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How We Decide


Practice Group Report

Clean Language is a great modelling tool, and we spent our time at this month’s practice group modelling how we make good decisions…

The subject of our first practice group meeting at our new venue at Gosport Business Park was modelling how we make decisions, and before we got going we discussed what kinds of decisions it would be best to model, and agreed to focus on decisions that either (a) worked out OK (we recognised that sometimes we don’t know whether a decision has worked out for several years) and/or (b) seemed to involve a good decision-making process. We ruled out not making a decision until one is made for you.* We also agreed that it was safe to assume that making a decision is a process and so we’d need to determine the various steps in the sequence, with questions such as:

  • Then what happens?
  • What happens next?
  • What happens just before ... ?
  • Where could ... come from?
  • What happens between ... and ... ?

Working in threes (two modellers and an exemplar) and to a strict timetable, modellers quizzed their exemplar for 15 minutes then took another 15 minutes to discuss the model and create a first draft. This was to help them decide what information was missing and so where to direct their exemplar’s attention in the second round, which happened after the break. And while the exemplars were not needed, they formed a second group with 3 modellers and an exemplar which worked 15 minutes ‘behind’ the other groups. (Yes, it was complicated - but it worked a dream!)

We ended with five presentations to the group of the various decision making processes that had been modelled, the gist of which were as follows:

  • It starts with ‘jumping in’ and excitement and apprehension, like the knot of a tie. This gets tighter as fear surfaces and it feels like being back at school, in uniform and wondering, what if I make the wrong decision? As fear surfaces, a fog also surfaces, coming up from the ground, which is sulphurous and smelly.

Then it is as though I am walking in a forest with no idea where I am or how to get back. I pay attention to the bracken which is broken in some areas, my senses kick in and I can smell and touch and it feels right. Now I am listening and seeing that there is a pathway in a clearing and I get on it.

There is a light behind the trees beckoning me and I walk out. I am now wearing a suit and I feel smart, confident, feminine and assured. People are following me and I am good and ready.

  • I start by asking lots of questions, which come from my head and from previous experience. The answers to the questions enable me to create a list of criteria to consider. I take the first item on the list and spend time in my head analysing it.

I see myself as a cartoon character running up and down manically between two camps (a ‘good’ camp and a ‘bad’ camp). At the same time, I have an appreciation of time ticking away and feel a pressure to make a decision about that item. A timekeeper calls ‘Time Out’ and I decide (in my head and my gut) whether that one is ‘good’ or bad’. I place my decision as a mark on a vertical water marker, where ‘good’ is high and ‘bad’ is low. Then I move onto the next item on the list and run through this process with that one.

Sometimes an item is ‘pre-graded’ so there’s no need to go through this process. I just take a moment to confirm my decision and mark it on the water marker.

When I have worked through the whole list, the vertical marker changes to a set of old fashioned scales and if the scales are even, I feel comfortable. I notice a doubt about this, though and I really need the scales to be up on the good side, so I run through my list again. When the good side is up, I make a conscious decision to take a risk and I proceed.

It is like a series of checks and balances.

  • It starts with radar, and a fast AppleMac that should slow down. There is something heavy that I can’t see through and a gaping wound appears.

Then a mother supports a baby and the AppleMac now slows down. I read pages and pictures and they become books, and I put the ones I want on the shelf and they become a library. There is then a goblin stool that knows where to go. The goblin pops out and I reach it and go.

  • There is a question: “This or that?” Each option is in a bubble with pictures and important words. I am flitting back and forth between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘pros’ and ‘cons’.

One set disappears and the words of the right decision float to the top. They are bright orange, with some yellow and light green.

I check inside a gold flash, in and outside of my body. Then the bubble bursts and I take action.

  • When I am making a good decision it’s like there is a light bright white encircling it, and nothing can hide. I can see obstacles and opportunities and there is recognition. I am freer.

There is freedom, clarity, pleasure, a weight has lifted and it’s easy and fun. The light comes from a big black switch with two positions: easy and hard. Sometimes I know it will be easy - I am using my intuition, which is like being at the start of a long jump and knowing I will complete the jump.

Other times the switch is blocked and I am paralysed. It is like I am hemmed in, inside a black tunnel with a weight on my shoulders. When I am paralysed, I need help.

In the few minutes remaining, we talked about what people had learned about modelling during the evening, which included:

  • Making a distinction between working with a client’s outcome and your own (modelling) outcome. When you are doing pure modelling, it’s important to be clear at the start what exactly you want to model, and so what is your ‘starter’ question.
  • When you ask, ‘Then what happens?’ there can be an awful lot of steps in between the first and second perceptions. We realised it would have been good to use post-it notes to note the different steps in the sequence then they could be moved as more steps emerge.
  • When you really want to know something, it can be a challenge to ‘translate’ your question and find a clean way of asking it.

*I thought you might enjoy this passage from a novel I’m reading (The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath) which has a great metaphorical description of what can happen when you don’t decide:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig-tree in the story.

“From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Eurpoe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and off-beat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.

“I saw myself sitting in the crotch of the fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and one-by-one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Image by PixxlTeufel from Pixabay

About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.

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