Have you ever been in a situation where you are faced with making a very big decision in your life? I think the answer to this question for all of us is YES… Decisions are never easy to make… there is always that “what if” that lingers in our thought process and interferes with our ability to make rational, sensible decisions. I’ve found, during my journey, that we all seem to make these decisions harder than they really need to be.
Early on in my professional career, I was faced with a decision to change jobs. I was very naive as a young professional and had no idea how to go about making a decision. One of my mentors, who I had confided in, asked me if I was familiar with the concept of doing a Ben Franklin. Obviously, I had no idea what in the world he was talking about. You see, this is one of those simple ideas that can aid in your ability to make concise, practical, and logical decisions, using definitive information, to guide you to making good choices in your quest for a happy life.
The History of A “Ben Franklin”
Benjamin Franklin described his well-known decision-making process in a letter to Joseph Priestley who had asked Franklin’s advice about a vexing decision. Essentially, Franklin’s process is a matter of listing the Pros and Cons, reflecting on them, and making your decision.
As a young adult, Franklin developed a method for making complex decisions. At age 66, in a letter to his close friend Joseph Priestley (a London chemist who, in 1774, isolated the element oxygen,) Franklin described this method.
In this letter written on September 19, 1772, Franklin mentions one of the key challenges of fact-collecting and decision-making:
“In the affair of so much importance to you, wherein you ask my advice, I cannot for want of sufficient premises, advise you what to determine, but if you please I will tell you how. When these difficult cases occur, they are difficult chiefly because while we have them under consideration all the reasons pro and con are not present to the mind at the same time; but sometimes one set present themselves, and at other times another, the first being out of sight. Hence the various purposes or inclinations that alternately prevail, and the uncertainty that perplexes us.”
Then, Franklin describes how to weigh the “pro et contra” (Latin for “for and against”) in any situation:
“To get over this, my way is, to divide, half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns, writing over the one pro, and over the other con. Then during three or four day’s consideration I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives that at different times occur to me for or against the measure. When I have thus got them all together in one view, I endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out: if I find a reason pro equal to some two reasons con, I strike out the three. If l judge some two reasons con equal to some three reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the balance lies; and if after a day or two of farther consideration nothing new that is of importance occurs on either side, I come to a determination accordingly. And though the weight of reasons cannot be taken with the precision of algebraic quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less likely to make a rash step; and in fact I have found great advantage from this kind of equation, in what may be called moral or prudential algebra.”
How A “Ben Franklin” Helped Me
Once I was able to understand the truly simple concept of making a “Ben Franklin”, my mentor was able to help me process the approach. I created my “Pros” and “Cons” and came to the conclusion that the opportunity that was presented to me, albeit daunting, led me to decide to take a leap of faith and agree to pursue the new job. Without that decision-making process, I would never have made the professional move that changed my career path and led me to where I am today.
I’ve continued to use the “Ben Franklin” throughout my professional career, as well as my personal life. It is an easy way to narrow down what my priorities are and what I truly feel are “pros”. It eliminates the “guess work” in the very important decisions in your life.
Making decisions is never easy. Some people feel trapped and are unable to make decisions and as a result, find themselves in a perpetual cycle of indecision. Honestly, I feel that any decision is better than nothing at all, but I find comfort in knowing that I have a fail-safe approach using an old fashion “Ben Franklin” to help me make those difficult decisions in life.