6 Questions to Ask When Making Hard Decisions

Credit: Flocutus

Photo: Flocutus

Do you have a hard decision to make?

Life is filled with circumstances where we need or are forced to make hard decisions.  The reason these decisions are difficult is that there is not always a clear way forward and we are filled with anxiety about making the wrong choice.

In my life and in the lives of many people I’ve coached, I’ve seen people struggle with decisions around:

  • Starting or ending a relationship
  • Leaving a job or staying
  • Committing time to an activity or saying no
  • Starting a plan to get healthy or doing nothing
  • Making a significant purchase or holding on to your money
  • Moving a family for a work opportunity
  • Planning to retire or keep working
  • Starting a business or working for someone else

Whatever the hard decision you need to make, I find the following questions helpful in making the best decisions we can.

1. Is the option in alignment with my values?

One of the biggest stresses in life is when you act in ways that violate your deepest values. If we make choices that conflict with our values, then this is an indication that an option may not work for us.  Not all of our values have equal importance in life. I think it’s helpful to rank order your values so your decision falls within your highest priorities.

2. Is the decision about something where there is clearly a right or wrong?

Many decisions we struggle with have nothing to do with right or wrong, yet we have anxiety about making the wrong choice.  If you are buying a car and staying within your budget, does is ultimately matter if you buy a Toyota or a Ford?  If you are pursing a new job and have two offers, could both options be a good fit?  If there is no discernible right or wrong, what seems best to you? In these types of scenarios, you can’t make a bad decision so determine what may be the better option for now.

3. Do I have enough information to make the decision?

Sometimes we get paralyzed when making a decision because we don’t have all the details about the benefits or drawbacks of our options.  This requires that we take time to ask questions, do some research, or consult with experts.  Once you have the information you need, the path to making a better decision will be clearer.

4. Will I regret choosing or not choosing an option later in life?

Author Mark Twain has this great quote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

When making a decision about how I am going to spend my time or resources this is a question I often ask. I find that if I believe I will regret a decision later in life, then I have the insight of what I need to do now. Sometimes playing it safe is the best option, but sometimes taking a calculated risk, trying something new, or starting a new venture will lead to less regrets.

5. Have I talked through my options with people I trust?

Don’t go it alone when making tough decisions.  We all need an outside perspective to gain clarity on next steps.  Engage with good friends, family members, and colleagues.  Read books written by authors you admire.  Talk with a leader in your business or industry.  Hire a coach. I believe it’s a good idea to have a good mix between people we consult with, some who have personal interest in our outcome and some who don’t.  This mix will give you different feedback.

6. Have I given this decision enough time or too much time?

There are decisions we can’t rush. The outcomes have significant meaning in our life and relationships. The decisions could affect others and so we need to take time gather information, ask ourselves the above questions, and consult with people we trust.

The are also times when we are delaying a decision we know we need to make.  This heightens anxiety and leads to frustration.  If we are taking too much time it may be a signal that we don’t feel capable to make a good decision or that either option we choose has difficult components.  In these situations I encourage setting a deadline for a choice to made, gathering any missing information, and talking with people you can trust and who will hold you accountable.

 

A  challenge in making hard decisions is that sometimes there is information or experiences you can never know unless you try. When people are going through divorces, leaving a job, or moving to new cities there is anxiety of the unknown.

Will I be OK?

Will I succeed?

Will I like it there?

Sometimes we will make a decision that we later regret and here is the good news.  I don’t think any experience in life is wasted as long as we learn and grow as individuals. We all make decisions given the information and context of our life at a given time, so let’s have so compassion on ourselves.

One of the best decisions you can make is to be your best self. Start there and use the above questions as a guide on your way.

 

 

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