Decisions, decisions, decisions. Whether we consider ourselves decisive, or we’re aware that we struggle in this department, most of us have a fairly complex relationship with life decisions. Especially within the personal development world, we hear a lot of advice to ‘trust our gut instinct’ or ‘listen to what our heart tells us’.
The most common feedback I hear from people about this is “Yes, but what if I don’t know whether my gut instinct is right”, or “But I don’t know what my heart really wants”. After all, it might be our gut that’s telling us to go for that extra slice of cake, while our head is reminding us that we’ve been working really hard to stick to our health goals recently. On the other hand, however, our heart might be telling us that a certain job is probably going to leave us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled, while our head is reminding us of our unpaid bills and upcoming rent.
When the head, the gut and the heart are at loggerheads, and no part is obviously ‘right’, sometimes the most helpful thing to do is to take a step back and coach ourselves to the answer. This helps us distance ourselves from the decision at hand, can provide us with a new perspective, and helps us take into account important factors that we might otherwise miss.
Here are five questions you can use to do this and make the decision that’s right for you. To illustrate how each of the question work, I’ll use a recent example from my own life, where I was considering training as a Non-Violent Communication certified trainer. NVC is a particular style of communication that revolves around communicating feelings, preferences and needs. Having gained huge benefits from this in my own life, I decided to research my options for taking my NVC skills further and gaining a professional qualification.
1. What are my long-term goals in this area of life?
A crucial aspect of any decision is how it fits into the bigger picture. Ideally, we will create meaningful long-term goals for each area of our life before we’re faced with a big decision, otherwise the long-term goals risk being clouded by the more immediate pull of that decision.
If you’re facing a long-term decision, it’s certainly not too late to think about your long-term goals. These can stretch over one year, five years or ten years. Generally, the longer-term the goal is, the harder it can be to stick to, and you will need to create milestones along the way to keep yourself motivated.
Becoming an NVC certified trainer falls under the ‘career’ area of life. My long-term goal for my career is to work for myself, running a business that promotes authentic living and communication, so initially it seemed like this training certainly ticked that box.
2. Does this bring me closer to, or take me further away from my long-term goals in this area?
Placing a decision in the context of our long-term goals helps us address one of the most valuable questions we can ask: why do I want to do this and why is this important to me right now? In addition to this, it can also be helpful to look at the unmet needs underlying the situation.
In my example, becoming an NVC certified trainer would add another string to my professional bow. It would enable me to run NVC-related workshops, and potentially provide me extra professional credibility. It would no doubt also help me improve my communication skills, which is a big plus.
Upon reflection, I noticed that although running NVC workshops might be fun, that isn’t one of my goals in itself. I have a lot of career plans that don’t involve NVC, and I realised that running workshops might actually distract from those plans, rather than add to them. This was useful to note, as it helped me realise that gaining this kind of certification might be complementary to the kind of work I’m doing, but it wasn’t totally aligned with my long-term career goals after all.
3. How does deciding one way or another affect my long-term goals in other areas of my life?
When we’re faced with a big decision, it’s important to take all of our needs into account. As well as looking at how a decision aligns with our long-term goals in that specific area of life, it’s important to think about how it affects goals we have in other areas of our life too.
As I thought about the NVC training in the context of this question, I noticed that it wasn’t aligned with my goals to build up a certain amount of savings over the next few years (it would actually take away from that), or to free up more leisure time as my business became more stable (again, it would actually take up time). Looking at the bigger picture of how this training fit into my life as a whole, I realised that I had many other, more important, priorities, such as building up my online community and maintaining my physical and emotional well-being, that I wanted to put first.
4. Are there any other alternatives that I haven’t considered yet?
When we’re faced with a big decision, we tend to look at the issue from an all or nothing perspective, and see the outcome as being either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In reality, we probably have far more possibilities that we’re allowing ourselves to see. Thinking outside the box and examining how we can meet our needs in this area of our life, without compromising our needs in other areas of our life, will help us consider alternatives that might serve us better in the long-term.
When I realised that the realities of NVC training weren’t so aligned with my career or personal goals after all, I thought about other ways I could improve my skills and use these skills in my work. I realised that I am already using these skills in my work, simply because they’re implicit in my day-to-day communication with people.
Without training, I can’t use any Non-Violent Communication branded material or signage, but that isn’t important to me – it’s the communication aspect I appreciate. Equally, I can still take workshops for my own personal benefit, without working towards a qualification.
5. When I look back at this decision in 10 years time, how will I feel about each possible outcome as my future self?
Think of this question like those children’s books that allow you to choose the ending. On the one hand, imagine yourself ten years in the future reflecting back on one outcome of the decision. How do you feel about it 10 years in the future? How has it impacted (or not impacted) your life? Was the decision in your best long-term interests?
Then, repeat the process for choosing another outcome from the decision, and keep going until you have exhausted all possibilities.
For me, I realised that the training wasn’t as important to my long-term self as it initially felt. Although it seemed to be aligned with my long-term goals on the surface, when I dug a little deeper I discovered that actually I might end up regretting the expense and commitment, especially when I have conflicting needs that are a higher priority.
Although I’ve made the decision not to embark on this training right now, it’s a possibility I can revisit in the future, along with these questions, to see if it’s more aligned with my goals then.
How do you make big decisions? Are there any questions you would add to the list above? Leave a comment and let me know!