Are you the sort of person who is often complaining about your job or life day after day, year after year, and never doing anything about it? Or perhaps you may be the type of person who plods along, accepting whatever life throws your way, afraid of making the change, taking the risk, or making the decision that could potentially lead to greater happiness? Well, if you answered yes to any of the above, then you’re not alone; when faced with the uncomfortable situation of having to make a life changing decision, many people freeze, procrastinate, and take the safe and easy option and do nothing.
Every day we make decisions which affect and shape our lives; but mostly these decisions are small and don’t carry too much risk for us. Many people like the idea of making a life changing decision they’d like to start their own business, move abroad, change their career, or become the person that they want to be, but they are on the side of caution, they ‘wait and see’, and they use due diligence as a way to put off risk, or to avoid it completely.
How People Make Life-Changing Decisions
1. The hesitant procrastinator
Nowadays, technology has really made it much easier to make big life changing decisions. If you decide that you want to change your job, you can readily research companies and opportunities and apply for jobs online; if you want to change your career you can look at the qualification requirements for your chosen career, find courses, and even study online; if you want to travel or move abroad, all the information is there for you online, from researching destinations, finding accommodation or property, to applying for your visa and booking your flight. It’s so easy to make progress towards your chosen goal very quickly. However, with so much information (sometimes conflicting information) and choice available, people often become overwhelmed and get stuck at the research stage. They surf the internet, read books, subscribe to various journals, and attend events and seminars to listen to the personal experiences of others. They might even have a vision board and use visualization techniques to help them imagine their new life. They continually collect information until they become essentially paralyzed and unable to take action.
Their primary tool: a Pros and Cons list
The hesitant procrastinator will often use the classic, two-column ‘Pros and Cons’ list to help them to decide whether or not they are making the right decision. Although a ‘Pros and Cons’ list can be very useful, I myself have used one many times, its important to be aware that when we are about to make an important life changing decision, especially one that involves a certain amount of risk, we often think more about the bad things that can happen rather than the good ones, and so it’s easy to end up with a list that is very uneven. Moreover, as discovered by behavioural economists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, we are wired to value losses higher than equivalent gains and so you might find that, even if you use a weighted ‘Pros and ‘Cons’ list, i.e. you give a value to each item between the numbers -5 to +5, with -5 being very bad and +5 being total happiness, you might find that you end up with a large negative score which may prevent you from taking action.
So how do people make life changing decisions? Are they all just irrational risk takers? Do they struggle against the tide? Or do they just go with their gut instinct?
2. The emotional reactive
Some people have no trouble at all making life changing decisions; for them what might start out as a niggle on Monday morning a general feeling of being fed up with their job and life in the UK, could quickly turn into the excitement, of surfing the internet for properties in France during their lunch break, emailing their interest to an estate agent on Tuesday, and after a hasty phone conversation with the agent on Wednesday morning, lead to an inspection trip by the end of the month. As one tiny action after another is initiated and completed, momentum starts to build and the vision becomes more and more achievable, so that sooner or later they arrive at their destination or goal finding themselves living and working in France.
Okay, that is unusually quick decision making, however, I do know of many individuals who are able to make quick decisions in this way, and the one thing that many of them have in common is that they are very self aware. They know what they want, what is important to them and how they are likely to react if everything goes pear shaped. They have a lot of confidence in their ability to make decisions that are right for them and know that they will be able to bounce back if things go awry and are therefore confident to go with their gut instinct.
For some people, this may be the only way that they can make the ‘big’ decisions in their life, as they know that if they stopped to think about what they were doing for a second, they’d talk themselves out of it. This might seem a very impulsive and risky way to make important decisions because they begin to take action before they have carefully thought everything through. However, by putting themselves into a situation where they are committed to take a certain course of action actually helps them to achieve their goal. When they decide on a course of action, they don’t just sit back and let things unfold, they actively engage and do everything in their power to ensure success. People who make decisions in this way are often surprised by just how resourceful and creative they can be.
Their primary tool: emotional navigation
People who make decisions quickly, often use their emotions to guide them and ensure that they make the right decision that is true to them and aligned with their values. Take fear for example; they know that if they feel deeply about something or want something badly enough, then they will experience fear of failing or things not turning out as they had planned. Therefore, fear is an important indicator of how important something is to them. Fear is also an emotion that is often felt when something is unfamiliar and can limit choices and prevent them from reaching their goal, so they simply acknowledge it and put it aside.
Like fear, both anger and happiness can also give them a clue as to what is important to them. They may feel angry when they are being ignored, treated unfairly or not appreciated. They know what pushes their buttons therefore, they are confident, e.g. that starting their own business is the right choice for them.
Similarly, they know what makes them happy, motivated, excited, content, and relaxed, and know that they will thrive and be successful if they have more of what makes them happy in their life.
Whatever decision making method you choose have fun.
Whatever method you use to make important decisions, make sure that you enjoy the process. Think of decision making as a game of opportunity, a game which will teach you a lot about yourself and what’s important to you. The more often you make small decisions which change your life for the better, the more confidence and trust you will have in yourself and the better able you will be at making choices that are right for you, you’ll learn to trust your instincts. If some of your decisions that you make don’t turn out as well as you planned, you will still benefit from these experiences, as you will learn how to bounce back, and become more resilient. This will further increase your confidence to be more creative in your decision making and you will no longer be afraid to take a risk or challenge yourself in the future.
A few things you might like to consider if you’re about to make a life changing decision:
- Try not to concentrate too much on the details, stay flexible and able to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Be aware that your plans will change often, as you experience the reality of your potential new situation and you come to a wider understanding through your research. Try to visualise the bigger picture, what you could potentially achieve and the possibilities that don’t even exist yet.
- Don’t become obsessed with trying to make the ‘right’ (less risky) decision; the option that offers greater rewards and fewer risks might not be necessarily the best option for you and might not make you happy.
- Finally, don’t become obsessed by reading about what other people have done and how they did it, as you could lose touch with what’s important and right for you.
Are there any decisions that you can make today that can create a better tomorrow?