You make decisions every day, from what you’ll eat for lunch to the route you’ll drive through on your way to work. But when you consider the phrase “tough decisions,” your mind probably wanders to bigger choices, like accepting a job offer, buying a home, or asking for a raise.
Tough decisions in life can be even grander in scale including those related to health or caring for a loved one. Planning for a safe, healthy, and financially secure future may be your definition of tough decisions. But everyone is different. What you consider a tough decision may be a no-brainer for your best friend.
Regardless of how each of you qualifies the level of this choice, here are some actionable steps to help you prepare for making tough decisions in your life.
1. Visualize Preferred Outcomes
Before you even dig into the homework and data, consider what you want. Visualization is not something mystical but rather intentional. Organizations build strategic plans around their visions. Leaders, influencers, celebrities, and athletes (to name a few) attribute visualization to their success. Just ask any Olympic gold medalist or a sports psychologist how visualizing the best outcome has been critical in their success.
You certainly don’t need to be playing at that level to use this strategy for tough decisions. So, step back a moment and take some time to think about and perhaps, journal your desired outcome.
2. Do Your Homework
Before making any tough decision—or any decision at all—start by gathering relevant data that will help you best ferret out your options. The devil is in the details.
Let’s say that you are considering which college or university to attend (or send your child to). What are the placement rates, the tuition, room and board costs, campus life factors, and of course, what is their reputation around your degree path? The data collection step is critical to help you narrow your choices and elevate the best options. Otherwise, you are taking your chances with very little footing.
3. Think Through Each Option
This may seem obvious, but you may be struggling if you’re only focusing on only one choice. Instead, ferret out all the alternatives and the paths of each choice. Think of it as a flow chart. If you decide one way, where might that path lead?
If you need to decide on a medical procedure, more than likely you will want to know all of your options. Considering alternative medicine, a second opinion or a different type of procedure or treatment may help you feel more confident about the path you ultimately choose.
4. Identify the Pros and Cons
Remember the “old school” pros and cons list? Well, it’s not as dated or inane as you may think. Putting your options down in black and white helps you to weigh your outcomes, literally.
For example, you’ve been offered a new job and are uncertain whether you should leave your current job for this new opportunity. Write down “stay” or “go” at the top of your page and then under each header, write out all pros and cons of each. This is where you enter your research data, opinions, benefits, and risks involved in each decision. Typically, the column with the lengthier list is your better option. However, you still have a few more steps to complete that will help you feel more confident about your tough decision.
5. Consider Others’ Opinions
Talk to people who’ve been down this road before. Come prepared to the conversation with questions that will not only be respectful of their time but will also help you get real-time opinions and advice. These conversations should also extend to family, friends, colleagues, mentors, coaches, and of course, anyone who is ultimately affected by this tough decision. Not only will they give you great insight, but they can also serve as a beacon of support and will help solidify that you are not alone in the process.
Keep in mind that not all decisions warrant others’ input, and you’ll have to make the tough decision by yourself. But if others will be affected by your tough decision, they’ll probably feel better about the outcome if you include them in the process.
6. Expect Pushback
You never want to focus on negative outcomes, but any decision will have some pushback. There will be others that disagree with the choice that you make, and they will certainly let you know it.
Remember, you can’t please everyone, nor should you try. Otherwise, you’ll let emotions—not facts—rule, and that can cloud your sound judgment. Even though there will some emotions involved in every decision, you must rely on the hard work you’ve done so far and the data and opinions you’ve collected.
When people do voice their objections, let them know that they’ve been heard and that you respect and honor their opinion. By doing so, you should be able to assuage their concerns and seek their counsel in the future.
7. Be Willing to Course Correct
If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again. No one is perfect—you are human and mistakes will happen. But when you own your mistake, it is much more likely that others will support you if you need to correct your course.
Blaming others (and yourself) for mistakes is unhealthy. Instead, be proud of the work that you did to get this. And remember, you’ve already outlined choices, paths, and outcomes that you can try the second time around. And since you’ve already planned for course correction, this should provide you with an added level of confidence.
8. Be Confident in Your Decision
After going through the steps thus far—and there may be others that you’ve included—you’re ready to make your tough decision. You should feel confident about your choice. You should also feel proud of yourself for doing all the heavy lifting to get to this point.
If you haven’t done so already, start shedding the doubt or worry about the choice you’ve come to. If you do feel like there is more work to be done and you’re not confident about your decision, go back to step one and visualize new outcomes.
9. Trust in Yourself
Renowned leaders, business moguls, and industry experts all share one thing in common: trust in themselves. They believe wholeheartedly that once they’ve arrived at this point in making a tough decision, they must trust in themselves.
You’ve heard the expression, “trust your gut.” Intuition can indeed play a critical role in making tough decisions. Scientific evidence lays out how somatic markers—those feelings inside the body, like elevated heart rate, that align with emotions—often guide decision-making.
When the best potential outcome seems unclear, explore how each choice will ultimately make you feel. And in some cases, like first instincts on exam answers, your gut is spot on. It’s certainly okay to feel stressed about a tough decision but not to the point where it detracts from your abilities to make tough decisions.
Steve Jobs has readily admitted that he didn’t always have the answers or that he made the right decisions. But once he was ready to make the tough decision, he believed that: “You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
10. Make Your Tough Decision
While tough decisions in life are not easy, nor are they always going to be fun in the implementation. You will feel better once the tough decision has been made. So, take a moment to acknowledge your thorough vetting process, the hard work, and the thoughtfulness that you’ve put into this tough decision. There is a lot that went into you arriving at this point. Therefore, you should feel good about your journey. Now it’s time to commit and take action.
You will be faced with making tough decisions throughout your life, but by walking through these steps, you’ll find the decision process much easier. Your confidence and clarity will increase as you visualize positive outcomes and gather the intel required to vet your choices.
Remember, it’s okay to admit mistakes and course-correct along the way, but if you include others in your decision-making process, you will have support and buy-in. Too many decisions are made lightly without any pre-planning—but you shouldn’t. Now, you have an action plan for making tough decisions in life. So, bring them on!
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