The 4 Step Perspective: How to Think Through Your Decision-Making

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Perspective changes decisions. It gives us a view unseen from the stance we’re holding, like looking over the horizon from a mile further forward than you’re stood.

We make decisions all the time; what to wear, what to eat, what to buy at the shop, and even what foot to lead with when we walk. Our intelligence has learned to simplify the process of making decisions through intuition; an inherited system of responses found within our genes. Over thousands of years, our forefathers learned the survival instincts of flight, fight, or freeze.

These decisions are second nature to us now as we intuitively work out the best way to keep living. Daniel Kahneman calls it system 1 thinking as he explains in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow.  

Daniel also refers to system 2. We use it in situations when we don’t understand the information in front of us. This system forces us to develop more understanding and decide using more logic than normal. Over time, system 2 confirms the decision is good and our intuition – our system 1 – adopts the behaviour.

The downside is our system 1 becomes overconfident and looks to apply itself in decisions it doesn’t fully understand, which often results in bad decisions. When this happens too often, we end up in a position of decision paralysis, of overthinking the options we face. We fear making the wrong decision and ending up with the wrong outcome.

What we need is perspective.


How does perspective help?

Perspective helps us change our viewpoint. Overthinking drives anxiety as we become consumed with the ‘what if’ question. Perspective puts our anxiety into context – and that’s vital when making decisions.

However, we must ask ourselves the right questions, as I’ll explain shortly.

Without perspective, we fall back on our fears. When fear is driving anxiety, the fear of making the wrong decision can be compounding. Of course, for those who already suffer from mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety this is the last place they want to be. This fear can become so great, that we can completely lose sight of the potential benefits that might come from the decision.

“In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Theodore Roosevelt

It inevitably leads to indecision, a moment when our minds allow a negative outcome to dominate our thinking. All sense of rational thinking has gone, destroying any objective thoughts you might have started with.


What is the 4-step perspective?

The 4-step perspective is a process of getting different perspectives on your decision. It enables you to identify the decision and then consider the consequences, whether they be good, bad, or just doing nothing.

The process starts with you downloading the template – which you can do here. This means sitting down the 4-step perspective and using the guide to write about your potential decision. It will ask you some pointed questions, some of which you may not want to answer. But this is a process of preventing your decision-making from grinding to a halt.



The 4 Step Perspective

Step 1: The Decision

Step 1 is simple.  What is the decision you’re faced with?

Write it down by telling it as a question. What if I…

Here are some examples:

  • What if I bought this new car I’ve seen?
  • What if I decide to look for a new job?
  • What if I say no to moving to a new home in…?

Understanding the decision is a crucial step. We often drown in the detail, rather than seeing the decision for what it is. By capturing the decision in this way, you can now move onto the second step.

Step 2: What can go wrong?

What could go wrong; think about what nightmares might come if you make this decision. What are the worst-case scenarios that could happen? List as many as you can.

You should then score these out of 10 as to how life-changing they are, this will help keep the scenario in context. Once you have completed this step the next question to ask of each scenario is how could you prevent them from happening, and then if they did, how could you recover from them?

Step 3: What could go right?

What could go right; look at the upsides of this potential decision if it goes right. It’s time to look at the positives, which should take you back to the circumstances that created the need for the decision in the first place.

Often the desire or need to decide comes from the thoughts of a positive outcome. Again, you must score them out of 10 as to how life-changing, they are. Also, consider the same if the decision only partially worked.

Step 4: What if you did nothing?

What if you did nothing; consider not just the short-term period, but the longer-term view as well. Saying no is easy, as doing nothing often has short-term benefits, but what might the repercussions be when you look back. What might your hindsight say?

Think about how this might look in six months, a year or three years will help shift your perspective.

It’s Decision Time

You now have a four-step document that captures, not only your fears, but also the positives, and what might happen if you do nothing. Writing all this down offers you an objective view of the decision, capturing the risks – and the benefits on offer.

It is a vision of your decision.

Of course, you can’t escape the decision, but you now have an objective view. One which gives you an alternative perspective. Now you can see your decision differently.

The rest is over to you.


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The 4 Step Perspective: Thinking Through Your Decision-Making

I’m an advocate of considered thinking, which is one of the reasons this process appeals to me. Decision-making can be a painful process for many of us. When we are making an unfamiliar decision, we must prevent our impulsive system 1 from taking over and leading us into unwanted trouble, which it has a habit of doing.

Using a tool like the 4-step perspective can lead us away from intuition and take us to a less emotive place. The perspective of objectively seeing the upsides, the downsides, and the danger of doing nothing can improve our choices considerably.  Perspectives enable you to picture yourself in the future, and understanding what good looks like, but also what bad might look like.

As a reminder, you can download the template here. It is simple to use and can help you with goal setting, life planning, or decision-making.

I hope it works for you; it has for me.

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