clarifying things

I’ve been thinking about ways to help clarify difficult questions. Sometimes we are faced with complex situations in which it is hard to know exactly what we want or how to assess things because there are so many variables and unknowns, contradictory benefits and pitfalls. It is easy to get caught in circular thinking in which everything is contingent on something else (especially someone else’s attitude or actions, which you can’t control). The result can be a big tangle and your thoughts can run around in circles (I’ve been there, believe me).

Here is a more flexible alternative to the traditional ‘pros and cons’ balance sheet approach. On separate bits of paper, write down each of the factors in your decision. Some will be clear ‘pros’, some clear ‘cons’, others might be contingent upon somethng else or maybe even neutral facts but ones that need to be considered. The point of putting each item on its own bit of paper is so you can rearrange them easily.

Now lay out the bits of paper on a table in two columns, one for factors in favour and one for factors against.

Find and remove all the factors that are contingent on something that you aren’t sure is currently true. This can be a challenge because sometimes a factor might be contingent on something we really want, such as ‘if we can recover what we had before’ or something we aren’t sure about, such as ‘if so-and-so is now being honest’. If you aren’t fully confident that the condition is currently the case, then remove those items from the mix and see if a different pattern emerges.

If you are looking at several different courses of action, lay out the same slips of paper for each possible course. How does the pattern change? Which factors are most important?

This little method is one way of digging to a deeper level of honesty with yourself, obviously the first step in making any sound decision.  I hope it helps.


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