Clean Thinking, Managing Stress, Anxiety, Overwhelm, Problem Solving

Stop making pros/cons lists

When making a decision, recognize that unless you are prepared to develop a complex matrix of weight allocation for each variable, pros/cons lists are really useless.

Creating one is an indulgent exercise, making us feel like if only we get it all out on paper, we will be closer to a decision.

Here’s the thing: creating a pros/cons list does not provide any insight. It’s just giving you a page of words to stare at… and still feel undecided.


My husband and I once created a weighted variable list for all the cities we were considering moving to. We had the variables on one axis (political climate, cost of living, people we knew there, proximity to nightlife, etc) and we put the cities on the other axis. For each variable, we had to score its importance relative to the other variables on a scale of 1-5.

Because I am an Excel junkie, I created conditional formatting for the cells that varied from green (positive) to yellow (neutral) to red (negative) based in our scoring system, so that we could see at a glance where the most “pro” of the pros were and the most “con” of the cons were. For the record, staying in our existing city was a line item in the model.

I’ve got to say, our model was a thing of beauty!

We tweaked. We revised. We changed our minds here and there. We added variables and scored them. The answer, according to the brilliant weighted score pros/cons list, was just so freaking obvious. A big, honking column of bright green staring at us.

And we didn’t select that brilliant model’s answer. Instead, we stayed put. It wasn’t due to indecision, or fear, or lack of resources. We stayed put because it was what our hearts wanted. No place else would be home the way this place was… as holy-hell expensive as it is.


The next time you are inclined to make a pros/cons list, do this first: Just pick something. Something that feels right. Sit with it for a while. Ask yourself why that thing, and why not this other thing? Is it fear of the alternative? Is it because you want one thing, but someone else important to you wants another thing? Is it because you’re afraid others will judge you?

Because a pros/cons list will not solve those issues.

Better to skip the exercise, listen to your gut, and just get started sooner on resolving the road blocks.

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