Shift Your Mental Spotlight

We make thousands of decisions every day. It’s a natural part of life and decision making rarely is a conscious decision.

Even when we think we’re making a concerted effort to make a decision, there’s other factors at play. We’re not looking for the best answer. We’re looking for the answer that best fits our preconceived notions.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, put it in these terms

We give too much weight to the information that’s right in front of us, while failing to consider the information that’s just offstage.

Have you discovered this to be true?

Here’s what I’ve discovered. We’ve got a confirmation bias when decisions pop up in life. And our mental spotlight shifts to focus on one or two solutions.

The mental spotlight is so narrow that we miss out on the many other options that are available to us. Let’s walk through a few scenarios.

1. Randy’s work performance hasn’t been great. In fact, you’re thinking of firing him. It’s the best choice after all, right? Maybe but is it the only choice? What else could we do in this situation?

Could you reassign Randy to a new position that may be a better fit for his skills and personality?

Could you send Randy to training to increase his skills and his confidence?

Could you talk to Randy and see if there’s an issue at home that may be causing a lack of focus?

By shifting your focus slightly, you’ve allowed your mental spotlight to notice other solutions to a difficult situation. Maybe Randy needs to be fired but maybe a shift in his duties or more training is what he really needs.

2. The building you’re working in is too small to accommodate the employees and equipment your company needs. The obvious solution is to move into a bigger, newer building. Is that the best solution or…

Could you create divisions in your company and run the business from two separate buildings? Both working together and helping the company to grow but separated by different duties.

Could expand the current facilities and add on? There could be extra land behind the small building that could be used to expand. Look into the option.

Could it be that you need to narrow your focus and get rid of some of the under-performing business segments?

When you feel the mental spotlight narrowing onto one decision without consideration for other options, realize what’s happening. You’re going for the low hanging fruit.

Instead go through the process of seeing the other options available to you. As seen in the examples, there are more options than you realize.

Once you’ve shifted your mental spotlight, go through the options you’ve discovered and figure out which one works best for you. Just don’t jump on the first solution you see!

Question: Have you been caught in the trap of a mental spotlight? What other options weren’t considered because of the narrow focus of your search? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I heard somewhere that when faced with a difficult decision you should always ask for three options from you team.

    • That’s a great strategy. There’s one caveat. We’ve got to be careful and make sure we’re being given three REAL options. I’ve found teams giving 2 fluff answers so that the desired outcome will happen.

  • Often we think the choice is between only two options – the two things that are in front of us and obvious. The problem is those two options are usually equally bad. I encourage my coaching clients to list out 20 or 30 possible options and then explore those, looking for the best solution.

    • Tom, you’re doing a great work in encouraging your clients to explore more than the 2 obvious options. There’s so many options that we close out because of narrow-minded thinking.

      How do your clients respond when you first ask them to list out 20-30 possibilities?

      • At first I don’t think they think it is possible – but that is why I’m there to work with them and explore some things they may not have thought of.

  • this is true we always give our presence of mind more value that the actual reality due to which we often face consequences in the end. So, I think one should always get confirmed what the exact situation is and then only take a fixed decision.

  • This is my favorite line: We’re not looking for the best answer. We’re looking for the answer that best fits our preconceived notions. — It’s the classic A or B scenario. We have to look for options C, D, E, F etc until we find the best option. It’s easy to do when talking to others. More challenging with yourself. Thanks, Joseph!

    • Thanks Lauren! It’s amazing how we limit and narrow our choices when there’s many more out there. Sure there’s times that it’s needed but that comes further in the decision making process.

  • It’s important for leaders to be creative and think more broadly when it comes to finding solutions to problems. Leadership is never just doing things one way it’s about expanding our thinking and finding solutions to today’s problems or issues. Great thoughts!

    • Dan, you’re on target about creativity being important for a leader. It helps paint the big picture and to see new areas of growth.

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