First, it is important to realize that life-altering decisions can—and often do—come at any time in a person’s life. Life decisions can occur early in a person’s life: graduation from college, first job choice or they can come later: empty nest adjustments, retirement.
In addition, these forks in the road can be planned: marriage, new careers, starting a family—or they can come blustering in like a summer thunderstorm, unannounced and lightning filled: unplanned pregnancy, divorce, being fired.
What all these life transitions have in common is that they present sometimes painful adjustments, while at the same time, offer challenges for growth and new directions for living.
Here are some suggestions to help formulate sound life decisions:
Clear the decks for action
In olden days, when merchant ships in the Caribbean readied for battle against marauding pirates, they would sweep the decks clear. All loose ropes, boxes, stray harpoons, or other fodder that could trip up the crew intent on manning the cannons would be carefully stowed below.
If you are getting ready for a major life transition, you may need to do something similar. Julie Morgenstern, one of my favorite clutter management gurus, speaks of transitions in her new book: When Organizing Isn’t Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life . She suggests that you clear space in three ways: physical space, schedules, and habits.
First, assess what you need and what is no longer essential in your personal and business spaces. Julie cautions against throwing everything away, but rather, suggests making an inventory of what has sentimental as well as practical value.
Next, survey your daily schedules: Which tasks can be delegated, pared down, eliminated? The purpose is not so much time management as it is an evaluation of where new space can be created in your daily life for future discoveries.
Finally, you might want to give close attention to time-wasting automatic patterns of doing things…those left over habits that no longer suit where you are going to go.
Gather as much information as you can
In many ways, this may be the familiar part of the process. From grade school onward, we have been accustmed to the rational gathering of facts. But try be specific in what you collect. Sift as you go so that what you have left is essential to your decision making.
First, check in with anyone that may be affected by the process: spouses or partners, children, extended family, significant others. Then, spend time talking to experts in the area: counselors, job coaches, vocational planners, financial analysts, attorneys.
Give yourself permission to make no decisions at this point, and your search will be much less stressful. Just gather as much useful information as possible.
Carve out some quiet time to just think, away from distractions
The next step in the process is to take the information you have collected to a place where you start to make some decisions. Schedule a time when you can be alone to ponder. Chose a neutral area where you can consider all options.
Some years ago when I was weighing a major career move, I was fortunate to be able to spend a long weekend at a silent retreat at a Franciscan monastery. No phones, no TV, just simple vegetarian meals and spacious grounds. It was, well, heavenly!
But even an afternoon alone, walking in the woods is good. Or consider spending an evening alone at a local motel or hotel.
- Spend some time getting into a quieter frame of mind: When under stress we often will view situations in black/white, either/or perspectives. Meditation is helpful if you know that skill, or simply sitting and quieting your mind.
- Sometimes the first choice is not always the best one, so brainstorm with as many options as possible for the decision you will be making.
- Within the list you develop, sometimes a combination of alternatives might work best.
- Figure out not only what will be a short-term solution, but what might work out best for you—and other–over the long haul.
Make a tentative decision first and see how it FEELS
Consider making a preliminary decision and sleeping on it. Or take even longer. Buyers’ remorse is real, and doesn’t mean the decision is a bad one, just that some grieving must occur for the road not taken.
My sister uses the real estate back-out option of a three-day rescission for any major life decision. Her friends know it, and check back with her in three days!
Do NOT announce your decision to the world yet, but let it sit quietly in the back of your mind for a little bit. Try it on for size and see how it fits, how it feels.
In a recent book The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, author Jonathan Haidt says most of our big decisions are as much emotional as rational. What recent research has discovered is that a portion of the human brain called the orbitofrontal cortex, is a new emotional link involved in most major life decisions.
We are not like Mr. Spock, making hyperlogical decisions, but rather we use this new enhanced emotional brain to weigh through multiple options, and then only use logic when we have narrowed possibilities down to two or three options.
Nothing is graved in stone
Realize that in life there ARE no right or wrong decisions, but just varied paths that will lead to different life journeys.
If you were to draw a ‘road map’ of where your life has gone to this date, you may discover in hindsight that some decisions you thought were the best, actually turned out to be simply detours. Others that at the time you thought were dead ends were actually entrance ramps to a major bustling freeway! We just do not know what the future holds in store for us.
Finally make your decision and announce it to the world. All the while, realize that it can—and usually is—changed, altered, stapled and folded by future events.
And that’s what keeps life interesting!