As we go through life we are faced with making countless decisions. Some are simple, some are life-changing. We all know how to handle the easy ones, or at least we don’t worry about the outcome. But, when it comes to the really tough decisions, the life changing decisions, it’s hard to know which path will lead to the best outcome. Whether it’s beginning or ending a relationship, or starting or leaving a job, buying or selling home or moving to a different location–changes that fundamentally take us from the known to the unknown–can trigger our fears and become stressful. But what if there were a way to avoid fear and anxiety and make a decision that brings you satisfaction with few if any regrets? Well, there are a few ways to approach a big decision that may help you do just that.
1. Know yourself. Know what you value. Know what brings you joy and happiness as well as frustration and dissatisfaction. Know your non-negotiables. Know what you need in your heart.
2. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of all of your potential choices. Give the most valuable advantages 10 points and all other advantages 5 points. Subtract 10 points for significant disadvantages and 5 points for all other disadvantages. After carefully considering all factors, do the math on each possible choice. Is it positive? Negative? Dead even? Check your gut reaction is to the mathematical result. Do you find yourself pulling for a certain result?
3. Imagine yourself taking one path over another. What will it feel like? How will it change your life. Try to imagine each path over time and what it will mean to you and how you might feel. If you choose the most expected path (the path others are pressuring you to take) does it feel authentic? Or will you feel a sense of compromise and loss? If you allow fear to keep you from what you know you truly want, will you have regrets? When we decide to take a risk, it is scary at first, but risk is often necessary to attain our greatest goals with the biggest rewards.
4. Fear of failure is never useful when making decisions. Fear skews our ability to think clearly and ultimately leads to regrets. It’s so easy to get caught up in fearful “what ifs” and torture ourselves with the anxiety of analyzing any possible negative outcomes. But, don’t let your fearful inner critic get the best of you. If we feared falling before we learned to walk, or critically analyzed the difficulty of the task, we may not have chosen to undertake it! As we get older, we encounter many experiences that do not go according to plan. We have been hurt. We’ve lost money. We have suffered the small-minded judgment of others. But, every single thing we have ever accomplished is built upon our vast experience of failing before succeeding and learning from our experiences. Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” and “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” That’s a great perspective to consider when making a decision.
5. When considering your choices, keep in mind that the greatest regret most people have at the end of their life are the chances they did not take.
6. A lot of the angst we feel when making a decision, aside of failure, is “will I be happy with my decision?” or “will I miss out on something?”. To overcome this angst, dig deep. You may initially not feel happy with the effort required to follow a chosen path. It may be difficult. It may require risking an investment. It may require a move. It may require a legal commitment or dissolution. But, in the long run, if you choose to take the risk, move forward and apply yourself fully and own it, you are likely to succeed! And even if the worst case scenario happens and your decision does not pan out, keep in mind that those who truly love you will always support you without condition. So if you find you have to move back, get out of debt, get a divorce or take a different job, you will survive and be the wiser for it when you learn from all of your experiences. You will survive and go on to live a full, happy life when you learn from your past and embrace new opportunities. Life is too short to settle for less and every day presents a new opportunity to pursue our hopes and desires.
7. Once you feel in your heart and mind you have reached a decision, take the time to plan it out. Consider the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal. Give those you care about some time to absorb your new choice and help them understand why it is important to you and why it may be best of them as well. You need not seek approval, but rather manage the message and help others through the process of change. It may take some effort, but it pays dividends. Those who truly love you want your happiness and will get behind you. For those who doubt you or even adamantly disagree with you, they will come around in time when they see your conviction to your decision and understand the care and planning you have taken to respect those effected by the change. When you take the high road to achieve your goals, there is no winner or loser, simply respectful change leading to a new direction.