Descartes square: how to make a good choice in life and in a career

Every day we make thousands of decisions. Meanwhile, even small household choices create a great pressure for our brain. This pressure intensifies when we face life inflection points, when we need to make the right choice to determine our career and relationships with loved ones. 

Anna Stetsenko, the founder of Indigo – Tech Recruiters, shares a proven and effective tool to make the right decision.

The more serious the choice and the more it influences our life, the more we doubt. “Pros” and “cons” mix with emotions, the opinions of colleagues, and your own fears and doubts. We tend to postpone making decisions. And when we are emotionally exhausted, we usually make the wrong decisions. 

It has to be your decision!

Let’s make it clear: when it comes to decision making, there is no ultimate truth. Something one person finds good can be bad for another person. It is important that the decision is right for you. It has to lead to the desired goal, help in your development, and become a step towards your dream.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for advice. An expert opinion can be very useful if you have a lack of information, and the expert has a great deal of experience in this area. But don’t try to substitute someone else’s decision for your own.

There’s no point in shifting responsibility for your own destiny onto someone else’s shoulders.

As a bonus, when listening to someone else’s advice, you can understand yourself better. Our psyche has an interesting characteristic: it divides the advice given by other people into good and stupid, depending on how similar it is to our decision. It is very likely that you have already made your own decision, although you haven’t yet formulated it.

Descartes Square

“Descartes Square” is a technique to clean up the mess in your thoughts. It works very well if you are choosing between two companies and want to understand if you should accept an offer to switch to a new position. 

The tool is so simple and universal that you can use it for any important decision. It is, however, especially effective if you need to choose between two options. It allows you to take a more balanced and rational approach to the matter.

Step 1. Take your time

You will need 30-60 minutes, depending on your ability to focus and clearly express your thoughts. 

Step 2. Get rid of doubts 

Your brain has many tricks to keep you from change. Its purpose is to assure the survival of the species. From this viewpoint, every new experience poses a risk. This is why our brain becomes skeptical, and tries to convince you to not even try as it “won’t help anyways”. Just try it!

If this technique has proved useful for many people, it will be useful for you as well

While working, you should be alone with a piece of paper. No one should give you advice during this time. Don’t engage your significant other, your best friend, your colleagues… They won’t be responsible for the tasks you set for yourself. The best thing your loved ones can do for you is to create space for acceptance and support. 

Step 3. Try to transform the problem into a concrete request

First and foremost, try answering this question: “Why am I comparing these specific two options? What other alternatives are possible?”

Step 4. Draw a coordinate system on a piece of A4 paper

Now you will be exploring the first option. For instance, switching to a management position. 

You have to answer the following questions:

  • what will happen if “yes” ++
  • what will happen if “no” +-
  • what will not happen if “yes” -+
  • what will not happen if “no” – –

Have you analysed it? Now, take a new piece of paper and go to the second option. This is not always necessary, as sometimes the analysis of the first option clarifies all doubt. However, sometimes it is useful to go through both options. 

Step 5. Analyze your priorities 

Ask yourself, based on the analysis, what you see now, what you feel and want, and where more energy/perspective/usefulness is. What are you inclined to now? What can help you or get in the way to your goal?

When you make the right decision, you will stop doubting. You will have energy to implement it, and the proper words to explain it to others. You did a great job!

Step 6. Create a plan 

What is your next step? For example: “I want to move, and therefore I will look for relevant job openings and improve my English”. Make a plan of everything that can support and safeguard you on the way, as well as the resources you have (LinkedIn profile, family support, friends who are subject matter experts).

Your choice could be to not make a change. Remember, passing up an opportunity simply because it’s not yours is also a step forward.

I hope everyone makes the right choice and soars to new heights!


Written for HappyMonday: