Feeling stuck and unsure? Victoria Stokes asks the experts for their decision-making advice
I don’t know about you, but every time I have to make a major life decision I hmm and I haw, and I flit back and forth from one choice to another never being one hundred per cent certain that I’m going the right way. These days we’re spoilt for choice. Endless possibilities have been opened up to us, be it with our choice of career, the hobbies we partake in, or indeed the kind of person we decide to marry (or even whether we decide to marry at all).
Having an endless line of options, opportunities and possibilities is a wonderful and incredibly privileged thing but it’s also the paradox of choice: when there’s so much on offer we can never really be convinced one way or the other and we can easily make ourselves stir crazy in the process of deciding because the overwhelming amount of options has caused us to ruminate and agonise over what’s best for us.
So how can you be a better decision-maker and ultimately land on the choices that are right for you? I put that question to life coach Paula Coogan who guided me through the expert-approved decision-making process.
Head or heart?
Ah the old conundrum, do you go with what your heart is telling you or follow the practical advice of your head? Paula explains that this often comes up when everything looks good on paper but you know deep down that something isn’t right. “Your head is telling you that this is how it should be, you are where you are supposed to be but your heart is aching knowing that you’re truly not happy,” she surmises. So what’s the solution? For Paula, the answer is simple, you should always make decisions from your heart. “Absolutely make use of your head. Use it for the practical planning, the maths, the logistics,” she advises, “but for happiness, always go inwards and check your heart.”
Next? Lean into your feelings. “When you think about the decision, ask yourself, ‘will this help me grow, will it expand my future, will it expand my possibilities, is it in alignment with what’s truly important to me?’ Paula advises. “If the answer is yes, then the decision should be a yes, no matter how terrifying or out of your comfort zone it may feel.” If on the other hand, you’re deciding on something that, being honest with yourself, will inhibit your growth or hold you back in any way, the decision should be a no, “no matter how safe or easy that path may feel to you right now,” says Paula.
Consider the long game
“Often when we’re faced with a decision, we just think of the immediate impact and feeling,” Paula explains. “But often the short term impact of our decisions seem terrifying because it means change. It means starting something new, putting yourself out of your comfort zone, going into unchartered territory or having really difficult conversations with people.” But what if you considered the bigger picture? “If you allowed yourself to visualise and really picture the long term impact of a decision, it can really be a game-changer,” Paula encourages. “Because this is where all the good stuff comes from, it shapes us, it shows us that we are courageous, that we value ourselves and our happiness.” In other words, don’t let short term discomfort put you off from long term gain.
Need some third party objectivity? You don’t need to run to a friend to discuss over coffee, you can detach from your decision and get an unbiased perspective yourself. “This is like a Jedi mind trick,” Paula explains. “It’s basically the ability to make a decision from a third party perspective. When you don’t have a direct emotional tie, the decision-making process can be much clearer. Research backs this up too; we make better decisions for others than we do for ourselves. So the solution here is to take an objective, zoomed out, third party stance on the decision to be made. Think of someone you admire. What would they do in this situation? If it was a friend in this exact situation, what would you advise them and why?”
Take time to reflect but don’t agonise
Driving yourself nuts trying to decide on the right path forward? “Your life comes down to the decisions that you make,” Paula surmises. “We make on average 35,000 decisions each day. Most we’re not aware of, but yet some we agonise over for weeks, months, and even years. It’s important to reflect and take time on big decisions that will impact your life, but set a deadline on it. Get support if you need to so that you can make the decision and start making progress in your life.”
Learn who you are
Making a decision is less about knowing what you want and more about knowing who you are. “Most of the time we ask ourselves ‘what do I want?’ but we’re not sure so we either start polling other people or we look at what others are doing and we make decisions from that space. Then we put our heads down and get on with it,” Paula explains. “The biggest reason why so many people struggle to know what they want is because they don’t know who they are. So many people don’t know what they believe in, they don’t know what’s important to them, what their values are, they don’t know what energises them,” Paula points out, and that’s why it’s often so hard to decide what’s best for us. The solution is no quick fix. “The biggest piece of advice I can give is to spend some time getting to know yourself, understanding your likes, your dislikes, your passions, your pet hates,” Paula suggests. “Get on your own side and learn all about you because it’s when you really know yourself, that you’re in a much better position to decide what’s best for you.”
This feature originally appeared in the July issue of STELLAR Magazine. You can pick up our August issue now.