How to Make a Decision

One of the eternal dilemmas that people suffer when they are faced with decisions to be made is simply “I don’t know what to do.” 

Maybe the right answer doesn’t seem obvious to you. Maybe this has to do with career or relationship discernment, parenting struggles or your social life. In any of these cases and more, speaking with good friends or a therapist can, of course, be invaluable. Gaining the perspective of others who have a vested interest in supporting you, and helping you check your blindspots is simply best practice when it comes to discernment. But in the meantime, there are some additional heuristics that anybody can use that may help them make a decision when they feel frozen:

1- When in crisis or grief, hold tight before making major life decisions. For example: therapists typically recommend that after the death of a close, loved one, most people should not make any major changes for a full year. Wait for peace and routine and calm to return before selling a house, quitting a job, or jumping into a new relationship. Trauma changes our brains. And while in the midst of trauma, our capacity to make sound, rational decisions is significantly diminished. If you have to choose between doing something major or doing nothing, and you have the ability/security to pause until your situation calms down, waiting until some tranquility is restored and clarity becomes obvious, is usually a good idea.

2- Choose A Good not The Right. For conscientious people, pursuing “the right” answer is what paralyzes us. Since God doesn’t usually give people neon signs on what to do, we have to get past the mentality that the right answer will always and everywhere be made clear. It will not. Choosing just one of many good answers is often enough.  Examine your motives. If they are oriented honestly, with goodwill towards others and towards yourself, make a choice that is simply good enough and let go of the idea that there is a Moral Should that you need to find. 

3- Ask how you would advise your friend or adult child. Stepping outside of our own lives and trying to consider the situation from the perspective of a loving friend/parent can be tremendously useful in offering objectivity to your decision. We can get so immersed in our own overthinking and intimidated by our own inner critic, that answers can seem far more elusive than they really are. Put someone else’s name in your story— someone you love. What would you recommend they do, considering all the factors that need to be weighed? 

4- Imagine your dying days. How will you want your story written? We know that many people have said that they regret far less the choices they made than the choices they did not make. Trying to envision your older self looking back on your life can again, open up your perspective in ways that our present-focused, tunnel-vision can not. Imagine what the choices would look, sound, and feel like and go with the one that feels congruent to the kind of life you want to have lived. 

5- Crosscheck fear. I am never someone who will advise people to blindly follow their heart. If you’re a terrible singer, stop trying to land an agent and make it big: sorry not sorry. We aren’t going to find happiness just by chasing our dreams, willy-nilly. We’ve been gifted with a rational brain for a reason— to temper the heart. That said, I think it’s important for each person to determine how big of a vote Fear gets in their lives. I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to not make major decisions based on fear. I don’t want that to be my leading light. Not everyone can tolerate this fully in practice, but at least being aware of how much power you are ceding to fear can help generate the motive needed to make a decision. And remember, the very measure of NOT making a decision… is making a decision. There is certainly a need for prudence. And of course we need to consider safety in certain, extreme situations. But the general principle remains for me and I invite you to consider this as well: Fear and anxiety do not get to write my life story; love, authenticity, humility, and courage do.