Having to make big decisions that affect our careers, living situations, personal relationships, or other changes in our lives is a lot of pressure! Follow this guide to make decisions effectively and in line with your core values and goals.
We all dread making the wrong decision and later having to regret our choice.
Can we ever be one hundred percent sure that we are making the right decision though?
The most difficult part of making a big decision is that we often understand what the right decision could have been only after it's made - when it's too late.
Although you can not always be a hundred percent sure whether you are making the right decision, there are ways to optimize your decision-making process.
It is highly possible to make important decisions effectively and in line with your values and goals, which then minimizes the risk of you making the wrong decision.
I’ve therefore compiled a list of strategies below, to use in your next decision-making process to ensure that your next decision is the right decision.
How to make big decisions, that are in line with your values and goals:
1. Set aside a little time.
When we are stressed or overwhelmed by the situation, it becomes extremely difficult to think clearly. This hinders our ability to make a well thought out decision and instead can lead to us taking higher risks or choosing something out of habit rather than in line with our actual goals (1).
Set a little time aside from what you’re doing and make sure you are in a calm state of mind before you start thinking through your options.
Calm down your mind by taking a few deep breaths into your belly and chest, or perhaps take a walk in nature. This way your autonomic nervous system can calm down and your thoughts become clearer as your body doesn’t experience stress anymore.
2. Make a list of pros and cons.
Whether it is your career path, holiday destinations, choice of education, lifestyle choices, planning for next year, even relationships, or anything else - make a list of pros and cons of each alternative.
Ideally, list it all out on paper by hand. Put the alternatives next to each other and write down the advantages and disadvantages of each of them.
This method will provide you with a way to see your options from a different perspective as well as give you a chance to organize your thoughts.
Looking at the actual lists of pros and cons helps you see which option simply has more advantages and disadvantages, possibly making your decision more obvious.
3. Call your friends/family members/a coach/a therapist or anyone else with whom you can talk it through.
Bouncing ideas with others is a great way to organize your thoughts about each option, as well as get some input and advice on your alternatives.
Talking to someone can help you gain different perspectives on your options that you may not have thought about yourself. You can even update your list of pros and cons as you gain more ideas from others.
As much as other people care about you though, it is important to remember that in the end, you decide what to do. Take their advice into consideration, but be sure to make your own decision that’s in line with your values.
4. Try finding the bigger picture.
Think of the events that have occurred so far in your life, that defined who you are today.
Perhaps one relationship had to end to allow for another, much better one to finally come your way? Or maybe you happened to start on a new project, which unexpectedly shifted your career path?
When we start thinking about the coincidences that have occurred along the way and all the choices that we’ve made in our lives, we start noticing that, somehow, they start making a little sense. They’ve all made us into who we are today.
The unfortunate side of seeing the big picture is that we can only realize it after all these events have occurred.
But recently, I’ve played with the thought of this domino-effect-bigger-picture view in my decision-making process beforehand, and it worked!
I started imagining how each option scenario could play out in several ways as if I would have already chosen it.
The fact was, that I started noticing how the option that I didn’t consider as my main one turned out to be the right decision because I started seeing how the other things I did led me to the better option, and the “bigger picture” made so much sense.
5. Listen to your gut.
Having already done the abovementioned things, you might already know what the right decision is for you by now.
But if you’re still uncertain, try tuning in to your intuition.
To minimize the risk of regretting our decisions later, it is extremely important to involve all of your senses when making big decisions.
Listen to that gut feeling, that’s rumbling as you think through your options. Try to tune in to that lingering feeling in your gut and see how it changes as you think about each option separately.
Having already considered all the logical aspects behind your reasoning, ask yourself which option feels more right to you?
What is more in line with your true values and future vision? Which option feels more welcoming to you? What would make you happier? What would bring your more fulfillment in life?
6. What else is needed to make your decision easier?
Even if our list of pros is longer for one alternative and our gut feeling is leaning us towards it too, it might not necessarily work in practice.
Since we often think in realistic terms, we tend to choose a solution that gives us better practical benefits. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Perhaps you are pushed to choose to buy a cheaper house since it resonates with your financial situation. Maybe the new city you are moving to is closer to your hometown, even though it is not the exciting city you've dreamt about your entire life. Perhaps the career path you are not as excited about still provides you with better pay and long-term stability, making it a safer and practical choice.
We tend to compromise a lot in our lives when it comes to big life decisions. So much so that we might forget to consider finding a middle ground.
If you know that you prefer another option, but it's just not as practical, think of what would need to happen for you to feel entirely comfortable with it?
Maybe you can find a way to save up more money and still get the more pricy house your heart actually desires? Perhaps you can find a way to temporarily move to your dream city and see how you like it there, without the big commitment of leaving your family and friends indefinitely? Maybe you can find a way to save up money before going for the less stable career your heart actually desires, or get a part-time job with a stable income?
It never hurts to try finding a way to make your dream scenario come true, even if it's a less practical one. If it doesn't work out in the end, at least you know you've tried.
7. Give yourself a time table.
If you are still struggling with making a decision, give yourself a deadline for when the decision has to be made no matter what.
Remember, no decision is also a decision but it might make you regret not taking your chance while you could.
So make sure that by a certain point you will have made the decision and stick with it.
When I had to make up my mind about a really important aspect of my career, as usual, I turned to all the strategies listed above. I took a few deep breaths, went for a walk and started by making a list of pros and cons for each option. I then discussed my options with everyone I found helpful and considered their valuable input. Then I started looking at the bigger picture, seeing the entire process of what lead me to where I was then, from start to finish, and my gut feeling revealed the right decision. By negotiating my terms, I also found a way to make my decision work practically. Even though I had clear a deadline to make up my mind, I decided to close the case even earlier as my decision felt completely right.
Next time you are faced with a big life decision, I strongly encourage you to try these strategies to minimize your risk of making the wrong decision and having to regret it later.
I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog, so you are more than welcome to leave a comment here or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember to be mindful! ✨
Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Certified Mindfulness Life Coach
Porcelli, Anthony J., and Mauricio R. Delgado. "Stress and decision making: effects on valuation, learning, and risk-taking." Current opinion in behavioral sciences 14 (2017): 33-39.