Making decisions is not easy, at least, not for me (speaking from experience).
Having to pick only one from two (or many) options available, we are often hit by a wave of doubts and confusion. To me, the act of deciding becomes increasingly difficult when the stake is high, and the options are both good: when the list of pros and cons between the two is more or less a draw.
How to determine which path to take, then?
These past few years, I have used these 3 methods to help me make difficult decisions:
- I ask myself, what would I do if I were not afraid.
- I ask myself, which decision would take me closer to my idea of an ideal self and an ideal life.
- I listen to the way my body reacts and responds to the available options.
1. What would you do if you were not afraid?
This is my favorite question to work on when I’m considering something difficult.
Often, the reason we ‘choose’ one thing over another is simple: because the other one feels more secure, more certain, more comfortable, or more stable. And there’s nothing wrong with it, really, if security, certainty, comfort, and stability are the things you truly want in life.
The question is: is this what we truly want, or we choose this option simply because we are afraid?
Maybe we’re afraid of not being good enough, not brave enough, not creative enough, not spontaneous enough, and the list goes on. Although deep down we know we’re attracted to the second option, sometimes fear forces us NOT to choose it; and we settle for the first option, instead. Which feels… safer.
But if success is guaranteed, if both choices will deliver similar successful results, which one would you pick?
Regardless of which option we’ll end up taking, or what decisions we’ll end up making, it is always wise to ask ourselves this question first: if I were not afraid, what would I do? Which option tugs at my heartstrings? Which option makes me feel light and joyful?
When we noticed that we have one decision that is more appealing to us; and the fear creeps in, ask again: where does this fear actually coming from? Why do we fear the things we fear? Are there things we can do to overcome this fear?
For example, let’s say we know we’ve always wanted to enroll in an art school. But we are afraid because enrolling in an art school full-time also means that we need to quit our job; because our job takes too much time and energy. However, if we stop working, then how can we meet our daily needs and support our family?
Now that we’ve looked closer, we know exactly what we are afraid of. The good news is this: once fear is defined, it loses half of its power. Now we can look fear right in the eye and make a plan to eliminate it.
Can we enroll in an art school on a part-time basis? Or are we able to enroll in an art school full-time, and secure a part-time job that is less demanding? Can we sell some of the goods we have at home to add up to our savings account when we’re studying in art school?
2. What’s your idea of an ideal self, and an ideal life?
Each one of us cherishes an idea of an ideal self and an ideal life–one we’ve always dreamed about. Our ideal self is how we imagine ourselves to be when we have reached our maximum potentials: we’re happy, content, healthy, productive. Our work is fulfilling. Or we experience the things we love, or we are confident, or brave.
What would your ideal self be like? And what kind of ideal life you’ll be living every day?
Yes, let’s imagine it for a while. Because what the mind conceives, the mind achieves, they said.
So, if we can be our ideal self and live our ideal life, the one we’ve always dreamed about, what life would be like today?
What kind of person are we?
Where do we live? Who lives with us?
What do we do every day, from the moment we wake up to the moment we fell asleep?
What are the fun things we experience in our ideal life?
What are the good things we can do for the people around us?
What kind of life we’d be living if we don’t care about other people’s judgments?
Having ‘seen’ this ideal self and ideal life, now look at the options available to us. Then ask ourselves: which option will actually take me one inch closer to my vision of an ideal life?
Again, regardless of what decision we will eventually make, questioning our options this way will make us aware of one thing: do we, every day, consciously making decisions (no matter how small) that will bring us closer to our ideal life?
3. Listen to your body.
I believe that our body is always communicating with us.
It tells us when we are full; although sometimes we keep eating because the food is so good. The body also tells us when we are tired and need some rest, even though our mind still forces it to work overtime. The body tells us when we feel angry, sad, or happy, and we can ‘hear’ it through the sensations of heat, cold, weight, lightness, or other physical reactions that come up when we’re experiencing those emotions.
Have you ever seen someone you have a crush on walking towards you? What would your physical reaction be like? Maybe you sit upright, you feel your heart pounding, you feel excited, your eyes widened, and a smile lights up your face just like that. You ‘feel’ your eyes shining or sparkling, though you may not be able to see your own eyes when this happens.
But have you ever seen someone you have been trying to avoid walking towards you? What would your physical reaction be like? It must be so different from the previous reaction.
So, watch closely and recognize the way our body is communicating with us: how does our body react when we are angry, happy, scared, disappointed, sad, excited, bored, nervous, or in love?
Now, when we’re about to make decisions, take a look at the options available to us. Read the options one by one. We can also associate ourselves with that choice when we’re reading it out loud. For example, we can say: “I keep working for this company for another year!” and then “I enroll in this art school and study art for a year!”
Try saying each option repeatedly, out loud, to ourselves: then notice how our body reacts to each statement.
Which option makes our body feels heavy, or shrink, which one makes the mind feels blurry, the eyes feel rather hot? Which option makes our body feel light and open, the mind feels calm, the eyes feel clear?
Or, examine our bodily reaction once again: what kind of physical reactions we have when we are bored, or when we are excited? Try matching these bodily reactions to each option: which option makes the body react as if it were bored, and which option makes the body react energetically?
Which option gives the sensation of pleasure, and which option gives a sense of disappointment?
If there’s one thing I learned about making a decision, it’s this: there is no right decision or wrong decision.
Decisions are just the many paths we choose to travel in, with all the views, stories, people, experiences, possibilities, challenges, and consequences along the way.
Every decision we take will certainly add up to our life experience and teach us one or two things about life. So this is not about making the right decision, or avoid the potential for making the wrong decision.
It is about making decisions consciously, and clearly. About paying close attention to why we choose one option and not another. To know ourselves. To know that whatever decisions we take, in the end, we take them consciously, by listening to ourselves, by listening to our heart.
By being honest.
PS: What was the most difficult decision you’ve ever made?