At one point or another, almost everyone I know has been faced with a decision for which there seems to be no clear ‘right’ answer. I’m not talking about Oreo or Cookie Dough, I’m talking about decisions such as: Should I quit my job? Leave my husband? Buy a house? Have a fourth child? (No.) These are big decisions, ones that seemingly put everything on the line with implications for our future selves.
Oftentimes these are the kinds of decisions about which people decide to speak to a counsellor. In my private practice I’ve developed a way to approach these questions that I think may be helpful. This approach is centred on the idea that we can only make decisions with the information available to us at this time. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we can’t know what isn’t known to anyone. For example, no one knows what it would be like for ME to have four children. I could speculate, I could ask other parents, I could review the square footage of my home, but I couldn’t know for certain.
To elaborate, I believe that our goal when making big decisions is to make the best decision we can at this moment in time. To help do this, I’ve found there are some concrete steps that may seem small on the surface but can have a big impact in helping guide our decisions.
1. Make a pros, cons and others list.
Not ground-breaking advice, I know, but when was the last time you actually wrote one out? The power of putting things on paper cannot be undersold. I compare writing it down to driving a car. If you drive the car to the destination, the chance you’ll remember the route is much higher than if you are in the passenger seat. Writing engages your brain in the activity; you want that when you’re making a big decision.
2. Talk to someone you trust.
Find someone with some experience, someone who you feel has handled the situation you are faced with in a way that you respect. This person doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert, but ideally you would want to seek advice from someone who you feel understands your values.
3. Read a book.
Okay … so it doesn’t have to be a book, per se. Some books on modern issues haven’t even been written. What I’m getting at, though, is to educate yourself. Oh, and I mean read a book, not surf the internet with intent. You can overdo it. You want good information, not all the information. Try asking someone you trust (counsellor included) for a recommendation.
Once you’ve completed these steps you can now make your decision. You can make it knowing that in this moment you’ve done all that you can. There are no guarantees; life is filled with unknowns. I can say, however, that if you follow these steps when you are making a big decision you will have something of substance to reflect on. Good or bad, you will be able to honestly say that you made the best decision you could, with the information you had at the time.