It’s very easy to lose perspective when we’re facing a thorny dilemma.
Blinded by the particulars of the situation, we’ll waffle and agonize, changing our mind everyday.
Maybe our worst enemy in resolving these conﬂicts is short-term emotion, which can be an unreliable adviser. When individuals share the worst decisions they’ve made in life, they are often reviewing choices made in the grip of visceral emotion: anger, lust, anxiety, greed.
Our lives would be very different if we had a dozen “undo” buttons to use in the repercussions of these choices.
But we are not slaves to our feelings. Visceral emotion fades. That’s why the wisdom advises that when we’ve got an important decision to make, we should sleep on it. It’s good advice, and we should take it to heart. For many decisions, though, sleep isn’t enough. We need some strategy.
One tool we can use was designed by Suzy Welch, a business writer for publications such as Bloomberg Businessweek and O magazine.
It’s called 10/10/10, and Welch talks about it in a book of the same name.
To use 10/10/10, we think about our decisions on three different time frames:
How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now?
What about 10 months from now?
How about 10 years from now?
The three time frames provide an elegant way of forcing us to get some distance on our decisions. Consider a discussion we had with a woman named Carla, who was agonizing about her relationship with Matt. They’d been dating for ten months, and Carla said, “He is a wonderful person and in most ways exactly what I am looking for in a lifelong mate.”
She worried, though, that they weren’t moving forward in their relationship. Carla, at 37, wanted to have kids and didn’t feel she had an unlimited amount of time to cultivate her relationship with Matt, who was 45. After ten months, she still hadn’t met Matt’s adopted daughter (from his ﬁrst marriage), and neither person had told the other, “I love you.”
Matt’s divorce had been unpleasant, leaving him gun shy about another serious relationship. After the divorce, he’d resolved to keep his daughter separate from his dating life. Carla related to him, but it hurt her to have a critical part of his life ruled off-limits to her.
When we talked to Carla, she was about to take her ﬁrst extended vacation with Matt, a road trip up Highway 1 from Los Angeles to Portland. She wondered whether she should “take the next step” during the trip. She knew that Matt was slow to make decisions. Should she be the ﬁrst to say, “I love you”?
We requested that Carla attempt the 10/10/10 framework. Envision that you resolve right now to tell him, this weekend, that you love him. How would you feel about that 10 minutes from now? “I think I’d be nervous but proud of myself for taking the risk and putting myself out there.”
How would you feel about it 10 months from now? “I don’t think I’ll regret this. I don’t. That is to say, clearly, I truly want this to work. I think he’s great. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?”
How about 10 years from now? Carla said that, regardless of how he’d reacted, it most likely wouldn’t make any difference after a decade. By then they’d either be happily together or she would be in a happy relationship with someone else.
Carla should step up. She’d be proud of herself for doing it, and she doesn’t think she’d regret it, even if the relationship ultimately didn’t work out. But without consciously doing the 10/10/10 analysis, it didn’t feel like an easy decision. Those short-term feelings, nervousness, fear, and the fear of a negative response were a distraction and a obstacle.
We followed up with Carla a couple of months later to see what had happened on the road trip, and she e-mailed the following:
“I did say “I love you” ﬁrst. I am deﬁnitely attempting to change the circumstance and feel less in limbo about things… Matt hasn’t yet said he loves me too, but he’s making progress overall (in terms of getting closer to me, being vulnerable, etc.), and I do believe that he loves me and just needs a bit more time to get over his fear of saying it back.
I’m glad that I took the risk and won’t regret it even if things don’t ultimately work out with Matt. I’d say it’s about 80/20 odds right now that Matt and I will stay together past the end of this summer.”
10/10/10 helps to level the emotional playing ﬁeld. What we’re feeling now is intense and sharp, while the future feels fuzzier. That inconsistency gives the present too much power, because our present emotions are always in the spotlight. 10/10/10 forces us to shift our spotlights, asking us to imagine a moment 10 months into the future with the same “freshness” that we feel in the present.
That move can help us to keep our short-term feelings in perspective. It’s not that we should ignore our short-term emotions; often they are telling us something useful about what we want in a situation. But we should not let them lead us.
Obviously, we don’t check our emotions at the door of the office; the same emotion re-balancing is necessary at work. If you’ve been avoiding a difficult conversation with a coworker, then you’re letting short-term feelings lead you. If you commit to have the conversation, then 10 minutes from now you’ll probably be anxious, but 10 months from now, won’t you be glad you did it? Relieved? Glad?
If you’ve been chasing a hotshot job candidate, 10 minutes after you decide to extend an offer, you might feel nothing but excitement; 10 months from now, though, will you regret the pay package you’re offering her if it makes other employees feel less appreciated? And 10 years from now, will today’s hotshot have been ﬂexible enough to change with your business?
To be clear, short-term feeling isn’t always the enemy. In the face of an injustice, it may be appropriate to act on outrage.