Every day we have decisions to make — what to wear, what to eat, how to spend our time.
Some decisions are no-brainers. You make your choice, and even if it’s not the best decision, the potential consequences are rarely worth breaking a sweat.
Then there are the BIG decisions.
- Should I move?
- Which job offer will be best?
- Am I in the right relationship?
- Should I proceed with the surgery?
Sometimes the elements and possible consequences of a big decision are so complicated your brain gets muddled, and confusion and indecision grip you like a vice. You become frozen like a deer in headlights.
The more you ponder the decision, the more confused and stuck you feel.You just want a voice from the heavens to shout down instructions and tell you what path to take. “Hey you, take that job in Miami. You’ll be much happier!”
This confusion is so uncomfortable that we tend to avoid these big decisions altogether. Of course this does nothing but stoke a low-level sense of anxiety and frustration about ourselves and our circumstances. Avoidance has never been a great strategy for life success and happiness.
Over-thinking and compulsively analyzing a decision doesn’t help much either. Trying to predict the future is an impossible task, regardless of how certain you may feel about a desired outcome. Life is too unpredictable to know with certainty that you are making the “right” decision. Ultimately, any decision involves a leap of faith.
When I’ve had to make big life decisions, I’ve learned to take several practical steps infused with a big dose of emotional guidance. In other words, I start with my head but also listen to my heart. Here are some steps to help you make a big decision without regret.
1. Have a Life Vision
A life vision should be the foundation and reference point for every decision you make. In your deepest dreams, how do you envision your life in all areas — career, relationships, finances, lifestyle, etc. What core values define this vision for you? Make a point of writing down your vision and the values that define it. Refine the vision over time as necessary. Then when a big decision comes along, you can use this vision as a guide. If you deviate too far from the vision, it will cause you eventual pain and regret. Evaluate your choices based on your vision. Which one is in closest alignment with your vision?
2. Evaluate the Pros and the Cons
Consider the possible positive and negative aspects or consequences of your decision. Write down a list of pros and cons for each possible alternative. Then prioritize these points with the most important considerations at the top of the list. What are the possible implications of the cons? Do they outweigh the pros? Can you live with the potential negative fallout or consequences? What could you do to mitigate the fallout?
3. Phone a Friend
Carefully select two or three trusted friends whose opinion and judgment you value. Tell them about your life vision, show them your list of pros and cons and ask for their input about your decision. Someone who is removed from the turmoil of the decision and who has a different perspective can help you see things in a clearer light. A personal coach also can help you gain clarity around your decision by asking you pointed questions related to your motivations, feelings, and desires.
4. Invoke a Higher Power
Go to a quiet place. Breathe deeply. Close your eyes. Go within. Pray or meditate (or whatever feels right to you) and ask for guidance. Your own inner wisdom and intuition will often rise to your conscious mind when you calm the mental chaos of over-thinking your decision. Imagine yourself in all of the possible outcomes and pay attention to how you feel. Keep a pen and paper handy to make notes about your feelings after reflection. Give it a few days. You may be surprised that the answer presents itself unexpectedly.
5. Try the Coin Trick
I love this idea because it puts you in touch with you real desires. Grab a quarter and assign one decision choice to heads and the other to tails. Flip the coin and before it lands, pay attention to side you hope it lands on. If there are more than two choices, balance each choice against another using the same trick. More than likely, this immediate reaction is what you truly want to do. Something in your heart is pulling you in that direction. Examine this result carefully, because even if the choice conflicts with all of the practical considerations, you may be dishonoring your deepest desires.
6. Research and Experiment
Do the work to gain as much knowledge as possible about the options. Research, ask questions, talk with people who have experienced each scenario. If possible, experiment with the alternative outcomes. If you are considering a move, spend a good amount of time in the city you are contemplating. If you are exploring a job opportunity, ask to spend a day or two shadowing someone in the office. If you are thinking of ending a relationship, test some time apart before you make your decision.
7. Don’t Look Back
If you have done the work, honored your vision, examined the pros and cons, sought guidance, done your due diligence, and connected with your intuition, then make your choice, take the leap and don’t look back. There are millions of paths we can take in a lifetime, all leading to different opportunities and potential consequences. You won’t have a guarantee, but you don’t need one. Uncertainty is part of the adventure of life. Once you are on this new adventure, have confidence that you made the best decision with the information available, and move forward with a spring in your step. There is something good to be learned on every path we follow.
The ability to make a decision is the fuel for personal and professional growth. If you enter a decision with the knowledge that uncertainty is inevitable, and you accept you must decide in spite of uncertainty, then you will never get stuck. By taking the steps outlined, you empower yourself to make an informed and thoughtful choice, leaving little room for future regret.
What have you done to make a big decision in the past? How have you minimized the possibility of regret?
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