One thing I have been learning about life as a young man is that I am in a constant squall of decisions that are assaulting my life waiting for me to give them attention. I know my life could be more complicated and challenging, but that does not belittle the magnitude of intensity I feel when faced with life altering decisions I am confronted with on a regular basis. I am confident that the tide of hard decisions will only rise as my life continues, so this is an area of life I constantly try to tackle head on.
A couple of years back the topic of decision making was ignited by the catalyst of Barry Schwartz talking on "The Paradox of Choice" on TED talks. If you have a bit of free time now or later, I highly encourage you to watch this media clip with him. It got me thinking deeply about decision making.
Barry's perspective on decision making opened my eyes to how much I struggled with not just deciding what to do with hard topics but many simple things in life such as buying clothes. I concluded I should experiment on myself, which led me to try out an online service that sends you clothes in the mail once a month. It was a test of me delegating something I hated doing which was shopping for clothes. Now you see I am picky about my style to some extent so financially subscribing to a service that I was supposed to blindly trust was no small feat. Once I made the plunge and was a couple of months deep into this subscription, I found it a massive relief and pleasure receiving this product on a monthly basis.
What I learned from this little self-experiment was that in doing this I created more mental space for me to think about more pressing objectives, such as what to do with my life, rather than what I should be buying to wear. Although this may seem simple, it impacted me, because it revealed to me the importance of creating space and time for more pressing mental matters.
So that gets us to how I have found a personal rhythm in trying to make hard decisions. I am finding myself naturally doing these following things to help me tackle hard decisions in life.
1) I check what my gut is saying. I am a man whose intuition I highly value and respect. As I have developed and grown over the years, my internal instinct is something that has continuously spoken truth to me in an unsolicited or unbiased manner. I have come to recognize that my inner instinct is something I need to listen to. I consistently find it fascinating that this inner voice has so much to say if I just give it a moment of recognition.
2) I externally process with close friends and sometimes family. This part of my process is something I value highly. Having close friends that I can transparently expose my situations with and hear what they think; this is such a commodity. I find that externally exposing my struggle to another human being helps significantly. There are times when what my friends and family have to say does not sway my decision in the slightest, but having someone there to listen to me is just as empowering. Having close friends or family whom I can trust in is essential for my decision-making process.
3) If I'm stuck on a decision for an extended period of time, I just choose something and go for it. I have found that being stuck between two options for a prolonged period has never served me well. Once I discovered this, I have started just to pick a side and move forward. If the direction I chose fails or isn't what I anticipated, most of the time I can re-adjust or make the necessary alterations. It is easier to change the direction of a moving object rather than a motionless one.
4) I force myself to take ownership for the decision. I have found myself in the past just wanting other people to take control of my life for me; I wanted to run from the responsibility of my decisions and throw that burden on someone else's shoulders. If someone else made them for me, I would not have to blame myself if it did not work out. From this, I have learned that in some situations I just need to force myself to make some form of a decision so that the responsibility is on me, otherwise I will not move forward on any level. I remember this one instance where I was in a stalemate with what direction I wanted to head in life and was looking for someone else to help. The realization finally hit me that I needed to take grasp of the responsibility I was given and make a move in any direction. I just needed to do something and I did.
5) I clear my head. No, I'm not talking about taking a bunch of hallucinogens and running naked through the woods, although that does sound tempting sometimes. What I am saying is I do something fun or relaxing to help get my brain off of the impending doom of a decision I feel looming over my existence. I'll read a book, play some ultimate frisbee, see a movie in theaters, or just have a beer and relax. I have found that many times after I was actively resting, making a hard decision does not seem so trifling. Also once I've cleared my head, I find that my decision-making process is more concise and level-headed.
I hope that these simple things I do can help you move forward in your life. What are some steps you take to empower you to make hard decisions?