12 Ways To Make Hard Decisions Easier

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Our entire lives are structured around making decisions. Every day we make simple choices, like what to wear to work or what time to wake up, that don’t cause us too much stress. Yet bigger decisions — ones that could change our lives or impact the ones we love — can be a source of significant anxiety.

We asked members of the Thrive community to share their best tips for making life decisions when they feel stumped. Here are some strategies to use the next time you feel overwhelmed or unsure about.

Follow your intuition

“When we feel stuck, or indecisive, it’s typically because we are disconnected from ourselves. When faced with ‘I don’t know’ we need to take a time out and listen to the silent whispers of our soul. Take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes and tap into your intuition. Run each choice through your mind and notice how your body responds. If you feel contracted, or feel a pit in your stomach, that is a clear ‘NO.’ If you feel fluttery, but expansive and excited, well, that’s a yes, but you’re just being stretched out of your comfort zone — go for it!”

—Kimberly Napier, life coach and speaker, Concord, MA

Meditate and listen to your inner wisdom

“Whenever I have a tough decision to make, I meditate on it first. I sit for 10-15 minutes uninterrupted in my meditation space at home and just breathe deeply, using my breath as an anchor to remain in the present moment. I ask for guidance from my inner guide. When I’m done meditating, I journal any wisdom that I’ve received during that time. After I’ve decided on the decision, I ask myself if this is the answer that I would be proud to tell my family and friends. Then I know I’ve made the right decision!”

—Camille Sacco, certified meditation instructor and bank manager, Winter Park, FL

Think about how your decision will make you feel — after the fact

“In my younger years decisions were much more spontaneous than they became after 50. Now, I decide if the decisions fall in line with my values. How will this make me feel later or tomorrow? If I don’t work out, or if I eat this, how will I feel later? Now, decisions are not just about being in the present — they are about how I want to feel after I make them.”

—Andrea Lambert, hotel sales, San Diego, CA

Ask yourself two important questions

“When making difficult decisions, pro vs. con lists are useful, except when they’re not. Asking advice from a wise and objective friend, colleague, or mentor is critical, but doesn’t always help. When I’m really stuck, with no clear means of resolution, I ask myself two questions: Which choice do I want to make and which choice am I trying to avoid making? The first exposes self-interest, which cannot be trusted. The second reveals the voice of conscience, which is the most likely guide to a well-calibrated moral compass.”

—Yonason Goldson, ethics speaker, St. Louis, MO

Avoid analysis paralysis

“With experience, making hard decisions gets a lot easier. Draw on your experiences and those from others, but ultimately, the decision rests on your shoulders. There is an Army adage: ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way.’ Trusting my gut feelings led to a lot of great (fast) decisions in life. ‘Analysis paralysis’ will limit your opportunities because you fear making the wrong choice. Weigh your options, pray, follow your heart, seek advice, but decide to act. No one gets anywhere meaningful just watching the river rush by from the banks. Jump in! Hard decisions require guts and faith in yourself. Avoid ‘what ifs’ by pushing yourself. No one advances without making mistakes, so let go of fear and lead.”

—Scott Miller, marketing director, Wilmington, DE

Recognize your body’s reactions

“When making tough decisions, the first step I take is to empty out my mind and relax so that I can start with a clean and clear slate. I allow this process to last for a few minutes. Next, I bring up the situation I need to resolve or make a decision about. I start to think of the scenario and the pros and cons. I believe in tuning into my body and how I react physically to the information that I am thinking about. I try to base my decisions on what feels good and right by the way my body reacts. Your body has a way of knowing what your mind may not be able to, sometimes.”  

—Nicole Michalski, life strategist, author, and speaker, Alberta, Canada

Consider the implications a year down the road

“When I struggle to make decisions and spend too much time worrying about whether I am making the ‘right’ choice, I like to remember a question that my dad taught me when I was an angsty teenager: ‘Will it matter in a year’s time?’ Sometimes, it’s so easy to get caught up and make decisions far scarier than they really need to be. Asking myself this question reminds me that smaller decisions don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Make them and move on!”

—Vicky Shilling, wellness industry business coach, Dublin, Ireland

Visualize the outcome

“When choosing between two potential paths, look at both and consider, am I ready for the possible outcome of this path? If the answer is yes, you are prepared to make the decision. If the answer is no, you need more research and contemplation. One of my students was considering quitting her job. She felt confident that when she gave notice, they would beg her to stay and give her a raise. I asked her, ‘but what if they accept your resignation and send you packing? Are you ready for a job search and to be unemployed for an unspecified amount of time?’ She realized that she was not ready for each potential outcome, and therefore not prepared to quit her job.”

—Margaret Meloni, Ph.D, author, Long Beach, CA

Use the 24-hour rule

“I’m a talker so I talk things out, but only six times. Hopefully, it’s six different trusted advisers who get to hear the problem and offer input, and not my poor husband six times. If I’m truly stumped, I invoke the 24-hour rule and give myself permission not to mull on the issue and not to make any decision for 24 hours. It’s amazing how many problems resolve on their own in 24 hours.”

—Kathy King Johnson, executive director, Cheboygan, Michigan

Get some fresh air

“Take a walk outside. If you can get out into the woods, even better. Fresh air and interaction with nature will calm you down, bring your breathing back to normal, and help you to think clearly. When we have big decisions to make at work, we participate in Pedi Meetings: 15-minute walking meetings outside. The combination of light exercise and fresh air aids in restoring cognitive function and boosts creativity.”

—Abby Oxborough, leadership development facilitator, MN

Make a list

“I’m a huge list maker. There are so many benefits to knocking to-dos off your list or using a pros and cons list to evaluate something. You can experience a boost of self-esteem, productivity, and accountability. When I’m stumped making a potentially life-altering decision, I craft a pros and cons list. There is a second step to my madness — I also consult my support system to walk through my points on the list. I take everyone’s perspectives, including my own, to make my decision.”

—Melissa Muncy, content marketing, San Francisco, CA

Give yourself the time you need

“When it comes to important decisions, I make sure to give myself plenty of time and space to think through my options. It may be helpful to talk about them with trusted friends, colleagues, or family members. I look at the pros and cons of different options and come to terms with what would be the best option. I also need to be comfortable with the consequences of the selected choice — both good and bad. We can make decisions logically, butt we can also make decisions based on what we feel is right. When in doubt, I follow what my heart tells me is the right thing to do.”

—Cynthia Leung, pharmacist, Kingston, Ontario Canada

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