When your path diverges: 6 steps to making a decision

So you’re walking along your chosen path and everything is going well. The sun is out, a little warm breeze tickles your skin, and you turn the corner and BAM — in front of you is a completely unexpected choice. To move forward, you must choose.

I’m not talking about the “what should I do tonight” or “what do I wear today” or “should I go to this party” decisions.

I am talking about the major forks in life — “do I quit this job” or “do I stay with this relationship” or “do I move somewhere new” — in which you want to make a decision confidently, after thinking about it.

Decision: de·ci·sion \di-ˈsi-zhən\

1) a choice that you make about something after thinking about it : the result of deciding

2) the ability to make choices quickly and confidently

The hard thing about any major decision is that you will lose something big (and known) just as you gain something big (that’s a little or entirely unknown). You may have to say goodbye to people you love or to a job that gives you a big salary but little satisfaction.

This knowledge of potential losses is exactly why it’s easy to feel paralyzed and stuck and unable to make the decision. It’s a fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of loss. Fear of the unknown.

But, Dear Reader, I suggest that we make the second half of 2016 the (Half) Year of No Fear. So, suit up in your superwoman/man spandex, and let’s go make this decision.

superwoman 2
If you wear this spandex as you make your decision, you will probably make it faster than you ever imagined.

First, make sure it’s an actual decision.

We have too many stressors in everyday life; let’s reserve time and energy for actual decisions that have real consequences. Don’t waste your mental energy on things that just need to get done but have no actual forks. Example A: Applying to job is barely a decision. You are likely to be one of many, many applicants in today’s market. Sure, it’s worth discussing with your partner if it is in another city, but it’s not worth sweating over at this point. Whether to accept a job you’ve been offered is an actual decision.

Make sure you know the difference and spend your energy accordingly: Will taking action A have a direct (no further “if, then” involved!) impact on me beyond time tomorrow or next week? Will taking action A have a direct impact on someone I love tomorrow or next week? Yes to either = actual decision.

confused
I’m begging you: don’t obsess over non-decisions!

Next, do something you’re scared of.

Sometimes we need a little boost of confidence to get past the decision-making-induced fear. Do something you’re scared of and you’ll remember, “oh, yea, I can do scary things!”

Just think of something you are scared of: snakes, spiders, water, Ronald McDonald. And the next time you see one of those things, give it a hug or stand still without screaming and inch closer or dip your big toe in. And look! You’ve survived. (If you did not give the snake a hug. I do not recommend that.)

jump fear
I am terrified of snakes and not-clear water. On a recent canoe trip, our armada came upon a platform with a rope swing. Then a water snake cruised by. I rolled my shoulders, held my breath, and jumped anyway. I shouted “GO AWAY SNAKES!” my whole swim back to shore. Then I did it again. 

Make sure to look at your decision process as a journey.

Especially if your decision is going to take awhile (which is okay!), settle in and take care of yourself. Along the way to your decision, things might get messy (as in, tears, drinks, more tears, more drinks), so make sure you’re ready to weather that walk.

Exercise often to get a boost of endorphins that give confidence and clear your mind. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Feel all the elated/sad/confused feelings that come up along the way, and recognize them as normal and okay. It’s okay for this journey to be messy. No one is asking for it to be pretty. It just needs to get done.

paths diverge
Your decision is a journey and eventually you’ll get to the point where the path splits and you’ve got to make a decision. Pack up everything you need for the hike to get there.

Ask for advice from friends/colleagues/loved ones.

You don’t have to take their advice, but chances are good they will give you empathy and love and support, which is exactly what you need to make big decisions.

Bonus: They might point out something you didn’t think of. For example, if you do leave your job and go get expanded experience elsewhere, a friend can point out that job could want you back later for a higher salary/position. Did you think of that?

grumpy
i made a meme contribution! so exciting!

Then consider putting a timeframe on making the decision.

If it’s a decision without a timeline attached, ask yourself how long it would feel okay to live in the limbo where you are now. Give yourself time to make a well-considered decision, but not so much time that you wallow and spin.

deadline
Find yourself an amazing alarm clock if need be. This one I found (ok, it’s a clock tower, not an alarm) is in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Finally, play out the two options in your mind.

See if you can live with each option for a full day, as if you have already chosen one path. How do each of the decisions feel in your body when you hold onto them, as if you have decided? I can nearly guarantee that one of them will cause you to stand up straighter and feel a little lighter. That’s a pretty darn good indication of a path forward that you will feel good about later, even if it’s hard.

And if all else fails, play this song over and over, singing with a fake mic, until you come to a decision via confidence or going crazy. Definitely do the fist pump thing:

Once you’ve made your decision (with or without Kelly Clarkson’s help), you will probably feel all bubbly and relieved—a huge weight has rolled off your shoulders and you can skip down the streets once more.

At this point:

  • Be graceful, especially if your decision means moving away or leaving someone behind. Be your absolute best self every day during this transition. Don’t say a single hurtful word.
  • Accept the negative consequences of the decision you made. A whole other future was likely lost. It’s okay to be sad about this. Be sad. Feel the feelings.
  • Own your decision. You made it, no one else. Now give what you chose all you’ve got.

Recently, I’ve made a lot of big decisions (over months and definitely with tears and wine): job life, love life, and location life. None have been easy but I got through the messy path and arrived at decisions. So here I am, back in the States, with a great job, and starting over in the other department.

I made it. You can, too.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken, 1920

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