Make Better Decisions by “Grokking” First

Make Better Decisions by “Grokking” First

Have you ever had trouble making a decision because you needed to choose between equally good choices?

What if you are weighing two very divergent career paths, both of which could lead to great satisfaction? Or deciding whether to retire now or delay one more year? Or wavering between selling or keeping your company? Or considering moving to Omaha or Miami?

It may be time to try “grokking.”

It’s an innovative exercise that can help you get unstuck in your decision making.

“Grok” was coined by Robert A. Heinlein in his 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. In the novel, “to grok” is a Martian word meaning “to understand intuitively.”

I learned about it from Bill Burnett and Dave Evan’s book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. The authors describe “grokking” as a way to discern between options when you’ve already cognitively evaluated all the ramifications and are still stuck. If rational calculation isn’t getting you to a decision, grokking can connect you to your gut instincts—and better choices.

Grokking in four steps

Let’s imagine a recent college grad has three great choices in front of her:

  1. Take a decent paying job in her field right now
  2. Accept a lower-paying internship that may lead to better opportunities in the future
  3. Return for grad school to earn a degree with greater income potential

1. For a few days, imagine that Choice #1 is your reality.

To start grokking, pick a choice and live as if you’ve made that decision for a predetermined series of days. Here’s how the book describes it:

To grok a choice, you don’t think about it—you become it. Let’s say you’ve got three alternatives. Pick any one of them and stop thinking about it. Choose to think for the next one to three days that you are the person who has made the decision to pick Alternative A.

When our college grad is going about her errands, she adopts the mindset of the person who decided to take the job offer. To be clear, she isn’t taking any action yet. It’s just a mental shift; accepting the role. She’s “trying on” the version of reality in which she accepts that decent-paying position. When she thinks of who she is, she’s the person who has accepted that job offer.

2. Take a break.

After you’ve imagined yourself living with Choice #1 for a few days, simply take a break from thinking about it for a while. This break can be a few days or even longer.

3. Repeat step one with a different choice.

Grok the next choice! Our friend would now imagine for a few days that she has chosen the internship, then take another mental rest. Then she repeats this process to pretend she is going back to graduate school. Rinse and repeat.

4. Explore your reactions.

Doing this exercise may not give you any new hard data to consider, but you might be surprised by what you learn. Bypassing cognitive functions that are stuck in “analysis paralysis” can get you in touch with deeper intuitions about your choices. You may find out that a particular decision doesn’t “sit well” with you or that you are unexpectedly excited about going a particular direction. How did “trying on” each choice feel?

Next time you’re facing a hard decision, try grokking to see if connecting with instinct and intuition can lead to the right choice for you.

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