The 10-2-1 Decision-Making Procedure

There is a relatively new body of thinking and research in psychology that examines the phenomenon of intuition. Intuition is commonly expressed as “gut feeling”. Previously, gut-feelings and the like have been seen with some derision because the thinking was that decisions were made with some combination of thinking and feeling. Now, it seems there is a “third force” in the decision-making process that includes both thinking and feeling but adds a dimension between them called intuition. The data, as well as the thinking, on this matter, are not yet clear, but it seems that there is, indeed, this thing that most people call gut-level feeling (or more rarely, gut-level thinking) that does not fit exactly into the thinking or the feeling realm.

So what does all this about intuition have to do with the title of this blog, “10-2-1”? I need to backup a bit before we go forward with this “10-2-1” model. This model came out from several sources: Carl Jung’s ground breaking understanding of the two elements of decision making: thinking and feeling; some recent literature about the whole business of intuition; our combined 90 years of experience conducting psychotherapy; and our own intuition. More accurately, the 10-2-1 model is Deb’s idea. So we give acknowledgement to Jung, other theorists and researchers, and to the many hours of helping peole do the right thing.

“Doing the right thing” is what this 10-2-1 model is all about. We want to do the right thing, and as therapists we want to help our patients do the right thing. In fact we are daily asked by the people we see in our offices what they should do in some particular circumstance: Should I get married? Should I stay married? Should I speak to my boss about my dissatisfaction at work? Should I change jobs? Should I have another child? Should I go back to social drinking after three years of complete sobriety? And sometimes the questions we field are even more serious: Should I tell my spouse about the affair I had 10 years ago? Should I admit to my agnosticism even though I am a pastor? Should I admit to my homosexuality to my fellow church goers? Should I continue to live?

It is the questions of life that we need to find answers for. But these questions are difficult to answer because these questions have no easy answer. As I write these words the world and world leaders are trying to decide how to deal with extremist jihadists. There is no easy answer on how to deal with the likes of Boko Haram and ISIL. How do you deal with people who rape, pillage, steal, and murder with impunity? But for most of us the questions we ask are not so world-shaking and world-changing. They are just questions we need to answer so we can get through the day, the week, the year, or life.

Now let us return to my first words about feelings, thinking, and intuition because we think the way to answer important questions is to utilize all three of these elements. I won’t belabor the discussion about what “feelings” are beyond saying that feelings are extremely important, central to life and loving, and the groundwork of the decision-making process. Feelings include outright emotions like joy, sorry, sadness, and fear. I can be sad or joyful depending on whether I have something I love or lose something I love. I can be fearful or angry when I am under some kind of perceived threat. These basic feelings and their combinations (like excitement, which is a combination of fear and joy) always come with a visceral experience, like smiling, frowning, crying, or an agitation in your stomach.

But “feelings” are not always exactly emotional or physical. I can have a feeling that is more like a thought, a fantasy, a picture in my mind, or a brief idea. When I think of some of the time we recently had with our granddaughter at our home, I certainly have some emotion, but I also have pictures of what she did, and of what we might do the next time she pays us a visit.

Feelings can also be intuition (gut-level feeling), but let us defer that part of understanding for just a minute.

We believe that feelings are the basis of decision-making process. Feelings are the “10” part of the 10-2-1 decision-making process. Feelings are the “10” part of this process because we need to feel a lot about something before we think and before we act. We need to feel 10 times and think two times so we can act once with some kind of certainty that our decision is the right one.

The feeling part of this 10-2-1 process is first and foremost, and it is where most people go wrong. People are inclined to make one of two mistakes: (1) they choose to act out of their feelings, or (2) they ignore their feelings and act strictly out of thinking. I have fallen into both categories of mistakes, but I am inclined towards the latter one more often because of my thinking-based personality. My mistakes in decisions have been out of my failure to feel enough about things before I thought about them. Thus, I have done what seemed to be the right thing because I thought it through. But I hadn’t felt it through, and so my feelings weren’t a part of the process, and as a result my decision was not fully grounded and ultimately wrong. Peole who are more feeling-based in personality tend to act out of feelings without allowing those feelings to lead to good thinking.

Here is the key to the feeling part of this 10-2-1 process: you need to feel until you no longer have feelings about the decision. Once this happens, you can think clearly, and eventually act clearly…and rightly. This must sound very odd: “feel until you no longer have feelings.” But that is exactly what we are proposing. We are not suggesting that you no longer want something, see something, or feel something. Rather, we are suggesting that your feelings settle down and become a part of you. Whether you are joyful, sad, afraid, angry, or experiencing some combinations of these feelings, you need to feel them fully and completely. When you have felt these feelings enough, they will no longer be the central ingredient of deciding on something.

When you have felt and finished feeling, then you can think. You can think more clearly without the intrusion of emotions, pictures, or fantasies. When you have finished feeling, you can honestly look at a situation and more adequately decide what to do. If you finish feeling angry, for instance, you can decide to do something out of clear thinking instead of out revenge, punishment, or retribution. If you have been afraid of something, you can move in a certain direction without paranoia or undue hesitation. If you have been very joyful about something, you can decide what to do instead of just feeling happy about something and jumping right in. Several years ago Deb and I bought what amounted to “swamp land” in northern Wisconsin on a whim because the piece of property seemed fun. We thought better of it within the day and were able to renege on our purchase, and later on found our wonderful cabin “up north” that we have truly enjoyed for 10 years.

I originally told patients that they could come to decisions with the process I called, “feel, feel, feel, think, act.” I thought this was a valuable way of valuing and experiencing feelings and then thinking and acting once these feelings had properly been felt and finished. Deb reinvented this process by suggesting that the feeling part needed to be much longer than feeling three times, and the thinking part a bit longer than thinking once. Feelings need to be given a wide berth, so “feel, feel, feel” wasn’t enough. More often we need to feel a lot more than a few seconds, a few minutes, or even a few days. But the key is the same: feel until you no longer have a predominance of feelings. Then you can think. Then you can get to the place where you can rationally evaluate a decision and make the right decision.

When you can think clearly and rationally, you get to a go/no-go place. This is a place where you decision is clear. The decision might be 90% in one direction and 10% in another direction, or it might be 51% vs 49%, but it is still clear. And sometimes you conclude that it is best to make no decision for a while. You might simply need to wait, but this waiting is no longer feeling, fretting, worrying, and fragmenting. It a time where you allow your mind to muse over the decision.

Then you act. This is the “1” part of the 10-2-1 process. You have felt it through and finished you feelings on the matter. You have considered options and come to a rational and right decision. You have moved in a certain direction and done what you hope will be the right thing. You have acted with the best of feeling and the best of thinking; the best of emotion and the best of justice.

And you might still make the wrong decision. Not all well felt-through and thought-through decisions are ultimately right. But if you decision is wrong, you can admit to your error, make corrections, make amends and be farther ahead of doing the right thing the next time.