A Simple Way to Make Tough Business Decisions

We’ve worked with entrepreneurs around the world and with makers at every stage of their businesses. We’ve advised people with multi-million dollar businesses and those who are down to their last pennies. So we’ve seen a lot of folks make a lot of crucial decisions. And we certainly face a lot of them, as business owners:

  • Should I work on new pieces for my line or just keep selling what I have?
  • Should I send stores my line sheet or just a link to the website?
  • Should I send a cease-and-desist letter to that person who ripped off my work?
  • Should I shell out for a trade show?

These decisions can feel really draining and overwhelming. We feel paralyzed, or like we need the advice of more and more people, or we take the “easy way” out, costing us in the long term.  

Sometimes, there’s a simple answer to a question you’re facing. But many times, there isn’t a hard and fast answer for the questions that matter most. In those situations, I’ve found a really simple tool to make those decisions: and it is called a “body compass.”

One caveat here: this can sound a little frilly/goofy/ridiculous/woo-woo as a decision-making technique. The only reason we share it is because it’s been so transformative in our lives and business-- but if it’s not for you, it’s not for you.

The first step with a decision is always to think it through, of course, and gather the information you need to make it. Sometimes, at that point, an answer will be obvious - so do it! But if you’ve thought and thought and gathered and gathered and you are still stuck, then you need to use your body compass. 

Here are the steps, as distilled from the work of Martha Beck.

  1. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, get quiet. Think about a super-icky, unhappy event in your life. Now tune in to your body and notice how you feel when you think about the event -- what do you feel in your body, and where do you feel it? Perhaps it’s a tightening of certain muscles, queasiness in your stomach, or something else. This is your “bad” body compass reading.
  2. Now do the same thing, but for a positive, happy event in your life. Notice what you feel in your body when you recollect this, and where you feel it. Often, people will feel a sense of lightness, openness, a lack of tension, and a sense of freedom. This is your “good” body compass reading.
  3. Now, envision the course of action you’re deciding whether to take. Play that course of action out, in your mind, like a movie. Now, notice how you feel in your body -- do you feel more in the direction of the “good” body compass reading, or more in the direction of the “bad” body compass reading? Generally, if the action feels in the direction of the “good” body compass reading, that will be the right action to take, and will work out in the end, even if it entails temporary discomfort.

There is actually a lot of data to support this. In Daniel Kahneman’s work, he looks at the ways that our logical reasoning process is good for fairly straightforward decisions, but that for the most complex, multifactorial decisions, our subconscious “thinking” process -- our gut -- is actually the best at synthesizing all of the information. So that body-based signal we get is coming from a source that is deep and powerful -- we just need to learn to tap into it. 

There is a buddhist story that I first learned of through my friend and coach, Melissa Foster.  The story goes that there was once a blind man who needed to find the ocean. He asked the Buddha how to find it, nervous and worried. The Buddha didn’t give him a braille map or a list of characteristics or directions on how to go. The buddha simply said: “You’ll know the ocean because it tastes of salt.” And, he added, “Just as you know the ocean because it tastes of salt, you know the truth because it tastes of freedom.” 

So you don’t always need to guide yourself with lists and facts and pros and cons. Sometimes you just need to go a certain direction because it “tastes” -- and feels -- like freedom.

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