it in more everyday speak:

“OK, Buddy, what’s your Problem?”


Well, for starters, there’s more than one dilemma here, to be honest.

The first dilemma is that for me, at a personal level, I gave up turning over endless “WHAT IFs” in my mind some time ago. I took the angst out of my decision making. At some point, while coaching myself elements of sports psychology, NLP, proper breathing, the Zen of performance, and all THAT stuff – I became familiar with the benefits of being single-minded. By the time I took a set of passport photos in a booth in the Post Office in October 2004 and saw a dead man looking back at me, I was already well-versed in making “instant” decisions – especially, and particularly, life-changing ones. So, without a second thought, the very next day I handed in my notice at work … and started on the pathway to where I am today.
Imagine the difficulties, the dilemma, of describing the “how-to” of tying up our shoelaces to the uninitiated, when our own Learning Journey with that every day task was committed to Unconscious Competence many years before.

My second dilemma is that because I am a Coach, initially oriented to the sporting side of things, I cannot un-acknowledge the fact that in sport AND most definitely in any performance, Decision Making is a vast area of relevance anyway.
And when, like me, you are a coach of TEAM sports, there is this realisation that the players in the team, the squad, cannot just ply a furrow of the making of their own Decisions, and dealing with their own Thinking that’s going on behind their own Decision Making. There is the Team Collective to consider, plus also their individual Team Mates. Here, it is a multi-dimensional dilemma!

My Coaching methodology in sport is very clear where Decision Making is concerned. I am driven to allowing each player the FREEDOM to make their own BEST choices … by enabling them to grow an Understanding of what goes into their having THAT Freedom. And I use GROW here because it is something that grows with experience and with having an open mind.

  • There are technical aspects to that Understanding that go to making their technique more consistent. This is a conditioning of their deliverable abilities.
  • There are psychological aspects to that Understanding that go to making their temperament more consistent.
  • This plays out in the groundedness of their state of mind, delivered by their Relationship with their Thinking, moment to moment.
  • Team Decision Making, is a blueprint drawn up as part of the set of Game Plans. The more fluid the game – the bigger the picture each player is required to make decisions in.
  • My role is not about telling any player(s) what to think, since that is an impossibility. My role is about guiding them to be able to think Clearly in the Moment, and how that can come about.


The Mayonnaise Jar

I used to do a little presentation to every new intake of county Under 14 cricketers that were coming under my managership for the year. I called it The Mayonnaise Jar, and it involved a large (empty) jar, 4-5 golf balls, some small pebbles, some even smaller stones, some sand, and a couple of bottles of water.
This was a study in metaphor for the young players – and each of these props, the jar and the ingredients, represented LIFE.
The Jar represents ourselves, and the space in the Jar represents the TIME of our Life; the IMPORTANCE to us of the things we do and the things we consider. There is a sliding scale here of Importance, and how we might spend our TIME.

“So, the golf balls represent the really important things in our lives, the pebbles are pretty important too, though not as valued as the golf balls. The small stones are the countless everyday activities and necessities, and finally the sand is the small inconsequential stuff – the trivia of our lives if you like.”

I paused here to just let them take in the scenario – the surface level things, and, also whatever they might get a sense of that was running below the surface. This is a study in the narrow-focussed conscious foreground of attention; the wider-focussed, less than conscious background of awareness; how we might play a huge part in the design and architecture of our lives; what parts the “world out there” plays in our decisions; almost right down to the relevance and credence of the myriads of thoughts we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

And the whole pivotal point of this presentation, is about Decision Making.

So, I invited them to consider firstly whether all the ingredients would go into the jar.
The interesting thing here is that the visual assessment tends to make us think that we would never get everything in. Secondly, after gathering their first opinions, I asked whether there was any order in which I should put the various ingredients in. Once again there was an array of different suggestions, yet with the main one being “sand first.”

“OK,” I said. “Now, watch!” And I proceeded to confound their thoughts and considerations.
First, in go all the golf balls; next the pebbles, shaking the jar after all the pebbles were inside; next the small stones, and again shaking the jar to allow all the bigger stuff to settle. Finally, I tipped in all the sand – which always goes easily into the vast amount of space that remains.

“Now, how we fill up our lives with ALL these things, depends on us! YOU are all, already, exceptional cricketers for your age. Amongst the best 250 in the country. You are all here because you love the game of cricket, want to enjoy playing, want to enjoy performing to your possible best in every moment. You have all bought-in to playing Cricket not only at this level, but at all the next ones as well.
However, you can practice endlessly and perform really well – but unless your Cricket is one of the GOLF BALLS in your life, then you won’t be serious enough about it.
In terms of how you spend your time – and how you think about how you spend your time – prioritise the IMPORTANT things and consider them first, above all. Because when you do, LIFE seems to become bigger somehow. And when LIFE is bigger you can get to do so much more in the same amount of time, AND you can still include the Trivial stuff too!
And the other thing is … ,“
I said, as I poured ALL the water into the jar, “You’ll not only have a really full LIFE – you’ll still have time to have a drink with your Mates!”


Thought and Decision-Making

The dilemma with Thought – that part of our Relationship with our Thinking – is that there are three types of effective Thinking. Rather like there were five types of ingredients in The Mayonnaise Jar experiment. These are what I would call:

Conscious Cognitive – Unconscious Intuitive – Heuristic Impulsive.

Conscious Cognitive is slow, methodical, ponderous at times. Here, we are employing our intellect and our learned and acquired knowledge. It is an almost deductive process of consideration.

Unconscious Intuitive is fast, non-linear, analogue in nature, and at times on a level we give completely different labels to – such as Gut Feelings or Wisdom. We are often baffled as to where this thinking has come from, because it is SO very different from Conscious Cognitive.

Heuristic Impulsive is also fast, and yet is both conscious and cognitive. Heuristics are cognitive biases. We have a tendency to apply heuristics when we feel driven – through constraints – to make up our minds QUICKLY. Here we act on Impulse and not Intuition – there is no accompanying Gut Feeling that is present with the impulsive decision.  It is just a cognitive conclusion that we MUST do SOMETHING – and RIGHT NOW.

The key to ALL our Decision Making, to my mind, is to Understand the 3 types of effective Thinking; to realise that we have a propensity to engage in high levels of ineffective thinking; and to practice growing our Understanding by placing it into a frame of LEARNING.
In the frame of Learning, we bring a conscious awareness of noticing to what we are Thinking, what we are Deciding, and what Behaviour (action) ensues from that Decision. As we become more familiar with our interpretations – we are growing our Understanding of how we are harnessing the Power of Thought.

It sounds like almost like a Life’s Worth of Work …
Yet, if we engage with this frame of Learning, the outcome enhances our Life SO MUCH that it is Worth the Work.

  • Our Decision Making becomes clearer, lighter, uncluttered
  • We seem to have far more time on our hands to take on work and complete tasks
  • Our Learning of New Things becomes effortless
  • There is an ease to our everyday living, regardless of what the world throws at us
  • The interference of Ego and Wayward Thinking is far less prevalent, and we return to being Grounded much sooner
  • We recognise ineffective thinking for what it REALLY is
  • We notice that we are acting far less on Impulse
  • We trust in the wisdom of our Intuition
  • We are Single-Minded and in a state of Equilibrium
  • We are living in a state of Effortless Wellbeing – or Wu Wei.

All of the above, are inextricably linked with seeing and living from the Inside-Out nature of reality.



The Mayonnaise Jar experiment engages the participants in the 3 Types of effective thinking. It engages the participants in calibrating the most important things of value to them in their lives (the Golf Balls) – and then placing them in the correct order of priority in terms of their focus and attention.

To be fair, it is an experiment I should go back to, dust off and polish up, and then present out to the world once again.
Perhaps I should present it to the fellow-members of my regular discussion group?

Dare I be maverick enough to risk that?
Decisions – Decisions!