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Decision Making: What's the 3rd option though?

Updated: Jan 4

Our brains love a shortcut and this one is an all-time classic!

Ever found yourself stuck between two extreme options, neither of which seem desirable?

Let me explain how this happens and an easy way around it.

"What's the third option though" with an icon of a brain and lightbulb

In order to save energy and optimise for fast decision making, our brains use shortcuts whenever they can, rules of thumb (or heuristics if you want to be fancy).

These rules of thumb provide “good enough” results for 90% of everyday functions, so we use them and save a lot of energy.

If we actually thought about every decision on a deep level, we’d never get anything done. Who wants to spend 20 minutes deciding which morning coffee order is going to give you the optimal nutritional input and perk you up? We know that we like a skinny latte from the fancy milkbar on the corner and it’s on our way to the office, so that’s a winner for us. No brain power required.

Sometimes though, we actually need to consider something more deeply and use our brain power to its fullest extent. We don’t want our brain on autopilot all of the time, but our brain doesn’t know this. It knows it wants to conserve energy and thinking is hard! So what does it do? It throws up a shortcut to save time and energy - A shortcut like “All-or-nothing thinking” (also known as black and white thinking) which can have some seriously annoying side effects.

When you’re confronted with a difficult situation or decision, it can feel like you only have two options, and if you buy into this idea by telling yourself that “it’s all or nothing”, you run the risk of putting unnecessary pressure on yourself and making a rash decision.

Right now, a lot of businesses are struggling to stay afloat financially and a common all or nothing thought is “I have to lay people off or I’ll go broke” - but they’re not the only two options are they? If you find yourself labouring over a decision like this, all you need to do is challenge yourself with “What’s the 3rd option though?” and free your mind of this binary thinking trap.

Just a few possibilities are:

  • Negotiate different working arrangements, reduced hours etc

  • Some people may be open to taking on different roles in the business

  • You may be able negotiate a rent reduction with the landlord

There are always countless options available to us, and while they won’t always be ideal, they are available.

Very few situations in life present us with just one of two options.

If you can just remember to ask yourself “What’s the 3rd option though?” when you notice yourself thinking in terms of all-or-nothing, you’ll save a lot of time and stress in this mental trap.


Thank you for taking the time to read and for investing in better thinking.

If you would like to discuss any of the concepts further you can do so by emailing or by clicking here to book a call.

If you enjoyed this article or found it worthwhile, please consider sharing it by clicking on the links below.

Until then, Onward & upward, Jake

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