Case Study: Visualizing Your Options

Today I would like to provide you with a quick case study of how visual thinking was applied to a tough decision that one of my life coaching clients was trying to work through. Her name is Emma (not her real name), and we are going to look at how to go about visualizing your options.

Emma’s Current Reality

Emma worked at the head-office of a large food distributor earning a good living. However, Emma was at a point in her career where she felt as though things were stagnating. She wasn’t growing, didn’t feel challenged and the passion she once had for her work was no longer there. However, the job she had provided her with great financial security and stability, so-much-so that pretty much every physical possession she had in her life came as a direct result from sticking with this career path for over 15 years. In short, she was comfortable, but not very fulfilled.

Emma’s Desired Reality

She often spoke with me about her childhood dreams of owning her own restaurant and breaking free from the corporate world. She absolutely loved the idea of owning a restaurant and spent many weekends studying and researching the business. However, she never took the plunge because she understood the risks and the commitment required to make this move.

One day an opportunity came up. She started dating a guy whose sister (Michelle) had the same aspirations. Over a period of several weeks they talked about their aspirations and finally decided to take the plunge and start their own restaurant.

The Visual Coaching Call

The day of our scheduled monthly coaching call, Emma had an appointment with the bank to apply for a loan. She informed me about the decision she had made and that she would tell her boss that she would be leaving the company once the loan had been approved.

Talking with her that day I felt as though she was still a little uncertain about her decision. I therefore decided to see if we could draw out her thoughts on paper. I didn’t want her to plunge head-first into a new venture without being 100% committed to the outcome.

To lay down the foundations for the visual thinking exercise, I asked her the following questions (only relevant questions specific to this example have been listed):

  • What is the problem/dilemma/decision that you are confronted with?
  • Who is involved in the decision you are about to make?
  • How much do you know about these people, their capabilities, resources and strengths?
  • What options do you currently have available?
  • What are the advantages of each of these options?
  • What are the disadvantages of each of these options?
  • What is your ideal reality? What is it that you really want?
  • Do you have the time and resources available to bring this to reality?
  • What resources do you actually have at your disposal that you could use?
  • What is it specifically that you don’t want?
  • Are you at the moment headed in the right direction with this decision?
  • Is there another direction you could move towards that you maybe never considered?
  • What’s the first step along this new direction?
  • What will happen if you take this step?
  • How will you know which of your options is the best one for you to take?

While Emma was answering these questions, I streamed a live screen-recording showing her how I was visualizing her options and ideas using deviantART Muro. I’ve found this application to be one of the best available for visualizing ideas. However, there are a number of other applications that allow for online collaboration. I will discuss these at another time.

Here is the visualization I created while Emma was answering the questions:

Emma’s Visual Journey Dissected

I won’t go into great detail exploring Emma’s responses to the questions, because this will take far too long and is beyond the scope of this article. However, I do hope that the visualization along with the short description and video presented below will provide you with all the details you need to understand how Emma reached her decision.

The main thing to point out is that I didn’t have a specific order of questions that I wanted Emma to answer. Instead each question flowed from the previous question until she finally had the answer she was searching for.

After Emma had identified her dilemma, the people involved and outlined her options, I helped her to pinpoint the advantages and disadvantages of each option. At this time owning her own restaurant seemed like the logical choice. However, as I delved deeper and asked her what her ideal reality was, it started to dawn upon her that owning a restaurant might not be the best thing for her.

Once we started talking about the resources that she had at her disposal, she realized that neither she nor Michelle had the necessary skills, or experience to make this restaurant idea work. Emma definitely had the knowledge — having worked in the food distribution business for 15 years — but she simply didn’t have the practical experience to make the business work. If this wasn’t enough to deflate her morale, then the next question I asked certainly did.

I asked Emma what was it specifically that she didn’t want? Answering this question made her realize that she doesn’t want to own a restaurant, but rather the idea of owning a restaurant. She soon realized that she wasn’t heading in the right direction, but she never considered any other possibilities, until I asked her the right question. 🙂

All this time while Emma was answering these questions, she was observing how I was visualizing her thoughts and responses. Many times she would make reference to different parts of the drawing to highlight or clarify a certain point. I could tell that the visual process was really helping her formulate deeper insights and thought-provoking ideas, however what I didn’t know was that the realization she had at the end has today completely transformed her life.

Emma’s New Realization

Towards the end of the questioning process we looked at Emma’s resources, ideal reality and what she didn’t want in her life, and everything pointed us to a third option that we hadn’t yet considered. It was like a sudden flash of light that hit us unexpectedly, and suddenly Emma’s path became clear.

Emma decided to pass up on the business opportunity with Michelle because all of a sudden the opportunity didn’t look very enticing once her thoughts and options were visualized in front of her. In fact, she finally realized that she didn’t even want to own a restaurant. However, she did still have a passion for the business.

Creating a New Desired Reality

The next week Emma went back to work as usual. However, during her down-time she had a new focus. She was going to use her 15 years of experience within the food industry to lay down the foundations for a restaurant consulting business.

Over the coming three months she worked tirelessly laying down the groundwork for the business while conducting further research.

In April 2011 Emma launched the business on a part time basis while still maintaining her position within the food distribution company. Today she works as a full time consultant and says that she couldn’t be happier.

I spoke with Emma recently and we reminisced about this visual thinking exercise. She told me that she doesn’t believe she would’ve had such clarity of thought if I hadn’t visualized her responses on paper. All credit therefore must be given to the process of visual thinking. 🙂 

Start Visualizing Your Problems on Paper

Take out a pen and a piece of paper and have a think about a current problem you are dealing with. When you’re ready, start doodling. Yes, I’m serious start doodling anything that comes to mind. In fact, I want you to specifically focus on drawing pictures that represent what you’re thinking. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an artist, because it really doesn’t matter what your pictures look like (stick figures are okay), just as long as you get into the habit of getting your thoughts, ideas and concepts on paper.

Spend about 10 to 15 minutes doing this exercise and see what you come up with. I guarantee that if you take this exercise seriously and you are open to the possibilities that you will come up with something new on that piece of paper that you never considered before.

The most difficult part of this exercise is always the beginning. Therefore simply draw a circle in the middle of the page labeled with your problem, concept or idea. If you still can’t think of anything, then simply draw a circle with two eyes and a smile. This is you. It’s your face. You are after all a big part of the problem. 🙂 Begin by thinking about how you fit into this problem, concept, decision or idea and draw what comes to mind by visualizing your options and thoughts.

Are you still confused? Are you still resisting the idea of visual thinking? Well, don’t worry, there’s still time for you to change. 🙂 These are actually the types of exercises and examples that you will see on this site. I will take you step-by-step through the process of visual thinking in an even more structured and logical way to help you achieve whatever your heart desires. Trust me, this will be a lot of fun. Just like kindergarten, only much better. 🙂

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