The Big Decision Matrix, i.e. don’t make any big decision before reading this.

by Dr. Monroe Mann, PhD, Esq, MBA
Founder & Executive Director, Break Diving, Inc.

If you have a big decision to make, don’t just make it on a hunch.

Instead, use something I created called “The Big Decision Matrix”.  It only takes about 5 – 10 minutes to set up, and when you’re done, you will be able to make a decision having considered all the possibilities.  And at the end of this article, you will know exactly how to do it!

Let’s start with an example.  Let’s pretend that you are thinking of quitting your job. Most people would just think of the pros of quitting.  A small percentage would consider both the pros and the cons of quitting.  But even that is too simplistic a way of looking at it.

Instead, you must consider all the pros, and all the cons.

You see, often, when we make decisions, we only use the information that has the most immediate emotional resonance.  In other words, if we suddenly get an urge to quit our job, or accept a new job offer, specifically charged emotions are what we turn to first.

Returning again to the “I want to quit my job” example, if something happens at work that is so frustrating that we want to immediately quit, if we do immediately quit, many times, we may regret the decision very shortly thereafter.


Because we made the decision accessing only a part of the information at hand.  In this case, we used the information that encouraged us to quit.  But we didn’t analyze fully the pros of staying.  Nor did we consider the cons of leavings.  Or the cons of staying.  We only focused on the pros of leaving.

So, instead of focusing on your gut emotions, take a deep breath, and first put it all down on paper, and analyze the situation from four possible vantage points:

1. PROS of Staying  2. CONS of Staying
3. PROS of Leaving  4. CONS of Leaving

For example, using random information I am making up in my head:

  1. PROS of staying at current job
    –don’t have to find a new job
    –salary continues as is
    –don’t have to explain to others the change
  2. CONS of staying at current job
    –still have to work with these horrible colleagues
    –not treated with respect
  3. PROS of leaving current job
    –can look for a higher paying job
    –don’t have to deal with these people anymore
  4. CONS of leaving current job
    –may end up working for and with worse people
    –will have to use savings while searching for a new job
    –have to hustle to find new source of income
    –will have a steep learning curve wherever I end up

Do you see how much easier it is to make a more rational and less emotional decision using this method?  If we just focused on the ’emotional trigger’ of I HATE THIS JOB, then we would only have looked at one, or at most, two of the possible future scenarios.

Further, take note that the reasons for ‘not leaving’ are completely different from the reason for ‘staying’.  One would perhaps think that they’d be the same, but they are not. Staying is a LOT different than ‘not leaving’, and it’s important to lay them out for what they are: different things.  You might put lots of great reasons down for ‘staying’, but if you look at the pros of leaving, you may trigger something that will help tilt the decision scales one way or another, and in a way you never would have imagined by just casually trying to make a decision based on emotion.

Here is another example, about whether to stay in a relationship with someone:

  • PROS of staying with her/him
    –don’t have to find a new mate
    –comfort factor
    –don’t have to deal the awkwardness of breaking up
    –get to see his/her lovely smile all the time
    –more often than not, makes me feel good about myself
  • CONS of staying with her/him
    –constant fighting
    –don’t like the way I have to constantly baby him/her
    –I’ll always wonder if perhaps there was someone better suited for me
  • PROS of leaving him/her
    –can be my own man/woman again
    –don’t have to run my decisions by him/her
    –won’t be fighting anymore
  • CONS of leaving him/her
    –may not find someone like her/him again
    –the fighting could be worse with someone else
    –I might be lonely
    –I might regret it

Now, take note: this decision matrix does NOT make the decision for you.  But what it does do is ensure that you are not leaving out any side of the story.  And take further note: you need to keep adding things to each list until you can’t add anything more!  You want to make sure that you truly have looked at the situation from all perspectives.

Let’s look at one more, this time about whether someone should move from the USA to China for a year:

  • PROS of going to China
    –learn Chinese
    –experience a new culture and thousands of years of history
    –see an amazing part of the world
    –make new friends with unique perspectives
  • CONS of going to China
    –pollution there is bad, particularly in Shanghai and Beijing
    –the government censorship is bothersome, particularly if I need to use any Google products, which are banned
    –I will miss my friends here in the USA
  • PROS of staying in the USA
    –don’t have to deal with culture shock
    –can say whatever I want without worry about the government knocking on my door
  • CONS of staying in the USA
    –same old, same old
    –won’t grow as much as a person
    –may regret staying more than going and hating it

Part of the art and science here is making sure you set up the matrix in the right way.  You want to make sure you provide a full picture to the decision.

Here are some more examples of headings to help you in understanding it:

Decision: Write a poem or a novel
1. Pros of writing a book
2. Cons of writing a book
3. Pros of writing a novel
4. Cons of writing a novel
5. Pros of writing both a book and a novel
6. Cons of writing both a book and a novel
7. Pros of not writing either
8. Cons of not writing either

Notice how this one required 8 parts to the matrix?  You really need to look at the decision to determine how to set it up.

For the USA/China example above, we could have also added:
5. Pros of going to a country other than China
6. Cons of going to a country other than China

For the relationship one up above, we could have also added:
5. Pros about him/her, and can they be amplified?
6. Cons about him/her, and can they be changed or minimized?
7. Pros of trying to talk to him/her about the relationship
8. Cons of trying to talk to him/her about the relationship

For the job one up above, we could also have added:
5. Pros of having a job in the first place
6. Cons of having a job in the first place
7. Pros of starting my own business
8. Cons of starting my own business
9. Pros of trying to work it out with my colleagues
10. Cons of trying to work it out with my colleagues

You see?  You can make the matrix as big and ‘complete’ as you wish, and the bigger the matrix, the more information you will have at your disposal before making that big decision.

SUMMARY: At the bare minimum, you need FOUR: Pros for doing it, Cons for doing it, Pros for not doing it, Cons for not doing it.  That, at the very least, will ensure that you’re not making a decision solely based on strongly triggered recent emotion.  And please, write it down.  It’s almost impossible to try to do this in your head, or just by talking it over out loud.

Some of you might be wondering how I came up with this system?  Well, I came up with this simple but effective decision making system precisely because I made a really bad decision many years ago that to this day I regret, and probably will regret until the day I die.

Further, I was upset at my friends for not being the devil’s advocate at the time, by asking, “Are you SURE you want to do this?  Why don’t you also consider the ways you benefit from the situation before jumping ship?”  But no one did that.  All of my friends just told me, “Well, it’s your decision, and I’m sure you know best” and went on with their day.

They were right about one thing: it was my decision.  And I did jump ship.  But almost immediately, I regretted my decision.


Because not for a moment did I consider what my life would be like not being on the ship.  All I focused on was, “I don’t like the direction the ship is sailing.  It’s sinking.  I don’t feel good.  I should jump off, right.”  Result: My friends said yes.  I drowned.

I learned three things that day:

1. Don’t count on your friends to give you the perspective you need–often times they will just be a yes man because ultimately, they really don’t care.  Harsh, but it’s true.

2. Be your own devil’s advocate.  Do not make a decision only using the information that you have easily at hand.  Search for the opposing viewpoints.

3. Put it all down on paper using the Big Decision Matrix before you make any big decision!  In this way, you will clearly be able to see, without emotion, the pros and cons of jumping ship and the pros and cons of staying on the ship…

You see: I wonder to this day–had I done this simple exercise that day of being my own devil’s advocate on paper–would I perhaps have come to a different conclusion?  Would I perhaps have come to the conclusion that staying on the sinking ship moving in the wrong direction was actually a better decision than jumping off and drowning?  I’ll never know, but I would have at least considered that the holes in the ship could have been plugged and that the direction of the ship could have been changed…

It is my hope that through my failure that day, and through the subsequent development of this simple tool, that we all will think twice before making any rash emotional decisions.  It’s a big mistake to make a big decision without first thinking through all of the possible outcomes.

Now, this doesn’t give you an excuse to procrastinate on making a decision.  It should only take you five – ten minutes to lay it all out.  But then, you’ll have before you a clear decision making tool you can use to be sure that when you do make the decision, it was an informed decision.

And that is the key.

Will you still regret the decision?  Maybe.  But it won’t be because you didn’t think it all through.  Maybe you will regret it because the situation is terrible, but at least you will have already considered that the situation could have well turned out to be terrible, which is something I did not do.  At least in this way, you won’t beat yourself up so much for making a foolish decision!

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