We have all experienced making a decision that we thought was the right one at the time, but later discovered that it might not have been the best choice after all. So much of life is ambiguous. There are times when either decision would have been right or wrong to some extent and no one is going to make the absolute right decision every time. Fortunately, most of the decisions we make in the course of our lives are not a matter of life or death.
As a therapist, I get many clients who come into my office struggling with making decisions. The fear of making a bad decision almost paralyzing their ability to act at all. In helping them try to analyze their own situation and make a decision that will sit right with them, I do encourage them to really put themselves into each possible outcome of their choice.
How To Make A Good Choice
Whether the decision to be made is be small or life altering, the decision-making process is the same.
- Listen to your instinct, but remember who is boss: Our instincts are often good but we aren’t living in the stone age anymore where it eat or be eaten. Take some time to consider each alternative.
- List your alternatives: The good old pro and con list
- Really put yourself into each situation: Think of how it will feel, taste and smell. Live with each choice for a while
- Try not to get caught up in emotion or group sentiment
Whether the choice is large or small, the steps you take to decide should be the same. Whether it’s trying to choose what to eat for dinner or where to go to university, really try to get into each situation. Picture yourself eating a hamburger, try to image the taste and then take a bite of that pizza. Which one feels better to you. Similarly, after visiting the campuses of each school, imagine yourself really living in these areas, the setting, the people, the city. What classes could you take at each? Once you really dissect the situation, make a choice based on what feels best to you.
Even when they consider the options this way, however, they still feel trapped in indecision. Typically, there are the five traps that people fall into when trying to make a decision:
- Wanting absolute certainty before acting
- Making a decision based on a whim
- Believing a decision can only be valid if endorsed by others
- Making the same mistake over and over without learning from the past
- By not making a decision, you are making a decision
It’s Okay To Grieve The Road Not Taken
When people do make life decisions, they may not ever absolutely know they’ve made the right decision. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be happy with the decision that they have made. You may never really know whether it was the absolute right decision as either one may have worked out just fine. Often, people who have difficulty making decisions aren’t good with ambiguity. They want absolute certainty and find it difficult when they don’t get it.
One point I try to stress is that while it’s important to go with your gut when making a decision, sometimes, there is grief over the choice not taken, even when you have made the right choice for you. While many people will say that when you have made the right decision, you will feel a sense of peace and calm, and perhaps to a certain extent this is true, it doesn’t mean that we are not allowed to be sad about the road not taken. Giving ourselves permission to grieve often allows up to move forward on our journey.
Put Yourself First
Lastly, no decision is ever written in stone. When something isn’t working, we always have the opportunity to re-evaluate the situation and look at other options. Just because you change your mind after you’ve made a decision, for whatever reason, doesn’t mean you are a quitter. In fact, sometimes changing your mind for valid reasons means that you are actually putting yourself first and striving to reach your goals.