Friday, March 5, 2010

Dealing With Big Changes

We live in an uncertain world where we are forced to make decisions with less than perfect information. Even if the information we got was good when we got it, the situation may have changed. If it hasn't, it almost certainly will. With lives, fortunes and families at stake, decisions can be stressful. Several years ago, I came up with a rule of thumb to help me. I hope it helps you.

The rule is this: don't make big changes for small reasons. When the consequence of a change is big, your reason for doing it should be big too. 

I like this rule because it encourages me to consider consequences directly. Is a decision likely to matter in a year, or two, or ten? If so, it qualifies as a big decision. If not, I may be fretting over something unimportant. Some decisions are clearly big ones, others clearly small. The rest may or may not, but a little thought will probably allow you to decide.If not, it is probably a big decision.

Next I consider motivation. What is my reason for making the change? Am I achieving a life's goal (big)? Am I reacting to something I don't like but might be able to change (small)? Great things can happen with enough motivation, but each of us scores motivation differently. 

Let's consider a deliberately unclear example. Imagine that you are offered a new job at a different employer for a modest but not great pay increase. Do you accept the offer? Different people will answer this question differently precisely because they measure consequences and reasons differently.

Depending on your situation, a job change can be anything from a modest change to a huge one. To answer this, look a few years out and consider who else is affected. Trust yourself and get the best information you can. Changing the kind of work you do or moving to a new home will tip the scales toward big. 

Now consider your reason for changing. How much money is involved? What are the prospects at the old and new job? Are the people at the old or new job a factor? Is the reason big enough to justify the change? 

This rule is rarely going to cause you to decide against a potential change. More often, you will see that the consequences aren't as daunting as you thought (not so big) or that your reasons are big enough to justify the action. Either way will lower your stress and make you feel better about your decision. 

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