“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” – Tony Robbins
Life is the sum total of a series of decisions, small and significant. But even decisions that are typically seen as inconsequential, such as the kind of drink that you order at Starbucks, can be a training ground for your decision-making competences.
A witty observation by Tom Hanks character, Joe Fox, in one of my favorite rom-coms, You’ve Got Mail illustrates this perfectly:
“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”
Fox’s humorous monologue captures the essence of modern day life that’s dominated by options. It’s critical that both older and newer generations develop the mental faculty and emotional maturity to stay attuned to the rapid decision-making demands of today.
If you ask a grandparent (or a parent) about this, they’ll tell you that things were the opposite for them back in the day. Their mission in life was to survive, and they had to make do with whatever was available to them without any choice. While this is true in part, in some cases where our elders may have survived hostile regimes, chaos, and poverty there were still times when they could exercise their agency, giving rise to the peace that our generation can now enjoy.
We’re fortunate not to have been born during turbulent times. We are in a period of human history, largely free of World Wars, Depression or Plague. I believe that we owe it to all those who suffered and perished before us to use the privilege of choice with a sense of gratitude. As the Yoruba saying goes, “We stand tall because we stand on the shoulder of many ancestors.”
In addition to changes in the socio-economic climate, there has also been a shift in how we perceive our role in shaping our own lives and destiny. While people in the past often believed that external forces, religious, mystical, or political decided their fates, today most people believe that they are co-creating their lives in partnership with universal forces. We no longer see ourselves as passive, helpless voyagers tossed around by the hands of fate, but rather as crusaders who play an active role in paving our path with conscious decisions.
Decision-making can be stressful if we aren’t equipped for it, especially when it comes to big choices. But, what exactly constitutes a big life decision? The answer to this is entirely subjective, based on the priorities and personalities of each individual. However, there are certain decisions that are universally considered to be significant, like deciding if and who you should marry, whether to have children, relocate, invest in a home, have surgery, or make a career change. These aren’t daily decisions but once in a lifetime choices that can have a huge influence on the direction of our lives.
I believe that one of the most critical times in most people’s lives is their 20’s. It’s when you’re hit with a barrage of decisions to make such as which major you’ll pick in university, your career aspirations, who you’ll date, whether you wish to marry and have children, or if you prefer to grow as an individual and advance professionally.
On looking back, I feel that I was ill-equipped to make such significant decisions during that time. I grew up in a sheltered home where my lifestyle was settled and predictable. I didn’t have the self-awareness and knowledge to make informed decisions and, as a consequence, I made some poor choices. I’m sure that a lot of you can identify with my experience.
Be compassionate towards yourself and view this stage of your life as a gym where you grew your decision making muscles. Even though your decisions may have had a dominant effect on the initial trajectory of your life, it doesn’t mean that you can’t change course. As Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.”
To ensure that you pick up the pieces and begin moving in a direction that is more in alignment with your true self, you need to develop a specific skill set, including a combination of rational and intuitive thinking. You need to develop a keen awareness and self-control to maintain a state of balance that will facilitate a sound decision making process.
Here are four specific steps that cover all of this and take important variables into account:
1. Weigh the pros and cons: All businesses engage in a cost-benefit analysis before embarking on any major decision. We should apply the same practice in our lives so that we can gain an objective view of what we’re dealing with. I’ve found that putting things down on paper gives me clarity. It might help to share your list with others and get their input, while also considering how your choices could impact everyone involved. Avoid making this an overly rational process because often you’ll find that your heart may be drawn towards a certain decision, even if it appears to have more cons, than pros. It might be worth exploring this in a journal to figure out why this is the case.
2. Get advice from credible people: When making crucial decisions, it’s best to get a variety of opinions from people who you believe are trustworthy and credible. This may or may not include family members, friends, co-workers, or even acquaintances. They might be able to pick up on something that you can’t because of your blind spots and/or because they have more expertise and experience. For example, if you’re considering moving to another country, you could speak with expats who currently live there, a relocation consultant, or an immigration specialist. The act of speaking out loud about your decision to others can make it more tangible and real. But, be wary of getting too many people’s opinions, or asking an overbearing individual for their thoughts as this may overwhelm you and fade out your own inner voice.
3. Manage fears of risk and uncertainty: A big life decision always carries a certain amount of risk that can bring up unfounded feelings of anxiety. The higher the stakes, the more wound up we become over the risks and uncertainty. While it’s natural to have these feelings, it’s important that we try to remain grounded during the decision making process. Some things that you can do include breath work, meditation, visualization of a positive outcome, journaling, and speaking to someone who can help you to process your emotions. It might also be worth examining your fears and get clarity on them by asking yourself questions such as ”what am I afraid to lose?” “What’s the worst that can happen?” “How can I feel safe?”
4. Ask the right questions and listen to your intuitive guidance: Once you’re able to assuage your fears, you’ll be in a better position to receive intuitive guidance. You can take advantage of your intuitive senses by picturing yourself in the scenarios that are likely to arise from your decision. As you do this, pay attention to how you feel and how your body responds. Do you feel positive and excited? Or, do you have uncomfortable sensations that leave you feeling unsettled and hesitant? It might be worth taking note of these feelings. Your body is a channel for the wisdom that lies deep within you. You can take this a step further by probing your intentions with these questions: “how does this decision align with my priorities, values, passions, and purpose?” “Will it lead me down the path of my highest potential?” It’s important that you’re in a quiet, relaxed, and calm setting while in this state of inquiry.
Like a driver on a highway, you will encounter many intersections and exits. Each will take you down roads that will provide you with different experiences. Be sure to select only those that will take you on journeys that are exciting, fulfilling, and breathtaking!
All my best on your journey,
Question: Are you having a tough time making a big life decision? What do you think will help you feel better during this process?