I’m a pretty decisive person but I meet a lot of people who regularly struggle to make decisions both big and small. If you had asked me a year ago how I approach decision-making, I probably would have told you that in most cases, deep down, I just know which is the right way to go. Recently, however, I was having a conversation with a friend who was struggling with a big decision and as we talked, I realised that there is more to my decision-making process than I might have previously acknowledged. On reflection, I’ve pulled together some of the thoughts, tools and questions that I use when faced with a big decision.
If there is a chance to be vulnerable, take it
I had spent my life trying to avoid being vulnerable and then in 2010, Brené Brown came along with this talk and changed everything. If you haven’t watched it, be warned, it will make you see vulnerability in a whole new light, which can have a life-changing impact.
This whole new light helped me to see that being vulnerable is the path to living to my fullest potential and finding true fulfilment. Brené says this (and I’m inclined to believe her):
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” ~ Brené Brown
With that in mind, if I am facing a decision and one way requires me to be vulnerable and the other keeps me feeling safe and secure, these days, I’m more likely to choose the path of vulnerability. Not always. I’m not perfect, but being vulnerable is something I am always working on.
When fear talks, it’s always wrong
So many decisions are made from a place of fear – a fear of change, fear of being vulnerable, fear of failing and even a fear of succeeding. I was recently battling with a big decision when I read somewhere the following: “When fear talks, it’s always wrong” and in that moment I knew what I needed to do. The decision I was struggling with could see me either go forward and speak up (the scary route) or do nothing and stay silent (the easy route). I knew as soon as I read those words that fear was wrong and that inaction was going to keep me in a place that I’d been stuck in for nearly a year. I chose to act, I chose to speak up and I chose to face my fear. Let me tell you, there is nothing sweeter than the few seconds, of total and blissful relief, that come after facing a huge fear and realising that it hasn’t killed you. If you haven’t tried it, I strongly recommend it.
Get clear about what’s important to you
When you get clear on your priorities in life then decision-making becomes all that much easier. I find when making decisions, I usually run through my priorities in this order happiness – will it make me happy? Love – does it involve love or bring me closer to love? Connection – does it maintain important connections in my life or will it foster new ones? Personal growth – will doing this thing help me to grow? Time – will it give me more time to do the things that I really want to do in life?
An example from my life: If I need to travel, say for example between Chiang Mai and Koh Phangan (my two homes in Thailand), there are various ways I can make the journey. At one end, I could take two overnight 12-hour trains and spend two days making the trip and on the other side, I can take two flights, leaving one place in the morning and arriving at the other place by early evening. The second option costs double the first, but because my time is precious, it trumps money every time – I always fly.
In terms of my values, knowing, for example, that integrity sits at the top of my values list is also extremely useful when it comes to making decisions, if something is going to compromise my integrity (or any of my other dearly held values), then I know without skipping a beat that it’s the wrong decision for me. When we know ourselves better, what matters to us most and what we value and prioritize in life, then making decisions gets easier.
If money is the only reason to do something then you’re doing the wrong thing
I had a long chat with a friend of mine recently who had a big decision to make. She was torn between two options, one that would make her happier, involved more love and honoured the connection she had to a place she didn’t want to leave versus one that would save her more money. When ever I’m faced with a situation like this, I never choose money, (which might sound easy to say when you have money to spend, but I believe money flows to my life precisely because I believe that it always will).
An example from my life: Last year I left Chiang Mai to escape the smoky season and to travel for a few months. I had secured a new apartment for when I returned and had paid the first month’s rent and a deposit. I had planned to be on Koh Phangan for just a few weeks before traveling to Borneo to climb Kinabalu and then travel up through Vietnam to be back in Chiang Mai for May 1st when the lease on my new apartment started. I had my flights to Borneo booked, my accommodation sorted and on my last night in Koh Phangan I left new friends in a nearby bar to go and pack.
As I folded the first piece of clothing and placed it on the bottom of my empty case, I felt my heart sink. I didn’t want to leave, I had found a place that I really loved, I had made new friends and I felt a strong connection to them and to this island. I thought about the apartment and the flights and quickly did the sums. I would lose well over £500 if I didn’t get on that plane. I folded another piece of clothing and placed it in the case. It’s only money, I told myself, I closed the case, walked out of my bungalow and headed to the bar where my friends were waiting for me. ‘That was quick’ they said. ‘I’m not going’ I replied. I stayed on Koh Phangan for nine more months and now I spend all of my time between Chiang Mai and Koh Phangan and I have an amazing life because of it. Worth £500? I think so.
How does making the decision feel?
I’m the first person to ask a person to examine how they feel about a decision rather than what they think about the decision. All too often I see people get bogged down in trying to work out what the logical or rational thing to do is. For many people getting in touch with what they feel about a decision can be harder than it sounds. Trying the decision on for size can help.
An example from my life: Recently, I faced a decision about which coaching qualification I should embark on. Just as I thought I had found the perfect course, a Life Coach and Writer who I greatly admire announced she was launching a Life Coaching course, half the price of the one I had set my heart on and providing me with more flexibility in terms of my location for the next year or so.
I felt totally stuck and couldn’t decide which course to choose. I talked it over with a good and very wise friend of mine who suggested that I try making the decision both ways to see how they felt. So I did. In my head (and heart) I decided to do the original course and then I examined how I felt. Then I made the decision to do the new course and looked at the thoughts and feelings that came up. It might sound silly and feel strange at first, but it really works. When you make the decision, you’ll see pretty quickly how it feels in your body, does your stomach sink and you feel dread or resistance? Or do you feel excited and happy? Which decision feels right? When you really tune in to your body, you’ll be able to answer that question.
Be aware of your patterns
In some situations we may feel driven to do something not because it’s the right decision for us or what our instincts are telling us to do (as we’d have ourselves believe), but because taking this road is in keeping with an age-old pattern that we’ve yet to break in our life. These days I’m on the hunt for patterns in my life that don’t serve me and often when facing a decision, I can do what I’ve always done (and get the same results I’ve always got) or I can try something different. Yes this requires courage but I’m finding that this new focus on breaking old patterns is actually pretty exciting.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein
An example from my life: usually in relationships when I start to feel vulnerable, I cut my losses by either (unconsciously) sabotaging the relationship or withdrawing from it big time. Recently I found myself at a crossroads in a relationship where there was a decision to be made. I could do what I usually do and protect myself from potential pain by pulling away from the other person before they had a chance to pull away from me, or I could own my feelings and risk being vulnerable by sharing with the other person what was going on for me. I chose the latter and the result was surprisingly positive.
My hope is that next time you are faced with a tough decision that you might call to mind some of these tools to help you get more in touch with your true self and allow yourself to be guided to make decisions that better serve you. I’d love to hear if you’ve got your own techniques for making decisions, or if any of my suggestions have helped you, so please feel free to leave a comment below.