Wouldn’t it be nice if you could always approach big decisions head on and feel no regret, regardless of the outcome?
As Yogi Berra famously said; “when you approach a fork in the road, take it”. But seriously, why are decisions often such a source of conflict? Usually, there are three options: making the safe choice, maintaining the status quo, or taking a risk. Any decision would be a no-brainer if it didn’t involve some risk or uncertainty, since certainty of outcome is one of the biggest myths we harbor.
So while big decisions can be daunting, there are pitfalls to avoid as well as ways to make a decision you probably will regret. Think about a current situation in your life in which you’re contemplating a big decision. Here is how to avoid second-guessing or regrets to feel best about your decision as well as to master the decision-making process itself:
Be willing take risks- This isn’t to say you should be impulsive, overly risky or reckless. But keep in mind that when you’re entering the unknown there may be unanticipated hazards. Gathering as much information about possible outcomes can help to make the most informed decision; but remember, there are no certain outcomes. So ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”
Imagine your worst-case scenario has already occurred. Feel your emotions. What reaction would other people have? How likely is this outcome? If some of these things did happen, would it really be as bad as I feared? And if things don’t turn out exactly how I hope, will I be able to handle it? Chances are you can absorb the consequences you fear, a lot easier than the “what if” consequences of inaction.
Set goals- Without setting specific goals related to an important decision, you’re setting yourself up for an unclear path moving forward. Set specific goals related to the choice you’re considering.
What exactly would you like to happen, and when? Who else will need to be involved and who will likely be affected by this decision? Are there things you’re willing to give up in order to make your goal happen? Once you’ve thought about these things, ask yourself, “Is this goal still a priority in my life?” If the answer is yes, let yourself feel more confident in the choice you’ve made.
Be flexible- As you move forward with a decision, a change of course might be called for. At this point, ask yourself if you’ll still be able to pull off meeting your goal. Do you need to stick with the original plan, or change direction?
The ability to recognize when a goal starts to become unrealistic is an important skill. And don’t let this get you down! Today’s accomplishments were yesterday’s goals, so continue to raise the bar even higher for yourself.
Conquer ambivalence- Ambivalence is actually a choice in itself—the choice to not make any decision at all. Remember, up until now you’ve most likely been able to make choices and take responsibility for your decisions and you will be able to do it again.
Think of a crucial decision you’ve made that you feel proud of. Recall how exhilarating it was to achieve the goal you set for yourself. Making a decision to better your life and strive for greatness, regardless of the outcome, is still an accomplishment you can be proud of.
By doing these things, you’re on the path to competently and consciously take charge of your life. What life decision(s) are you considering making now? Maybe it’s a career change, taking steps to get more serious in a relationship or to end a relationship, making a large purchase, having or adopting children or going back to school. Whatever’s the choice at hand, allow yourself to dream. Most of all, accept no excuses; and think about how far you could go if only you stopped getting in your own way.
For much more on how to set and meet goals in your life in order to make the major life changes you are contemplating, check out my book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential.
Read more posts by Michael S. Broder, Ph.D, a renowned psychologist, executive coach, bestselling author, continuing education seminar leader and popular speaker.