How To Make Big Life Decisions
Do you struggle with making decisions?
Do you overthink it, spinning the options around and around in your head for days or weeks on end?
Then once you finally make one, do you worry constantly if you made the right choice?
You are not alone my friend.
Trying to make a big (or even small) decision can be a huge drain on your time and energy if you don’t go about it the right way.
Mentally it can cause worry, frustration, confusion, and irritation. Physically the stress and anxiety can disrupt your sleep, further draining your energy and focus. How many times have you had trouble falling asleep because you couldn’t stop thinking about a decision you have to make?
We’ve all been there before, which is why I’ve compiled a list of 6 tips to help with the decision-making process just for YOU.
Let’s start with the obvious ones…
Tip #1: Talk it out
Find a neutral party you can hash the decision out with. Sometimes you don’t need expert advice, you just need to hear your thoughts be spoken out loud and get intelligent input from a 3rd party, someone outside of the situation. Make sure to find someone neutral who will have no bias toward the decision.
Also, talking out loud to yourself can help. When I finally got fed up waffling over my business decision, I paced around my kitchen talking to myself as if I were talking to a friend. It helped to get the words out of my head, and as I was talking my gut feeling began to kick in more and more.
Tip #2: Get advice from someone knowledgable
Find someone who has already made a similar decision, or someone who has knowledge about what you’re trying to decide.
For instance, if you’re trying to decide whether or not to accept a new job, reach out to someone who is already in that role or at that new company for valuable insight. If you know someone who previously had to make a tough job decision, ask them how they went about making it and how it turned out for them.
When I thought I wanted to be a career change coach as my online business, I did some research and found a woman doing career coaching in Boston. I reached out and ended up having a video call with her about what it’s like to be a career coach and how she got to where she is now. This actually made me realize that I DIDN’T want to do this. I felt it was too silo-ed and I wanted to help people with more than just career change.
Don’t be afraid to reach out, people are generally very willing to help.
Now let’s get a little deeper….
Tip #3: Listen to your hopes
One great tip I like to use is to listen to your hopes. This is essentially listening to your gut or intuition, but it frames it in a simpler way.
When you’re really struggling with a decision, pay attention to what you hope will happen.
For instance, say you’re going to talk to a friend or mentor about the decision, what advice do you hope they are going to give you?
What do you hope they’ll say?
Deep down, your intuition is always leaning more one way than the other, and this question can draw the answer out of you.
For example, I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at a conference across the country. It sounded pretty great, but there were many other factors involved, like the cost and logistics of getting there, and finding a roommate. For weeks while I was figuring all this out I went back and forth – one day wanting to go, the next day being unsure.
Finally I asked myself, what am I hoping will happen? I realized I was secretly hoping I wouldn’t find a roommate, or that they’d call and say they don’t need volunteers anymore, or that all the flights would get taken before I could book one. That was my gut telling me I didn’t really want to go.
However, the one caveat with this method is to make sure it’s not just your fear talking (see Tip #5 to read more on this).
Once I came to the conclusion that I clearly didn’t really want to go I had to ask myself, is this just because I’m afraid to go and put myself out there? Would I be better off going? The answer was no – I wasn’t afraid, I knew once I got there it would be cool and I’d fit in, but logistically flying across the country to only stay for 2 nights just wasn’t going to work for me. There would be other conferences closer to home that would be less hassle and equally as good, so I decided to hold out for that instead. Immediately my stress was dissolved because I had made my decision and it felt very right.
Tip #4: Pay attention to signs
Ok, this might seem a little woo-woo but hear me out before you roll your eyes. I don’t believe that there are ALWAYS signs, but sometimes there are and they are worth paying attention to.
Signs can be either positive or negative.
An example of a positive sign is my friend who was trying to make a decision whether or not to accept a new job at a new company. There were many factors she had to consider and it was going to be a big change in many ways, including a much tougher commute.
One night she went out and randomly sat next to a couple at a restaurant bar. Turns out the woman worked at the company my friend was considering for the past 15 years! They chatted for awhile and the woman said she loved the company so much that the commute barely mattered (this also falls under Tip #2 about finding someone who is already knowledgable about the decision).
My friend couldn’t help but feel it was a sign she should accept the position. Because, what are the odds.
Tip #5: Detach from your negative emotions
Making a decision out of fear, impatience, anger, desperation, or frustration rarely works.
Be mindful of your emotions while you’re considering a decision.
If you’ve been battling a decision for so long that you’ve just become frustrated or desperate, chances are you aren’t going to feel great about the decision you do end up making and doubt will begin to creep in instantly.
Similarly, if you make a rash decision out of anger, you’re probably going to feel regret pretty quickly afterwards.
Have you ever been angry or irritated and made the decision to send a nasty email to someone, or yell at them, and then immediately were filled with regret and shame after? Yup we’ve probably all been there. If you feel a negative emotion after making a decision, like regret or shame, then you MADE that decision out of a negative emotion as well.
FEAR is the main negative emotion that factors into a lot of decision-making. Sometimes, it does make sense. If a friend asks you to go skydiving and you’re terrified, it’s totally OK to decide NOT to do that because you’re afraid. That is not the kind of fear I’m talking about here.
What I’m talking about is if you turn down a great job offer at your dream company just because your afraid and anxious about change, that decision is based out of a different kind of fear. You need to sit down and ask yourself, “Is my fear worth giving this job up for?” In that situation chances are the answer is NO.
It’s all about weighing your fear against what you would be gaining.
A good way to tell if you’ve made a decision out of fear is how much relief vs happiness you feel afterwards. When you make a non-fear based decision, you’ll feel happy with the result you chose. If you make it out of fear, you’ll feel more relieved than happy. Relief is not happiness, but it mimics happiness very well. Relief comes when you avoid doing something you were afraid to do.
When we mistake relief for happiness, we reinforce the illusion that making the decision to take the easiest path is always best and that it’s what we really want and it will make us happy every time. Remember that relief is only temporary. If you make a decision out of fear, and then feel relief, chances are the next emotion you’ll feel is strong doubt and confusion.
Tip #6: Journal it out
Often we go over and over the decision in our heads, thinking through all the options but never really getting anywhere.
Getting those thoughts OUT of your head and onto paper enables you to examine them from an outside perspective.
You can’t truly analyze your own thoughts while they’re still in your head – you have to get them out, somewhere you can see them, to be able to really inspect them and figure them out. You can either brain dump and just free-write everything you’re thinking and feeling about the decision, or you can follow these prompts below to help you:
- “What was your FIRST reaction when faced with this decision?”
- “What advice would you hope a mentor would give to you about this decision?”
- “Do you feel drawn to any particular option, and why?” (P.S.- if the answer to this is because it’s the comfortable option, ask yourself “Why am I afraid of the other option?”)
- If your best friend was in the same position, what advice would you give them?
While you might not get an exact answer out of this exercise, it will help get you closer to where you need to be. It will also decrease your stress about the decision, which can clear your mind and help clarity arise. PLUS it’ll help you sleep better at night to get those buzzing thoughts out of your head.
Always remember, there truly is no “wrong” or “right” decision.
It’s all about what you make of your choice and how you direct your thoughts and emotions toward it.
If you make a choice and then you’re constantly thinking to yourself “Ugh I think I made the wrong choice” – guess what? That TURNS it into the wrong choice.
On the other hand, if you keep your thoughts more positive about it, like “Alright I made a choice and I’m sticking with it!” or “This was the best choice for me at this moment” or even “Hell yeah, this is awesome, I made the perfect choice!”, it turns into the RIGHT choice and you will be happy with the decision no matter what.