Monday, October 1, 2007

How to Make a Big Decision

So much of how our lives turn out hinges on our ability--or inability--to make decisions. After all, decisions are essentially the moments before action--or inaction--meaning that over time, what you choose accumulates into a path for your life.

Mostly, these are small decisions: Should I cook or go out? Should I buy the blue or the red sweater? Should I get cable?

While these decisions are small, they are worth paying attention to, because the ripple effects can be quite big. (This is why we don't have cable--the time I could waste watching the Food Network alone boggles the mind!)

So, while it's important to be mindful of some of these smaller decisions, today I'm interested in the big ones. So, for example: Should I quit my job? Should I get married? Should I get married to her? Should I start my own company? Should I move to the West Coast?

Fortunately or unfortunately, most of us are keenly aware at the impact these big decisions can have on our lives, and so we can become paralyzed by indecision, afraid to act at all for fear of making a huge mistake. For some, this may pass, and you will find that you are able to decide. For others, the decision simply gets put off: first for days, then months, then maybe even years slip by with no action taken. Inertia becomes the only thing propelling your life.

As you may have already guessed, this is not ideal. Any power you do have over your own life is going to waste.

So how to break free of this kind of paralysis? I have used very focused visualization in the past to great effect. Perhaps this will seem obvious to many of you, but I know that it seemed like a revelation to me at the time. I hope you find this technique helpful.

Here's what I do:
  1. Find a place you can lie down and be totally alone. This is likely to be your bedroom, but so long as you're lying down and no one is nearby, it will work.
  2. Lie down, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. You need to calm your mind, relax your muscles, let your breath rise and fall from your belly and not your shoulders. You need to get into a near-meditative state, really. This can take several minutes. Be patient.
  3. Once relaxed, with your eyes still closed, focus your mind on the decision. Put it in either-or terms. As in: I can either stay in Texas, or I can move to Arizona.
  4. Pick one, and begin to construct the movie of that decision in your mind. So you decide you will stay in a certain place, in a certain job, with the social network you have. What does that look like? What do you see next week looking like? Next year? Get down to the details. Who will you be seeing often? Which bars/restaurants/offices will you be spending time in? How does this make you feel? What do you like and dislike about this option? Again, imagine this to be as real and visual as possible.
  5. Pick the other decision, and create that movie. Once you feel like you have really explored both the images and the feelings of one option, switch to the other and do the same exercise over again. If, in this example, it's imagining something you aren't familiar with, recognize that. Imagine the moving van, and the drive into a place that's only sort of fuzzy. Imagine that you won't know who your friends will be, and so you'll have to talk to people on that getting-to-know-you level. Get down to all the practical ramifications of making that decision. Does that excite you, or fill you with dread?
  6. Pinpoint your emotions. Try to put into language the emotions you felt in each scene. Get up and create a list of words that apply to each visualization. Come up with as many that apply as possible.
  7. Analyze the emotions. There will likely be positive and negative emotions in each decision. But now you can figure out why you feel the way you do. For example, you may feel fear at both the prospect of staying and of leaving. But is that fear exactly the same? Is one the fear of missed opportunity, and the other the fear of loneliness and unfamiliarity? Which one scares you more? Which emotions excite you more?
  8. Meditate on what you've discovered. You likely won't have a "Eureka!" moment when you've finished this exercise, though it is possible. But having gone through the practice runs in your head, the identifying and analyzing of emotions will certainly give your subconscious something to chew on. When your mind explores a decision, you may feel a tightness in your throat, or a feeling of calm. Pay attention to that. Also pay attention to your dreams. Listen to all the signs of your body and mind in relation to each decision.
As I've said before, and I'll say again, trust your self. If you need to, repeat this exercise. But if you are able to be honest and open with yourself, you will soon find that you know what it is you need to do.

If you think of your life as a movie, be the director. Your movie should be directed by you, not by inertia. So start storyboarding--soon, you'll be ready to yell "Action!"

UPDATE: I've recently expanded on this topic in this post, titled "How to Live With a Big Decision." If you liked this one, I think you'll get a lot out of that one, too!

UPDATE 2: Another entry in the decision-making category for your perusal: "How to Make a Decision, Period." I hope you find it useful.

UPDATE 3: Another decision-related entry, this time on "The Consequences of Delaying a Big Decision."


Elizabeth said...

I have been ready to vomit trying to make a very big life decision and this info, I feel, will really help me "see" what i should do through visualization. My gut is telling me strongly to go in one direction, but, sadly, i will have to lose love as a result. You seem like a very insightful woman.

Elizabeth said...

If you have any additional advice, it would be much appreciated. Thanks so much

Tiffany Hamburger said...

Hi Elizabeth--
thanks so much for visiting, and I'm so glad you think this post will help you out.

As for additional advice, not sure what your situation is, but something that applies to nearly all situations is to be sure that you're being honest with yourself as you consider your options.

Things can be scary and you can feel nervous as you get ready to take the leap, but if you check in with your gut and are truly paying attention to your mind, body and heart, you will know.

And as for losing love? I went away to graduate school for two years, leaving my boyfriend of two years behind. It felt terrible, but I simply had to go, because if I didn't, I knew I would always regret it and possibly resent him for not going. That guy is now my husband, we've been married for two wonderful years, so just trust that if love is meant to be, it will be.

If you want to share more, feel free, but I hope that helps! Good luck and thanks again for visiting. I plan on getting the blog back on track now that I'm back from a much-needed vacation! :-)

HYENA said...

Right now, I have a huge decision to make, but I'm procrastinating so much because I know that if I really do say what I've decided outloud, it will become real. Basically, I'm a 31 yr old British woman and came to stay in Texas for 2 months. Only that was a year ago and I'm still here, married to a wonderful American man with our own apartment, pool, dog, regular income, car and savings. But my family in the UK miss me so much and believe that hubby and I will be moving to live in Britain. It's one thing to actually MAKE a decision about something huge, but what about living WITH that decision? How do I live knowing i've broken my parents' hearts by telling them that they'll only get to see me once a year (they can't afford to travel over here)? Or that their future grandkids will barely know them? I feel sick to my stomach about making my final decision, but more so about telling them of that decision. I wish someone could guide me and offer me some advice and reassurance. This is killing me.

Tiffany Hamburger said...

I'll be writing about this issue in my next blog post, so stay tuned, and thanks for the great question. Good luck, by the way, with all that is going on in your life.

Take care,

Lulu said...

I also need to make a huge decision. It is complicated because it involves my kids who have very strong feelings on the subject.

My husband of 18 years wants to break up and I really want to leave town and NOT watch his new relationship. We live in a very small town. I have job opportunities and friends and family and my favorite sports in a town about 7 hours south. That is the happiest movie for me, but NOT for my kids. I just wish they would concede and say "whatever makes you happy, mom". God, I wish.

William said...

Thanks Tiffany,
Just reading this helped to calm and remind me that big decisions are not easy to make sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tiffany:

I came upon your blog the other night while eagerly searching the net looking for advise, wisdom and guidance about how to make a big decision. I was directed to your blog and was filled with a sense of calm, and reassurance as I read your thoughts on this difficult task. I walked away from your words feeling like I could finally make the big decision I had been struggling with and needed to make.

However, now a couple days later, I am again searching for answers because I don't know what to do since my choice and my husbands choice are totally opposite?! I understand that a marriage can only work well with compromise, give and take and understanding for the others wishes. But after you have tried all that, does it just come down to "giving in" to the what the other wants? Regardless of what I feel, regardless of what my gut tells (screams at me me actually) and what I think is truly the best choice for our family?

I won't get into the super long explanation of this decision but it involves deciding between a move across Canada (due to my husbands job being fazed out in the current province that we live in). He has a good job, that he loves, but it will move us away from family, friends, and support systems for all of us (including for our 3 yr old who is deaf). It will be the fourth move we have made in 7 yrs (we also have a 7 yr old daughter) and I am a stay at home mom who is tired of starting over every two years.

I am trying to tell my husband to work towards positive changes like finding a new job in the province we live in by practising gratitude, and visualization as I agree that those practises work, but he insists that moving is the best option. Personally I think he feels in is just easier. While I agree that career wise it is the easier and more practical choice for him ( I mean I know that we NEED an income, of course!) But I feel that the "easy choice" does not mean it is the best choice.

It will be me, mostly, who does the work to get us settled again as I am at home with the kids and he will be working a full time job that he loves. This struggle is further complicated by the fact that we are fighting to keep our marriage intact after some very hard years of trying to decide if staying together is really want we want. We have decided we want to stay together, however we are faced everyday with some sort of challenge or issue that causes us reason to speak our minds to each other and to bring the big issues to the table and especially for me to learn to "find my legs".

What do I do?