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We often miss this step when making important decisions

Back in 2007, I made a life-altering decision. At the time, I was a practicing lawyer at a big law firm in Chicago. I loved the city, working with a smart group of lawyers, the lifestyle that my job afforded me. But I had grown weary of thinking of my life in six-minute billable increments. I was also tired of the lack of control over my time and the long hours. I began thinking about leaving the practice of law entirely.

I spent months agonizing over the decision, manufacturing every pro-and-con list imaginable, and consulting numerous people (who inevitably gave me conflicting advice), books and a few career advisors.

Enter analysis paralysis. It felt easier to do nothing—to maintain the status quo—than to take a leap of faith.

I know I’m not alone here. When we’re about to make an important decision, we demand perfect information and absolute certainty. We don’t start walking forward until we find an approach that we believe is guaranteed to work. The human brain dislikes uncertainty and will try to avoid it at all cost.

There are several causes of analysis paralysis, but I’m going to focus on one here: A false assumption that each decision we make is final and irreversible.

If we take a leap into the unknown, we assume there’s no turning back. If we take a new job, if we move to a new city, if we buy a new house—and things don’t work out the way we hoped—we believe life as we know it will come to an end.

But here’s the thing: Not all decisions are created equal. There’s a difference between irreversible one-way door decisions and reversible two-way door decisions.

Contrary to our assumptions, most of our leaps into the unknown come with a two-way door. As Richard Branson writes, “You can walk through, see how it feels, and walk back through to the other side if it isn’t working.” You just have to leave the door unlocked.

This was the epiphany that propelled me forward when I was struggling with whether to leave my job. I was assuming this was a one-way door decision, but the assumption was false. I recognized that there is no “wrong” decision per se. I hadn’t burned any bridges. I had built solid connections and could always go back to practicing law, if not at the same law firm, then somewhere else. In other words, the status quo was always going to be there for me to return to, if I wanted it.

To be sure, some decisions are the irreversible, one-way kind. There’s no turning back from having children, for example. For these decisions, careful deliberation is recommended before you take the plunge.

But the vast majority of decisions fall into the two-way door category. When walking back out is possible, you don’t need to put yourself through an agonizing decision making process or get tied up exploring every single “what if” scenario. It’s easier to decide quickly, enter the room, and walk back out if you don’t like what you see.

You also have to recognize that most decisions will be difficult at first, as you will have left the comfort of what you know. So, you need to allow some time to pass before you can be sure if you want to go back. My rule of thumb is to allow at least 3-6 months for most major changes before you can realistically assess if you made a good decision.

The next time you’re making a decision, ask yourself, Is this a one-way door or a two-way door? If it’s a two-way door, decide and move quickly.

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