This exercise is ideal for making difficult decisions that involve a lot of factors, like changing your job, career or major, moving to a new city, going back to school or transferring to a different one. If you prefer, you can download a PDF of the Pros/Cons Analysis exercise below.
Step 1: Make a table that has 4 columns. The first and third should be large enough to hold a short description. The second and fourth just need to hold a number. Label them as shown, using whatever language you’re most comfortable with:
Decision Option A
Pros (For, Pluses, Benefits, etc.) Weight Cons (Against, Minuses, Costs, etc.) Weight
Step 2: Pick one side of the decision you’re considering (e.g. Don’t change anything, Make this change, Make that change). Complete the table listing everything you can think of that’s pushing you towards that solution in the first column and everything you can think of that’s pushing you away from it in the third column. And, when I say everything, I mean everything – intangibles like feelings definitely count!
Step 3: Just counting the number of pros and cons isn’t a useful measure – some of the factors will be trivial while others may be crucial. By assigning each Pro and Con a weight, you can get a better sense of where the balance really lies. Use a 3- or 5-point scale where the highest number means it’s an extremely important factor in your decision.
Step 4: Complete a table for each of the options you’re considering. Write down everything that comes to mind in a single sitting, then give yourself a day or two to mull it over and add items as they come to mind. You can assign the weights as you’re listing the factors or wait until you’ve got them all listed. You can also adjust the weights if you realize that you over- or underestimated any of them.
Step 5: When you feel your lists are comprehensive, total the number of points in the weights column and compare the results. If the winning choice surprises you or just feels wrong, re-evaluate the weights you’ve assigned each factor. You’ll most likely discover that you overweighted things you think should be important and underweighted things that really are important to you. This is especially common if what’s important to you is out of alignment with the values of your friends, family or the broader culture.