Flip a Coin

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Whenever I am approached for advice by someone facing a difficult “either/or” decision of personal significance, I typically follow a two-step process:

  1. Talk through the pros and cons of each option.  This step anchors the person in objective analysis of the upside and downside to both paths, and to make sure each has been fully explored.
  2. Flip a coin.  This isn’t a flippant (pun intended!) action.  Rather, it’s meant to validate what the person already knows, deep down inside.  I realized the genius of the coin flip years ago on my own and it wasn’t until this past week that I discovered the genius didn’t belong to me.  No matter; it’s still awesome!  I found the possible origin of this idea in Tim Hurson’s book, Think Better (p.184), in which he quotes the Danish mathematician and poet Piet Hein, who said the following in “A Psychological Tip”:

Whenever you’re called upon to make up your mind,

and you’re hampered by not having any,

the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,

is simply by spinning a penny.

No – not so that chance shall decide the affair

while you’re passively standing there moping; 

but the moment the penny is up in the air,

you suddenly know what you’re hoping.

Caution: This coin flip business is not to be taken lightly.  That’s why step 1 is important, especially if the swath of the decision’s impact encompasses those you love and/or respect.  Still, when your heart is telling you the answer, it is unwise to ignore a source with such a solid track record.  I’ve watched a number of people hold their breath while the coin is in the air, lending credence to Hein’s assertion.