In the past twelve months, I’ve returned to New Zealand after being in London with family for six months, started a new job, moved to a town I’ve never lived in, sold my house and bought a new one. It has been a very challenging time.
I wish I could tell you that each decision was easy to make, but that wasn’t how it was. I felt nervous and anxious every step of the way. I desperately longed for a fairy godmother to appear and wave her magic wand over me so I’d feel confident in the decisions I was making. Instead I had to work things out for myself. I had to take the time to understand what I really want in my life at this stage and then make one decision at a time based on how well it fitted with my goals and dreams.
The real challenge was that every decision offered pluses and minuses I knew about, as well as potential risks and benefits I couldn’t foresee. These were big decisions I was making and big decisions are scary because we don’t know how they will play out. There are no guarantees.
Making decisions used to terrify me because I was afraid of making mistakes. I was sure that if I made a mistake, my friends would think less of me and perhaps not even like me. So whenever possible I got other people to make decisions for me. I did this by seeking their advice then doing what they thought was best. But over the years, this approach left me feeling frustrated, because even though my friends and family wanted the best for me, they didn’t always understand what I needed in my life.
My self-confidence plummeted because I no longer trusted my own judgement. Eventually my frustration and disappointment became so overwhelming that I knew I had to do things differently. That is when I started the process of taking back control of my life.
I did that by first working out what was important to me and what I want out of life. I learned how to listen to my emotions and trust my instincts, even when they went against what other people thought was right. I made some bad decisions but mostly I made good ones. I learned that bad decisions always bring good in unexpected ways and often open unexpected doorways so I didn’t need to be afraid of them. Most important of all, my self confidence grew as I learned to trust my judgement.
Nowadays when I have a difficult decision to make, I ask myself the following five questions:
1.What is my need and what is missing in my life? Every decision you face is linked to an unmet need within you. Sometimes it’s obvious what’s missing such as needing a job or a place to live. At other times, it’s less obvious particularly when your need is an emotional need. Emotional needs include feeling safe, having control of your life, receiving attention, having your achievements recognized, and experiencing intimacy or connection. Identifying emotional needs can take time, but if you ask yourself what is missing with an open mind, the answer will come from within you. Confident decision making is based on meeting your true needs.
2.What do I want and what is the perfect solution? Because you are different from everyone else, you might want different things in your life than other people do. Your dreams and goals change throughout your life, so the things you want now will be different from the things you wanted in the past. Take time to describe what you really want and what is your perfect solution. Perhaps you need somewhere to live. Your ideal apartment would be warm and sunny, have a cosy living space, be within walking distance of great cafes and have a spare room where friends can stay and you can work on your art, etc. While you might not be able to get everything you want, understanding what makes you happy will help you feel more confident making decisions. Confident decision making is based on getting as close as possible to the perfect outcome.
3.What will I get and what will I give up with each option? Decisions are about choosing between options and every option comes with a range of consequences. It can feel like comparing apples with oranges and while you usually want some parts, there are always other parts you don’t want. You might want more income, but that means you have to work longer hours. Or you want to travel for six months and gain life experience but that uses up the house deposit you’ve saved in the past three years. There is no right or wrong answer. If you don’t understand all consequences of a decision, you are more likely to end up regretting your decision in the future. Confident decision making recognizes that all decisions involve a trade-off.
4.What am I afraid of and what could go wrong? You are hard-wired to feel fear whenever you consider making changes in your life. Fear is a primitive emotion that keeps you alive because it enables you to react immediately to defend yourself from any possible threat. We all experience fears such as the fear of being rejected or ridiculed, the fear of not having enough, the fear of failure, the fear of the unknown and the fear of disappointment. Successful people feel fear in the same way that everyone else does, but they respond by listening to their fears and working out what could go wrong. Understanding the risks of each option helps them decide whether to keep going and push through the fear or to choose a different option. Confident decision making pays attention to fears and understands the risks involved in the decision.
5.What are my instincts/emotions telling me? Confident decision-making is based on a mixture of logic and emotion. Your emotions highlight your needs and alert you to a problem that needs solving. Together your emotions and logic reveal what you want out in life overall and right now. Your logic helps you identify different options and understand the consequences of each option. Your emotions (fear) help you understand anything that could be threat to you and the risks you are facing. Finally, after you’ve answered the four questions above, you need to check your logical logical best choice against your emotions. I always ask myself, does this feel right? If the answer is no, then trust yourself and go back through the questions again to find out what you’ve missed. If your instincts / emotions are saying yes, you can confidently make your decision. Confident decision making always listens to your instincts.
Decision making is not easy, particularly when a lot is riding on it, but I’ve found that asking these five questions gives me confidence to make difficult decisions.
What do you find most difficult about making decisions?
What are some of the best decisions you’ve made in your life, I’d love you to share them with us.
Image by Ng Wei Jiang