Should I break up with my partner? Who should be fired in the next reduction in force? Should I have that difficult discussion with my parents about elderly care? Should I quit my job and look for something better?
We face hard decisions every single day. Some are easier to reason through, but many require comparisons that make it almost impossible to decide.
I faced a hard decision several weeks ago that might not seem difficult to you, but it shook me to my core. My fifteen-year-old beagle had a gall bladder condition that was causing liver failure. The vet could surgically repair the gall bladder and fix the condition. But it was an expensive surgery and there was a 20% chance the old guy wouldn’t make it.
For most people, this was a no-brainer. Do the humane thing and put the dog down. He was at the upper end of his lifespan, blind, and deaf. His quality of life wasn’t the best, and all he really did was eat, sleep, and defecate.
But I make a promise to all of my rescues. I’ll never give up on them; they can always count on me to take care of them—no matter what. Animal shelters are full of abandoned pets, lonely and afraid, who became inconvenient to owners. These poor animals, discarded like yesterday’s trash, are left to fend for themselves. While I know I can’t save them all, I can make a difference to the few I have.
How do you make life’s hard decisions? Are you wracked with doubt and fear of making an irreversible mistake? Or are you calm and rational, ignoring your gut instincts? Either way, you’re not tackling difficult decisions well. Here are five questions to answer when faced with life’s hard decisions.
1. What is the best-case scenario?
When faced with a difficult decision, you can be so full of fear that you envision the worst-case scenario. Fear won’t help you make a sound decision; it will only push you to make a hasty one. "I should take this job even though it doesn’t pay well, because what if I don’t get another job offer, and I have to sell my apartment and live with my cats in an old car down by the river?"
Instead, envision the best-case scenario. If you got this job offer, you're bound to get others, right? You’re viable and marketable. You should always try to decide from a position of abundance rather than lack. If you’re always worrying that there’s never enough to go around, you’ll make snap decisions that might not be stellar.
2. What is your gut telling you?
More than just your gut reaction, your physical reaction can tell you a lot. For example, when you consider two sides, you may feel inordinately tense while thinking one way, but feel relief when considering another option.
You can’t always process every decision on an intellectual level; sometimes you need to rely on your body for clues. Figure out what your body wants you to know by meditating. Listen to your body and notice when your tension skyrockets or drains. Tap into your subconscious when you’re not panicked and worried to let you know the right decision.
3. What will you regret?
Will you regret accepting a job that you think might be soul-crushing? Will you regret not following your dream and taking the safe road? Or will you regret not deciding and letting life pass you by?
Face it, life is full of regrets. You regret staying out late with friends on a work night. Or you regret not going out with the cute guy who didn’t have a job and lived with his parents. But you’re still sure you made the right decision on that one.
We’re so inclined to think of the short-term when making decisions it’s difficult to see down the road. Ask yourself what you’ll gain—or what you’ll lose—by choosing.
4. Will you like yourself after the decision?
This is the tough one. Sometimes, your decisions might look easy on paper or seem simple, but you don’t consider how you’ll feel later. You may make a snap decision that is callous or uncaring. How will you feel about yourself later when you look in the mirror?
Consider asking yourself, "Can I tell my partner/my parents/my children about this decision and feel good?" If someone has to lose, can you face them with empathy and explain your position and why you decided? Can you cope with the fall-out afterwards?
5. What are you missing out on?
Avoiding a decision is still deciding because you’re allowing others or the situation to decide for you. Take control of your life and make those hard decisions. If you’re wavering on the fence about something, set a deadline. Pick a time today and make your decision. And let come what may.
When you don’t decide, life moves forward anyway, but you’re not in the driver’s seat. You let others decide for you or the opportunity goes away because you waited too long. Either way, you aren’t the author of your own life. You’re just along for the ride.
My Beagle’s name was Atticus. I miss him every day. He was a good boy, but I chose to let him go. And I was there with him until the end.
Write your own life’s story by making the hard decisions. I can’t promise they get any easier with the above tips, but at least you’ll have a process to help you along the way.