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Life decisions are hard, not because one choice is better or worse than the other, but because the choices are on par with each other. We, human beings, are rash; we want the results we desire as quickly as possible. This clouds our judgement which makes us choose the easiest or fastest option, even though it’s not the one we wish we have pursued later.

 

What Makes A Life Decision Hard?

“What should I study? Where should I move to? Who should I date? Which job should I take? Who do I want to become?”

These are all hard decisions and mainly for these reasons:

  • There are multiple acceptable answers. Our culture, belief or society often pushes us to make decisions. When we look to the world around us and no advice is suggested, decisions become even harder.
  • How to decide is unclear. We think of many different reasons that determine which choice could be better, however, it’s unclear how to weigh them.
  • There are no trials to test out choices. Much of life’s complexity is reduced by learning from experience. Therefore, the hardest decisions in life allow little to no opportunity to reconsider.

 

Ways To Help You Decide

For the past months, I have had to face some hard life-changing decisions of my own. With the hardest one whether or not I should move abroad to build a career.

I had many doubts and I couldn’t decide. My only guidelines were what I consider to be valuable in life. In addition to that, I spent a lot of time searching and weighing the possibilities by using different methods.

There’s no on-fits-all process for making these decisions, even though you have clear values in life. In these cases, it’s helpful to use different methods and see which option stands out. Below are four methods which can also help you to decide:

 

1. Make Choices Measurable

This first method is to use reason in your decision-making process. This is often useful when your intuition is conflicted, or there are measurable matters to consider that your intuition might not be considering.

For example, you’re deciding what to major in school. One way of evaluating this choice is by figuring out, what your chances of passing are, or what the average career earnings are for each field. This analysis won’t always yield the right answer. However, by looking closely at the numbers, you can get a better sense of whether it’s actually that much better to go into engineering rather than business or science.

Keep in mind that this method will leave a lot out, which is okay. For instance, you may weigh the costs and benefits of having kids right now based on the costs and disadvantages and see if those are ones you can bear. That won’t calculate the love for your future children, but it will make you aware of any sacrifices required.

 

2. Go With Your Intuition And Assess It

I know, this sounds like a lazy decision-making strategy. However, there’s some sophisticated psychology behind making intuitive guesses.

One reason this works is that our intuitions encode our past experiences. According to Claudia Hammond, an award-winning broadcaster, author and psychology lecturer: “We might not always realise it, but the brain is constantly comparing our current situation with our memories of previous situations. So when a decision feels intuitive, it might in fact, be based on years of experience.” Therefore, we often reason from patterns that aren’t consciously visible to ourselves. Intuitions also help us avoid problems, so we may pick the option we really “want” more, even though we can’t rationally justify it.

However, knowing your intuition is often difficult for hard decisions.

One way to assess it is through a coin flip. This technique requires you to assign each decision to one side of a coin. Then flip it. During the flip, as you watch the coin spin in the air, you might notice that your intuition is shifting to a certain answer. Before you realised it, the coin has landed and the decision has been “made”. Now, ask yourself whether you regret not being able to take another. If you feel relief, that’s the direction your intuition points. If you feel regret, it points the other way.

 

3. Research And Replicate

Even though there are no trials to test out choices, they do allow for research in order for one to replicate a decision.

A common problem is choosing which career to enter. Well, there are possibilities to replicate this by talking to people who work in those fields. Maybe there are already people within your network who are willing to help you explore those fields. Ask if you can shadow them for a day or two, to see what the working life is like. Try gathering information on salary, benefits and opinions on their typical working culture and expectations. If that’s not enough, consider interning in each potential field for a longer period, to get a better feel for each.

In this case, doing more research can eventually outweigh the potential difference in choices. It’s surprising how little research people do for the hard decisions in their lives, only to find out after many years that they don’t actually want the life they have been pursuing.

 

4. Consult With Others

We like to think we’re different, which separates us from other people and makes our choices unique. The reality is duller than that since we’re mostly the same. Our commonalities bind us more than our differences make us unique. Therefore, we can leverage this to imagine the outcomes of our decisions.

Talk to someone who made the same decision. Ask how they feel now about their decision and if they would do it again. Best of all, ask people on both sides. People tend to intuitively justify their past decisions, but you can see differences between: “Yeah, it turned out okay…” and “It was hard but also the best decision of my life!”

Consulting others can help to reflect on your options, and others’ insights may lend clarity to the choices you face.

 

Breathe And Accept That It’s Not Easy

There’s a common view of psychology that suggests that all this analysis is mostly not to make better decisions, but to justify the ones you were already going to make.

Some choices can be incredibly painful, even when you’re certain your choice is for the best, and even when the outcome is happiness. Instead of wishing that life decisions were easier, accepts the fact that it’s not, nor should it be.

The one thing that’s harder, is not making any decisions, and thinking about the outcome of what you might have decided. So, use as many methods as you need to pick the best solution. Regardless of how you decide, the decision needs to be your own because that’s the only way to be in control over your life.

 

  • Are you in the middle of making a hard life decision?
  • What was your latest hard life decision?
  • How did you decide?

 

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