Difficult Choices

In every moment, of every day, we are making decisions. We decide where to direct our attention, we decide when (if) we should take a break, we decide whether to answer phone calls or respond to emails. Most of us make those decisions automatically, without much thought. But what about the decisions that really FEEL like decisions? The types of decisions that keep you up at night with anxiety or rob your afternoon of several hours spent fretting over the options. When it comes to big decisions, what is the best approach?


Decision-making is a huge part of my coaching practice. I work with all of my clients to examine and execute on big decisions including whether to file for divorce, quit the job, fire the paralegal, or take the big leap. If you are contemplating a big decision, schedule time with me to get support and clarity.


We have talked about decision-making in several contexts but today I want to focus on actual steps to evaluating and making a decision. But first, let’s recap:

Step 1: Take the Decision off the Pedestal

Many of us have struggled with decision paralysis from time to time because we put these decisions on a pedestal. We allow them to loom ahead of us like giant crossroads in our lives. We have to first recognize that we are making this decision WAY TOO powerful. One decision will not make or break your entire life.

In order to move forward you have to separate from the facts from your primitive-brain-thinking. You have to first recognize the thoughts you are choosing as just that: thoughts. Focus on the facts of the situation and examine how else you could be thinking about them.

For example, consider these thoughts:

I need to figure out my practice specialty this year otherwise I will fall behind.

I need to figure out whether to hire another attorney before everyone gets fed up and quits!

When we scour those sentences for cold hard facts, I find none. Those sentences reflect our internal catastrophizing and dramatizations. Neither of which are helpful. When we can get clear on the facts, the frenzy in your brain calms considerably. We are left with:

I am thinking about narrowing down to a specialty this year.

I am considering whether to hire a new attorney.

Simple. Factual. Nothing to see here.

Step 2: Take a Hard Look at Your Worst Case Scenario

Whenever we are avoiding a decision it’s because we have convinced ourselves that there is a right and wrong path ahead of us and if we choose the wrong one, our world will fall apart. When we look at our worst-case scenario, we can see that it is really comprised of only two things: obstacles that you can navigate and negative self-talk you can address. We don’t have to allow our brains to tell us that if we make the wrong decision not only will everything fall apart but it proves something negative about ourselves: we aren’t good enough, we aren’t smart enough, we can’t do this, this will never work out, etc. Instead, take a long hard look at your worst-case scenario, decide how you would handle it and decide what you would make it mean. In doing so, you rob it of all it’s power.

Again, this is just a recap! More on Steps 1 and 2 is available here.

Step 3: Get Clear About Your Why

In any choice that we make, there will be pros and cons. There will be consequences of many varieties, even when the opportunity seems too good to be true. In those instances, we have to consider what we gain by acting. When we have clarity about what is at stake with every new decision, that clarity will light the path when things get murky (because they will). That clarity will allow you to keep moving.

More on Step 3 here.

Step 4: Embrace Fear

Fear, self-doubt, and guilt are all parts of the bargain when we choose to make changes — those feelings do not mean you are making a wrong decision.

More on Step 4 here.

Step 5: Commit to Having Your Own Back

Part of the reason we avoid making decisions is because of how terrible we are to ourselves when a decision doesn’t work out how we imagined. We beat ourselves up, we judge our past actions, we rewrite history to make ourselves feel even worse. If you can commit to making a decision and having your own back no matter how it plays out, what is there to be afraid of?

More on Step 5 here.

Having worked through Steps 1 through 5, we are ready to make a decision…but how?

How to make the decision

First we have to take a look at the options we are considering and set forth our justifications for each option.

Why would we go that route?

What is the benefit?

What is motivating us?

Why is this decision hard?

This step is critical and must include some serious introspection. Are you wanting to keep that paralegal because you don’t want to have to deal with the discomfort of firing her? Are you saying yes to that new project because you’ll “feel bad” if you say no? In this step, we have to get brutally honest about our reasoning. Ask yourself why the decision is hard. Consider all of the thoughts swirling around–are we worried about what others will think? Are we forecasting the future?

Once we have all the justifications set out for each options available to us, I recommend reviewing those lists and highlighting only the justifications that are factual. “Difficult” decisions are often soaking in drama. We have to get really clear about what is the true and what is just dramatizations.

For instance, we might believe that if we fire our paralegal we will “devastate” her or “ruin her financially.” But we don’t know if that’s true. What if she really hates the job but was too afraid to quit? What if she knew she wasn’t the right fit? Or instead, we think that if we say “no” to a project/engagement offered to us, the other person will be disappointed or angry. What if that’s not the case? What if they really don’t care they just asked you because you were the first person they saw?

This part of the process can be helpful in distilling our justifications down to the meat of it. Usually justifications surrounding “difficult” decisions are rooted in avoidance of some negative emotion–we don’t want to feel bad if others are hurt, sad, disappointed, etc. While we can recognize that they might not be any of those things, our fear around how we will feel if others are hurt by our decision can keep us paralyzed.

Now the magical part:

You just decide.

Seriously.

You look at each list of justifications and you pick the list you feel most strongly about.

That might mean that you don’t fire you your paralegal because you don’t want to upset her but at least now you will be very clear that the real motivation behind that decision is because you don’t want to feel bad if she’s upset. On the other hand, you might decide that you don’t feel good about that justification. You just have to ask yourself–do I feel good about my reasoning for selecting this option? That’s it.

There are no right answers. The only thing that matters is making a decision for reasons that you are honest about and for reasons that you feel good about.

Then we circle back to Steps 1 – 5 and execute, paying close attention to Step 5 where you commit to having your own back. We commit not to second guess, back down, or shoulda, coulda, woulda, ourselves later on.

“Every decision brings with it some good, some bad, some lessons, and some luck. The only thing that’s for sure is that indecision steals many years from many people who wind up wishing they’d just had the courage to leap.”

Doe Zantamata

Photo by Andres Ayrton from Pexels