Self-Coaching Activity: Creating a Personal Decision-Model

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

Making personal and intentional decisions means saying no to the wrong things, so that you can say yes to the right things. What's wrong and what's right? That is up to you. In this blog activity, we will help you prioritize what's most important, using criteria that's unique to you.

If you've ever made a pros and cons list, you have used a decision-model; however, pros and cons don't apply to every decision you make. It's just one tool. In order to make decisions that are truly right for us, we have to know what's important to us, what our needs are and what we uniquely value. Sometimes, we need to honor our energy and other times, we need to prioritize someone we love and care about.

An adaptation of the Muda model for coaching purposes

In his book Essentialism, author Greg McKeown notes that the key ingredients to getting "essential" about where we focus our time and energy is to figure out what's important, what's not important, how to prioritize things that are important and how to say no to things that are not.

The Japanese have a word for doing things that are not important. It's called "Muda," and it stands for "non-value added activity."

Designing Your Decision-Model

A decision-model is a simple tool that we can use to help us discern what's important and what's not. You might use a decision-model to decide whether or not to take on a project, move forward on an idea, or let go of something that isn't serving your needs.

It is important to note up front that your decision-model may not work for every life or work decision. It will make some decisions easy and be a starting place for reflecting more deeply on complex decisions, especially those that impact others around you.

It also may not serve well in all work environments. Chain-of-command organizational structures make decisions based on authority. In these environments, your decision-model may help you consider your preferences and come to the table with a clear perspective; however, we acknowledge that in these types of cultures, you may have little control over what ultimately gets decided on.

Many prefer working in these kinds of environments, because decision-making is easier when someone else simply tells us what to do. It's not wrong. At some point in our lives, we all had someone else make decisions for us. But as we mature, that warm fuzzy blanket of someone else making the tough calls goes away. We realize that life is not black and white but many shades of gray. We need ways to formulate clear and confident decisions for ourselves. Millennials call this "adulting."

Think about your decision-model as a starting place, and if this activity leads you down a path that is radically different than the one that you're on, we recommend contacting us for a discussion about how coaching might support your way forward.

To begin, here's one of my favorite decision-models from my colleague Heather Martinez (Let's Letter Together). It's four simple questions.

  1. Does this align with my values?

  2. Will this allow me the opportunity to serve in meaningful ways?

  3. Will doing this contribute to my portfolio in ways that will attract similar work?

  4. Will this compensate me financially and fulfill me?

If the answer to all of these questions is not "yes," than the decision is a "no." And if she moves forward, she proceeds cautiously with awareness that she is compromising somewhere.

Heather covers her model in a series of talks including embodiment exercises that covers visioning, strategy, integration and execution, each with a quick hand lettering lesson to build confidence and design a future life. Subscribe to Heather's newsletter to be the first in the know when these talks go live!

Before starting your decision-model, we recommend identifying a few of your values and needs, then return to this blog.

Two steps before continuing...

  1. Mine for your values.

  2. Identify your personal needs.

Now that you have these in your backpack, let's arrive at a decision-model that's right for you.

Try This (10-30 minutes): List Your Decision-Criteria

Want to listen and journal? Use this audio track.

  • Think of a tough decision you had to make recently, something you've already closed the loop on, something you're satisfied by how you came to this decision. If nothing comes to mind, imagine what it might look like to be satisfied with a decision.

  • Share this experience either though writing in your journal, recording your voice as a memo in your phone, or talking with a trusted friend.

  • If you're doing this on your own, re-read what you wrote or listen to yourself telling your story. If you are doing this with a friend, ask your partner to reflect on what they heard you say.

  • Ask yourself or have your partner ask you these questions: (1) What were some of the important factors or decision-criteria you used? Perhaps you considered certain feelings, values, perceptions, experiences, needs or consequences. (2) Which of these factors seemed to be most important? If you noticed overlap in your decision-criteria and your needs and values, great! That means that we are beginning to see your needs and values show up in the context of a specific life event.

  • Write down or have your partner mirror back the factors or criteria that seemed important to you.

  • Try this activity one or two more times and make a full list of criteria.

  • Star or circle the criteria that you used a lot. Get to your top 3-5 criteria.

If you're struggling with what decision-criteria are, here are a few examples:

  • Supports a goal I have

  • Supports those I love

  • Helps me learn a new skill

  • Serves the environment or community

  • Makes me money

  • Is unique to my skills and/or personality

  • Gives me energy

  • Brings me joy

  • Is mandatory or required

  • Connects me with others

  • Serves a relationship that is important to me

Now that you have a few things on your decision-criteria list, it's time to design your model.

Try This (10-30 minutes + a one week testing period): Designing Your Decision-Model

  • Look at the visuals farther down in this blog. Choose one that resonates with you.

  • Choose a few of the decision-criteria from your list and play with how they fit in the model. TIP: Use post-it notes and an empty wall space to try different combinations of criteria and visual formats.

  • Ask yourself, based on my model:

  • What indicates a "yes"?

  • What indicates a "no"?

  • What indicates a need for deeper reflection or more data?

  • Test it out over a week with one or two decisions you have to make.

  • For example, the next time someone asks you to do something, ask for a little time and pull out your model.

  • Reflect on the request.

  • Where does this fit in my model?

  • Is this a simple yes or no decision?

  • Might I need to do more reflecting?

  • Might there be anyone else I need to speak with in order to decide?

  • After gathering any additional data and reflecting as needed, choose a path forward and decide what action you will take.

  • After taking that action, reflect on how well your model served you.

  • To what extent did my model help?

  • Did I discover new criteria in the process?

  • Will I keep this model, tweak it, or try a new design completely?

Your model may change over time and that's okay. Allow your model to be fluid and adapt it as your grow.

A list of questions

Not sure where to start? This is simple and easy to run with.

A two-by-two matrix

When it's not an easy yes or no, deepen this model by reflecting more on what's important about this specific decision.

A heirarchy pyramid (a la Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs)

This is great if you want to think about factors in terms of which ones are the "foundational."

A Venn Diagram

This may help to see alignment between two or three criteria.

A decision funnel (based on OGSystems Visioneering team practice)

I don't recommend starting with this one, because it may be difficult to figure out at first which criteria come first, second and third.

A dialogue map (based on Jeff Conklin's Dialogue Mapping modality)

Definitely do this with Post-its at first, as you may like to play with the order and layout.


  • Come up with a simple decision model based on what you learned here.

  • Put it in a format that's easy to remember and visible in your home and/or work space. I like having it on a post-it on my computer monitor.

Did this activity bring up deeper things for you? Please contact us to schedule a coaching session to process your model and what came up around it.

Thanks for reading this far! This is Lauren's personal decision-model.

  1. Do I have time and energy?

  2. Is this aligned to my unique value and skill sets.

  3. High time/high unique = yes

  4. Low time/low unique = no

  5. High time/low unique = who's opportunity is this?

  6. Low time/high unique = can I save this for later or partner with someone with more time?

This article may contain affiliate and/or compensated links. For more information, please read our disclosure here. If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to our blog to receive email notifications whenever we post, and check out our events page for our coaching and workshop schedule.

You may also like to read these Self-Coaching blogs:

  1. Designing the Journey (Personal Road Map)

  2. 6 Ways to Mine for Values

  3. Inventory Your Personal Needs

  4. Put Your Oxygen Mask on First (Energy Renewal and Self-Care)

  5. Contracting with Yourself

  6. Crafting a Personal Mission Statement

  7. I Am My Future Self, Right Now (Personal Visioning and Goal Setting)


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