How to Make Really Difficult, Life Changing Decisions
Two methods I use to make decisions that can change my life forever — one based on logic, the other using intuition.
We’ve all been there. Quit my job? Marry him/her? Buy this house? Pursue my dreams? Invest my savings?
Big decisions are never easy. We mull over personal circumstances — finances, family obligations, commitments etc. We doubt our own feelings, analyze, seek advice…over and over; all in the hope of making the right choice.
At the end of the day, life is complicated. But we should try to simplify it as much as we can, not least because it gives us clarity and peace of mind.
Here’s how I do it.
The decision matrix
When choices can be weighed against two or more criteria, I use a simple method to quantify the pros and cons. I scribble a simple scorecard on a piece of paper based on the possibilities and my desired outcomes.
A simple table listing all the options and consideration factors makes it easy to tally the pros and cons of the choices. Even if one choice doesn’t clearly come out on top, the process forces you to think about what is important to you in terms of priorities and how each option stacks up. At the very least, it helps you to eliminate bad choices.
Sometimes there aren’t clear negative or positive impacts to the factors being considered. Sometimes they carry potentials of varying degrees. In such situations I rank them from lowest to highest potential with a simple score range — 1 to 3 or 1 to 5.
The decision matrix method may seem like common sense but you’ll be surprised by how much it helps to clear the cloud in your head once you sit down and scribble it out.
The key to this process is to be truly honest with yourself about what matters and keep the scoring system as simple as possible. Once you’ve added up the scores, the option that suits you and your circumstances the most usually becomes quite clear.
6 months left to live
When the decision involves a single, life-altering change, I use what is called a ‘thought experiment’ in Philosophy classes. It clears the fog in my head and helps me to make a choice I will not regret.
The Tibetans have a saying, “In thinking about death, you’ll learn how to live.” It is very true.
We are often confused by choices only because we think we have time to do more. But if we didn’t, the priorities in our lives become very clear.
So I sit down in a quiet place and imagine I’m told by a doctor I have six months left to live. You have to make this ‘thought experiment’ very real psychologically. You have to generate all the emotions of realizing you are doomed and that you have very limited time left on earth.
Then you ask yourself the question: do I still want to do this?
If the answer is yes, the choice is clear. No matter what restrictions you feel due to your circumstances or obligations, you will find a way to make it happen. Why?
Because you want to die with no regrets.
This method is appropriate if you are making decisions such as:
✔️Do I want to marry this person?
If you find yourself wanting to spend as much time as possible with your partner even when you are facing death, you know he/she is the right one for you.
✔️Should I make this career change?
Steve Jobs worked until the day he died. There is no greater passion for a job than that.
✔️Do I move to Paris and learn how to bake?
Now or later? Most of us assume we have time left to fulfill our dreams. But life can often be shorter than we think.
Keep in mind please; making life changing decisions by assuming you have a limited lifespan left doesn’t mean you should forsake all moral, ethics and personal responsibilities. It is not an excuse to buy an automatic rifle and put holes in everyone you’ve felt has wronged you. Or leave your family behind without a word and blow your savings in Las Vegas.
It is simply a psychological method to ask yourself, “If I didn’t have all the time left in the world, what is important to me? What do I want to do most with my remaining time?”
In short, this method is about one word: PRIORITIES.
The universal prayer
Finally, if nothing else works, if neither rationalization or psychological intuition helps, if my circumstances restrict me from making a choice or change, I use my universal prayer…
May there be peace in my heart, and strength in my soul. Wisdom in my thoughts, and courage in my actions.
…do what I have to, and then hope for the best!