Two Out of Three Ain’t Enough, Mr Loaf
Updated: May 20
“I want you, I need you, but there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you.
Now don't be sad, cause two out of three ain't bad.”
When we’re dealing with the big decisions in life – things like relationships, career, or where to live – there are three distinct types of behaviour that we need to adopt in order to properly evaluate our choices.
I characterise these three modes as: Reflection, Exploration and Action. And, contrary to Meatloaf’s famous dictum, we can’t just skip one of them and still expect things to play out as we’d wish.
Each mode calls upon different aspects of our personality, and the best outcomes are achieved when all three are engaged, informing and supporting each other.
REFLECTION – untangling the intangibles
This is all about working out what really makes us tick. You may think you know yourself pretty well by now, but do you really understand the fundamental values and beliefs that drive your behaviour?
It’s surprisingly easy to go through life without questioning some of the core assumptions that lie behind the decisions we make. Habit, the expectations of others, anxiety borne from uncertainty – all of these can work to mask our deeper motivations.
It pays to look beneath the surface, to ask what’s truly important to us and understand how our personal attributes can be applied most effectively to getting to where we want to be. Otherwise the foundations of our decision-making may prove to be unsound.
EXPLORATION – mapping the decision-making terrain
If Reflection is about looking inward to find greater self-awareness, Exploration looks outward to establish what our options are.
These might appear obvious at first, but it’s important to throw off the blinkers at the start and be receptive to ideas that a closed mind would not consider. Applying lateral thinking and imagination can reveal new paths that can be genuinely life-changing.
As we gather more information we can narrow the options, evaluate them and work out what real-world choices we should make. Operating in Explorer mode can be exciting or scary – and often it’s both – but it’s a necessary precursor to entering Action mode.
ACTION – a plan without execution is just a wish
So we know who we are and what we want. Now what’s stopping us? Action mode is the simplest to understand, and looks like the easiest to get behind, but the gap between plan and execution can be a hard one to bridge.
Good old-fashioned procrastination is a common problem. Almost everyone procrastinates from time to time and up to 20% of us identify as “chronic procrastinators”. (If this includes you, check out Piers Steel’s Procrastinus website or get his book to understand why it happens and what you can do about it.)
Despite this, Action mode is the default setting for many people. This is partly because society values action (or the appearance of action) over inaction, and partly because Reflection and Exploration require us to think – and thinking is hard work.
Action without Reflection and Exploration can still lead to a decent outcome, of course, but it relies on luck as much as judgement. And if you haven’t tested your internal criteria for “success”, you may have a great result on paper that still leaves you feeling unfulfilled.
Three out of three is definitely good
As Daniel Kahneman has said, “the effort invested in ‘getting it right’ should be commensurate with the importance of the decision.”
So don’t take short-cuts when it comes to life’s big decisions. Even if the answer looks obvious, make sure you take some time to Reflect and Explore before Acting.