Your guide for difficult decisions
Are you feeling stuck with making a big, important decision? Have you already thought through all your options, and are you struggling with choosing between them? Perhaps it all feels perplexing and too heavy and you keep circling through the same thoughts and feelings. The following article offers you a step-by-step guide on how to be thorough, yet get out of the circle and progress with your decision.
Before we go through the steps, I would like to share with you the principles behind my advice, so that you can consider whether the approach works for you:
This guide acknowledges that some situations require prompt decisions, while other situations need decisions to grow in us progressively, taking their time. This guide will encourage you to take into consideration both rational arguments and feelings. It wants you to pay attention to details and yet consider your dilemma in the bigger picture of your life. It will help you to analyse your options, but then suggest leaving analysing for a while and connecting with your intuition. And it wants you to be honest and true to yourself and your life priorities when you are taking big decisions.
If that sounds like the sort of approach you would like to take, go ahead and use the guide to move on.
Taking difficult decisions: step by step
Step 1: Polish your question
- What is the question you would like to decide about?
- Where is your freedom, your choice in it?
Step 2: Consider alternative perspectives
When we think about a situation for a long time, trying to decide, we might have a tendency to think about it again and again in the same way. Looking at the whole thing from a different perspective might help you feel differently about your situation, or inspire you to consider other options.
Here are some examples of perspectives you can consider:
- Imagine that what is happening and the dilemma you have been facing are your opportunity to solve more than just the situation you are in, but also to overcome something that has been reappearing in your life and making you face similar challenges repeatedly. This might be your opportunity to get through that sort of challenge and to move on with your life. What is the challenge, and how could you best use the chance?
- None of the options can make you happy or unhappy in themselves. Your future satisfaction with your decision will depend mainly on what you make out of the direction you choose. The moment of the decision is the moment you can stop waiting and start to make the best out of the selected option, rather than a moment that decides conclusively about your happiness or unhappiness.
- Imagine that none of your options is right or wrong, just that each of them would allow you to go in a different direction. No matter how the external circumstances develop, or what other people involved do, deciding on an option immediately allows you to do something that you could not do while undecided. Look at each of your options again. What is it that each option will allow, if you go for it?
Step 3: View your question in the bigger picture of your life
- Look at your life as a whole: what are the things that have mattered to you most in life – your top values? How is the question that you need to decide about related to them?
- What, within the things you would like to change in your life, can you influence and what is out of your control and thus cannot be influenced by you, no matter what you decide?
- What kind of person are you when it comes to taking big decisions? Do you typically have difficulty in deciding, or is the current struggle rather exceptional? What makes it hard?
- If you have already had a situation in your life when you found it hard to decide and later took a decision you are now glad about: What helped you decide that time? Although your current situation is very likely different, can you take anything from your previous experience and use it now?
- Let´s zoom our focus in, on your current life phase. What is it that you currently lack in your life? If you cannot take care of all your needs right now, which ones are you choosing to prioritize?
Step 4: Decide about timing
- How urgent is it for you to decide? By when is a decision necessary and by when optimal, in your view?
- How has your energy been developing throughout the time you have been facing this dilemma? Has being undecided affected your well-being? In the medium or long term, what do you think would help you gain or maintain energy more: remaining undecided and taking more time, or deciding on any of the options?
- What do you think, intuitively: is this a good time for you to take a decision?
Step 5: Go over your options
Having a dilemma is a result of having a choice. If there were no choice, there would be no dilemma.
Sometimes we are held back by seeking an option that brings certainty and is without risk. Such options often do not exist. What might help you is to use this guide in order to re-assess the opportunities and the pitfalls that are in play, so that you can see what you might be willing to risk – and what not.
- What options can you see?
- Is remaining undecided a valid option here?
- Can you think of at least one more option you might have? Or perhaps more than one?
- What are the pros and cons of each option, what chances and risks might they contain?
- Which of the options fits best with your top values? And which of the options would not force you to privilege one of your values at the expense of another– but would instead allow you to live up to all your important values?
- Do you lack any crucial information about the available options? Is it realistic to gain the information before a decision needs to be taken? If so, can you seek it now or plan it for as soon as possible?
- Your friends, relatives or other people close to you look at your situation through the lens of their values and experiences, which are never identical to yours.That is one of the main reasons why they cannot decide on your behalf. However, they might be able to help you brainstorm additional options. If you would like to consult someone, encourage them to be creative and “think outside the box”: what helps is to reassure them that you are not throwing your responsibilities onto them and that it will be you who will consider the options properly and choose, so you are just asking them to help you check whether there might be other options you have overlooked. If you wish to involve someone, do it now or plan when and how you are going to do it.
- If you have gained any additional options, go through this step again and analyze them.
Step 6: Leave it for a while
After a profound analysis, your mind has a lot to process. For that purpose, it is ideal to leave the question for a while and take a break if you can. It will give your mind an opportunity to tidy up all the thoughts and arguments and to process them into some useful gut feelings. Give it your trust and let it work for a while without your conscious attention, because that is how intuition works best.
There are different ways of resting your mind and stimulating your intuition, including:
- Sleep on it.
- Plan an activity in a neutral environment, a place that does not remind you too much of any of the options. A trip might serve, but remember that you are taking a break, so do not spend the time talking over your situation or analyzing options with friends. If you do, then allow yourself time for a true break afterwards.
- Anything that stimulates your creativity will also stimulate your intuition. For example, the arts can tune you in: listen to music, attend a gallery, paint or draw a picture, watch a dance performance, go dancing yourself etc. The rule is: non-verbal and neutral arts (with no personal links to your dilemma) serve this purpose best.
- Meditation, or a walk in the country (without talking) are great too and can help you feel more empowered afterwards.
Pick whatever works best for you.
Step 7: Come back and pay attention to your feelings
Some time later, an option(s) will resonate in you more than the others. Focus your attention on those options that keep coming back to your mind.
- If you were to do it intuitively, which options would you now hold onto, and which leave?
- Have any new options popped up in your mind?
- Is/are any of the options particularly appealing?
- What are your strongest feelings related to the dilemma at this moment? What might those feelings be trying to tell you?
Step 8: Face your doubts as an unavoidable part of the process
No matter which option you choose, you cannot be certain about how it will develop with time. You might feel fear. You might have doubts. Especially if you have decided on some change, you will likely have moments when you are tempted to fall back. All of this is an unavoidable part of the process, rather than a sign that your decision was wrong.
However, you do not have to ignore your fears. Give them the space they are asking for. Your fears are grabbing your attention and turning it towards some risks associated with the option you have chosen. To address them, go through the following questions:
- What is the biggest risk you are afraid of, the worst thing that could happen?
- How likely is that to happen? What other factors would determine it, besides your decision?
- If it happened, what would it mean for you? How would it impact your life? Might you be overestimating the impact?
- The fact that you are fully aware of the risks will allow you to try and manage them. Make a list of several things you could do to prevent or minimize the biggest risks. If you lack ideas, try to do some research or consult someone.
- Should the risk ever come true: What resources (in terms of support from people, money, competencies, experience, ideas etc.) would you have in life at your disposal to get over such a thing? Think of some more than those that came to your mind at first. How could you enhance your resources further? And what could be your plan B?
- What advice would you give to a friend who would be concerned about such a risk?
- After you have analyzed the risks, as well as the potential gains, which risks are you willing/not willing to take?
Step 9: Plan your next steps
If you have already decided: take it a bit further and plan what needs to come next.
- What are the three most important steps that need to follow? In which order will you take them?
- Who can you ask for help when you need it? What other resources, such as your skills, wisdom, previous experience, money, time etc. do you have at your disposal to get through the next phase successfully? How can you increase your resources and get support from more people?
- What are you giving to yourself by taking this decision?
- Should any harder moments come, how will you remind yourself of your commitment?
If you have not decided yet: Do not worry. Deciding is a process that sometimes needs to be fast and other times requires more time and our acceptance that we cannot rush it. Even if you are not yet sure about your decision, it does not mean you have not progressed closer to it. You will get there when the time comes. For now, remain connected with yourself and answer honestly:
- If you compare where you were in the decision-making process before and where you are now, have you progressed? What is the difference? How close do you think you are to taking a decision and what do you still need to overcome?
- What is the most important thing you have realized while trying to decide? What could you do about it?
- Are you really undecided, or is it rather that you know which option you are likely to go for, but you are hesitant to take the next steps?
- If you are more hesitant than undecided, check whether the list of related articles might address what holds you back – or consider consulting a professional. Try to plan your next steps.
- If you are still undecided between the options, what do you think you need in order to decide?
- More information?
- A longer break to process it all?
- More energy?
- Personal (professional) support?
- A clearer plan for the options?
What else could help you and how could you get it?
Plan in detail how and when could you gain it: on your own or with someone´s help.
Step 10: Go for one more next step and reward yourself for the progress
- Do the next thing from your action plan.
- Reward yourself with something nice for progressing with the hard decision-making process.