The first time I used the 2 chairs game as a decision making technique was when I was invited to go to the Australian Institute of Sport on scholarship for a year straight after finishing high school.
Frankly I was terrified.
The AIS was the training ground of the best players in the country and I was afraid of what the environment would be like, of being alone (I didn’t really know anyone well in Canberra), of leaving my mum and dad, siblings, friends and a university placement offer…
The stakes felt incredibly high. Should I go or should I stay? I asked everyone I trusted – coaches, family, friends – some said yes, others no, others asked great questions.
I was secretly hoping someone would make the decision for me.
They didn’t and in hindsight couldn’t. It was mine to own.
Enter the 2 Chair game
It was my mum (who’d learned it from my gran) who suggested this 2 Chairs game to try to help clarify my thinking.
[Note: Part of great decision making and problem solving is how you frame the question in the first place. This exercise assumes you’ve done that. Once you’ve framed the question to a yes/no, go/stay kind of answer, then this 2 Chairs game can help to crystallise your thinking.]
Here’s how it’s played.
How to play
- Place 2 chairs in a room facing one another.
- Allocate one chair as the “Yes” chair, the other as the “No” chair. (Or Go/Stay chair etc)
- Sit in the Yes chair.
- Say out loud all of the reasons you can think of as to why you would say yes. Stop when you run out of reasons.
- Change chairs to the No chair.
- Say out loud all of the reasons you can think of as to why you would say no. Stop when you run out of reasons.
- Repeat the chair swap until you run out of reasons completely.
- Which chair will you sit in? Have you made your decision?
- There are no trivial reasons. Say them all out loud.
- This can be played out with trusted people in the room to help prompt your thinking or can be done alone.
- Keeping notes can be useful.
- Keep moving between the chairs even if it’s only for 1 reason at a time.
I went to the AIS. This decision was pivotal in accomplishing my Olympic dream.
This game helped me to voice all of the opinions and data I had gathered and settle on a Yes decision. Ultimately the deciding reason in the Yes chair, was that I didn’t want to look back and regret passing up the opportunity. All of the other reasons really paled beside that.
Since then I’ve used this process and shared it with friends for similar decision making situations. Reflecting on the original and subsequent experiences, I’ll add a couple of final thoughts.
- I’ve found the physical movement between the chairs useful to really get into the mindset to extract all the reasons running around my head.
- Sometimes I find myself sitting in one chair over the other and realise that the decision has been made.
- Even when it hasn’t led to a clear decision, it has always been useful to extract the for and against.
- Decisions are rarely as binary as yes or no. Is there a third way? A middle path? What are other questions that are useful in making better decisions?