10 Actionable Tips To Make Tough Decisions in Life

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The basics

To start, you need to set yourself up for decision-making success. This involves three fundamental elements:

  1. Book time to think. I know, the whole problem is that you don’t have time! But the time pressure you’re feeling should be a signal that you need to rethink your day-to-day task planning altogether. It’s counterintuitive, but making decisions faster requires consciously giving yourself time to make them. Decision making is a task, and it deserves more attention than what you can devote to it when you wake up late at night worrying about that urgent issue you still haven’t resolved. For smaller decisions, you may only need to set aside 30 minutes or an hour; for larger ones, you might schedule a few hours over the course of two to three weeks. But whatever you do, add these time blocks to your calendar and to-do lists on a regular basis.
  2. Define the decision. Before delving into deciding, get clear on the nature of the choice you’re making. For example, a job change affects not only your work responsibilities but also your commute, your salary, your coworkers, and so on. Defining the key factors that both go into and will be affected by your decision helps you quickly discern whether (and why) you’re excited about a particular option. Maybe that new job sounds great, but you just can’t stomach a two-hour commute every day.
  3. Think through your options. Instead of limiting yourself to a “yes” or “no” choice, brainstorm all the possible options before making a decision–you may find compromises and alternatives that weren’t easy to see initially. In fact, consider, too, whether you actually need to make a decision. In some cases it’s fine to simply let a choice pass by without committing either way.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of these decision-making basics in place, you can pick one or two tactics for deciding more quickly. Here are five great options, each suited to different situations and personality types.

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16. Sleep On It

The age-old advice to sleep on an important decision before you actually decide on a course of action is not simply a cliche; it is a proven scientific fact.  LiveScience.com elaborates on an experiment undertaken at the University of Amsterdam on 352 participants.  Split into control groups, those who were asked to predict the outcome of football matches using subconscious through outperformed those using conscious thought.

“if you’re an expert and you had extra time to think about your decision in the area of your expertise (conscious thinker) or had to make a quick decision, you made worse decisions than those who were unconscious thinkers. The researcher hypothesized that conscious thought could lead to poor weighting in decision-making — the more you think about something, the more your biases interfere with good decision-making. Unconscious thinkers in this experiment appear to weigh the relative importance of diagnostic information more accurately than conscious thinkers did” – Source LiveScience.com

So definitely sleep on any important decision and let your subconscious guide you the following day.

Section 3: Decision Action & Implementation

Decision Action Plan

Now you have slept on the problem, and you wake up with a clear mind and know which decision to make.  You need an action plan.

Decision Plan Template

What Is My Decision? ______________________
Why have I made this decision? ______________________
Who will help me implement it? ______________________
Who is affected? ______________________
How can I minimize the impact on others? ______________________
What are the steps involved? ______________________
When will I begin the actions? ______________________
When will the actions be completed? ______________________
Post plan review.  Did it work out as expected? ______________________

7. Contemplate the Chain of Events a Decision Unleashes

There is always a chain of events associated with everything that we do.  The bigger the decision, the more life-changing the chain of events will be.  If you are in an abusive or disrespectful relationship, making a clear choice to leave will have lasting consequences.  It will impact your mental health and self-esteem.  It will affect your living arrangements, your finances, even your circle of friends.  Some of these events will be positive or negative.  While your finances may take a hit, your self-esteem may get a boost.  Your circle of friends may reduce, but your freedom and independence to make new relationships will increase.

Remember, in every chain of events, you will also have many future decision points upon which to act to positively impact your life.  Map out the chain of events to help you feel more comfortable with the decision.

8. Be Confident in Your Decision

After going through the steps thus far—and there may be others that you’ve included—you’re ready to make your tough decision. You should feel confident about your choice. You should also feel proud of yourself for doing all the heavy lifting to get to this point.

If you haven’t done so already, start shedding the doubt or worry about the choice you’ve come to. If you do feel like there is more work to be done and you’re not confident about your decision, go back to step one and visualize new outcomes.

4. Identify the Pros and Cons

Remember the “old school” pros and cons list? Well, it’s not as dated or inane as you may think. Putting your options down in black and white helps you to weigh your outcomes, literally.

For example, you’ve been offered a new job and are uncertain whether you should leave your current job for this new opportunity. Write down “stay” or “go” at the top of your page and then under each header, write out all pros and cons of each. This is where you enter your research data, opinions, benefits, and risks involved in each decision. Typically, the column with the lengthier list is your better option. However, you still have a few more steps to complete that will help you feel more confident about your tough decision.

Warnings

  • Do not rush into any major decision. Carefully weigh your options and sleep on it before you decide.

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Being an adult is hard

I wish every decision in life was a win-win situation, but this rarely the case. We find that there is often compromises that have to be made to make relationships work. 

One of the most difficult aspects of our decision to move to the US was leaving my wife’s parents behind in South Africa. Taking them far away from their first and only grandchild. How do you cope with a decision like this? 

Short answer, you don’t. 

It is absolutely painful to see the tears in a grandparents eyes when they send of their daughter and grandchild to a far away place.

However, as a parent you have the responsibility of doing what’s best for your family for in the short term and long term.

What can I do now?

The ball is in your court

Are there life decisions that you know you need to

Are there life decisions that you know you need to make, but have put on the back burner? This can be making the decision to become an entrepreneur, get married, release an album, have kids, pay off your loans, etc.

The list is long, which is why we should strive to become better decision makers. Our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those we can greatly depend on our ability to consider the facts and take action.

Making tough life decisions isn’t always easy; but few great things ever come easily. Right?

Tips for making decisions

Step 1. Don’t let stress get the better of you. It’s easy to feel stressed out and anxious when you’re facing a tough choice. You might tend to rush your decisions without thinking them through, or you avoid making a decision at all because the stress has put you off your game. If you’re feeling anxious about a decision, try to manage your stress so that it doesn’t cloud your thinking. Go for a walk on the beach. Hit up a yoga class or hang out with friends.

Step 2. Give yourself some time (if possible). It’s hard to think clearly under pressure, and sometimes your first idea isn’t always your best one. Give yourself the chance to sit on a problem for a while so that you can process your options and feel confident about the course of action you choose.

Step 3. Weigh the pros and cons. When faced with a big decision, sometimes we lose sight of the big picture. Write a list of pros and cons for each course of action and then compare them. Sometimes the cons aren’t nearly as bad as we imagine them to be, or the pros might make your options more obvious.

Step 4. Think about your goals and values. It’s important to be true to ourselves and what we value in life. When you factor into a decision the things that are important to you, the best option might become obvious. At any rate, you’re more likely to end up with an outcome you’re happy with.

Step 5. Consider all the possibilities. Making a decision can result in several different outcomes and not all of them may be obvious. When considering each option, don’t just list the positives and negatives; write down any likely consequences.

Step 6. Talk it out. It can be helpful to get another person’s perspective on your issue, particularly if they’ve faced a similar decision in their own life.

Step 7. Keep a diary. If you feel like you’re on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, it might help to keep track of your feelings by writing them down.

Step 8. Plan how you’ll tell others. If you think someone may have a bad response to your decision, think through what their reaction is likely to be. Put yourself in their shoes to help you think of a good way to manage the situation.

Step 9. Rethink your options. If you’re up against a lot of pressure over a decision, or there are some new factors to consider, look over your options again. You might decide that your original decision is still the best one, but give yourself the option of changing course. If a decision no longer feels right for you, go through these steps again to figure out a better solution.

5. Listen to your hopes

When you’re really struggling with a decision, it’s often because your mind thinks one thing is practical while your heart wants something else. Pay attention to what you hope will happen. For example, when you ask a mentor for advice, what are you hoping she’ll tell you to do or not do? Or if you had to make a decision based on a coin toss, which side would you hope it lands on? We’re not purely rational creatures. It’s right (and good!) to listen to your hopes because they often give you deeper insight into the decisions you actually want to make.

Life is full of tough choices, but they don’t need to be massive drains on your time. Lay a strong foundation to make decisions generally, then pick and choose from these five tactics to make them faster. You’ll spend less time agonizing over your decisions without making slapdash choices you’ll later regret.

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