We all make many decisions everyday. Most of them are fairly minor. What should I wear? What should I make for dinner? Am I going to exercise?
Occasionally, however, we’re faced with a big decision—a decision that will have a significant impact on our lives or those around us. Maybe it’s a decision about changing careers or moving across the country or making a big purchase or a relationship or something else entirely. Often these decisions don’t have a clear right answer. They can dominate our thoughts, provoke anxiety, and seem to take over our lives for a time.
Sometimes it feels like all we can do is grit our teeth and push through. There are things we can do, however, to care for ourselves while facing big decisions. It’s important to be kind to ourselves and to support ourselves in making the best decision we can.
Minimize other decisions
Making decisions takes energy. While wrestling with a big decision, we can limit our fatigue by minimizing the other decisions we need to make.
Keep things as simple as possible in your daily routine. Eat your favorite go-to meals. Wear tried-and-true outfits. Shop at the store that carries one brand of spaghetti sauce instead of twenty.
Postpone other decisions that don’t need to be made right away. While you’re contemplating a major career change may not be the best time to choose new paint colors for the entire house.
Focus on the decision at hand
As we think through the implications of each option, it can be tempting to explore future decisions that will result from our choice. When we’re feeling uncertain, we want to know as much as possible about what we can expect for each potential future.
Of course, it’s important to consider the big picture impact of decisions. Deciding every detail for each option, however, is exhausting and distracts us from the decision we’re really trying to make. While the necessity of mowing the lawn is a factor to consider when deciding whether or not to buy a house, researching and selecting a lawn mower is not relevant to the decision at hand.
Whenever we’re stressed or overwhelmed our non-negotiables seem to be the first things we neglect. Our non-negotiables, however, are the very practices that keep us energized and calm so we’re ready to face whatever comes our way.
Make sure to set aside time each day for the things that will keep you happy and healthy. This could include sufficient sleep, journaling, exercise, meditation, or whatever works for you.
Express your thoughts
It can get be hard to get clear on about what we really think and feel while our thoughts are swirling around in our head. Getting our thoughts out where we can see or hear them helps us organize them and gain a little distance. There are many ways to do this.
One option is to talk through your decision with another person. Be sure to choose someone who is willing to listen instead of just telling you what you should do. Be clear about the kind of support you need—whether a listening ear, someone to share their own experiences, someone who asks good questions, or just someone to empathize that decisions are hard.
Another option is to write in your journal. Stream of consciousness writing gets all the whirling thoughts out of your head and onto paper.
Lists are helpful for clarifying your thoughts, uncovering patterns, and brainstorming solutions. Try making a list of all the facts involved in the decision and another list of all the emotional aspects.
The perspectives journaling technique allows us to explore various options. Try writing about what life is like in the future based on each potential option you could choose.
Adjust your expectations
Big decisions can take a lot of energy and mental space. It’s not realistic or helpful to expect yourself to continue going full steam ahead in all areas of your life. You may need to postpone some things, ask for help, or maintain instead of making progress for a time. That’s ok.
This time of intense decision making won’t last forever. Look at your priorities to see what must be done right now and what can slide for a little bit. Once the decision is made you’ll have more energy and motivation to pick everything else back up if you don’t burn yourself out trying to do it all at right now.
Let yourself feel
Big decisions can bring up all sorts of complicated emotions . You may feel fearful, excited, anxious, hopeful, frustrated, confused, overwhelmed, sad, regretful, joyful, or any combination of emotions. That’s totally natural .
There is no right way to feel when faced with a difficult choice. The important thing is to let yourself experience your feelings. Trying to get rid of certain feelings because they are uncomfortable or aren’t how you think you should feel will keep you stuck in those feelings.
Instead, notice which emotions you’re experiencing. Identifying your emotions and the needs behind them can not only help you take care of yourself during this time, but can also help you uncover how you really feel about your options.
I’d love to hear…what are your experiences with making big decisions? What do you find most helpful? What do you find challenging? What have you learned from your approach to past decisions that you’ll do differently in the future?