4 Strategies for Handling Tough Decisions

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Posted December 4, 2013 by Kristen J. Zavo in Career Moves
cartoon decision

Ever had to make a really tough decision? Maybe you were deciding between schools or jobs, or whether or not to quit either one in favor of another venture. Or perhaps it had to do with a relationship – hours were spent mulling over the desire to try and work it out one more time, while part of you knew it was finally time to throw in the towel.

It doesn’t matter exactly what the subject matter is, tough decisions – whether seemingly trivial or life-changing – can easily become an all-consuming, agonizing debate of pros and cons, a battle between your heart and mind, and an endless trail of “what-ifs” that lead nowhere, except possibly towards more confusion and inner turmoil.

When you find yourself tasked with making a difficult choice, here are a few tips to help simplify your decision-making process. Whatever you decide, it’s a good idea to consider your issue from both an analytical and intuitive perspective.

List the Pros & Cons

You’ve probably already done this, but if not, write down the pros and cons. Knowing them in your head doesn’t count. Sometimes the act of writing it down can simplify matters and lead to an obvious choice. I like to put the list aside and come back to it later. Oftentimes, I think of more pros and cons to add to the list as I’m going about my day.

Once this is done, read it over…do you find that even though one side far outweighs the other, you still don’t want to go with that option? Maybe you try to find additional reasoning (rationalization?) against it. That’s your gut speaking. Listen to it and keep it in mind when making that final decision.

Ask Your Older Self

If you were to fast-forward 10 or 20 years, what do you think your older, wiser self would tell you to do? In a similar fashion, you might also act as though you were advising a friend. What would you tell them to do?

I’ve found this technique to be particularly useful. There’s something about changing perspectives in this way can help you get out of your head and look at the situation from an unbiased, unemotional and long-term point of view.

Seek Advice

Proceed with caution on this one. Everyone will have a different opinion, which could potentially confuse you even more. That said, choose your advisors carefully and it can be a tremendous help. If you seek out individuals that have encountered your situation before, you can learn from both their past successes and regrets.

Get Quiet

Set aside some quiet time to listen to your inner voice. It might help to meditate or journal. Imagine yourself having made both decisions. Ask yourself a few questions about each scenario:

  • What’s the worst that can happen (and how likely is it)?
  • Which choice would make me happy?
  • Will I regret not having done this?
  • Will this decision matter in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years?

While you ruminate over the possibilities, pay attention to how your body reacts. Do you feel yourself contracting or expanding? Does one choice make you literally sick to your stomach? Or do you feel a nervous excitement? These feelings can be indicators as to what your inner voice, or your gut, is nudging you to do.

Your Turn – What are your favorite strategies to use when faced with a difficult decision?


About the Author

Kristen J. Zavo

Kristen J. Zavo is a finance and strategy professional, with a special interest in the retail industry. Having always been interested in the people side of business, Kristen loves to explore, reflect on, and share stories about the challenges and adventures of being a businesswoman. No topic is off limits - whether it's how to handle being the only woman in the boardroom, or figuring out how to to pack all the "essentials" for a 2-week business trip in just a carry-on! Outside of work, she loves exploring new places, spending time at the beach and meeting friends to workout (spin or yoga, anyone?!).

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