We all make many decisions every day. Some are fairly easy, like what to eat or wear. Some decisions can affect other people, like how fast we choose to drive. And for some decisions (like whether you’re ready for sex, if going to college is the right choice for you, what to do about a pregnancy, or whether to tell your family you’re bisexual), you might need to do a lot of thinking and soul-searching.
Making a decision can be hard, especially if there is no clear, “right” answer. We always recommend that you trust your gut instincts, but getting feedback from people who care about you can be helpful, too. However, it’s important to remember that no one else is living your life; you are. You are the expert in your situation, and you are the only person who can decide what is right for you.
We understand that making a decision can be tricky when you’re trying figure out if something is a great opportunity, or if it’s just too risky. Dr. Ruth Chang (a professor from Rutgers University and an expert on tough choices) says that “one misconception people have about hard choices is that there has to be a correct, best answer out there. As if the answer were a scientific fact, and all you had to do was roll up your sleeves and figure it out. But many of the things we think are [important] when trying to choose something – a career, say – are things we can’t know, and that’s where the agonising comes in.”
So if you’ve got a tough choice to make (like deciding if you should talk to that cute guy in your algebra class, or telling your bff that you have feelings for them), we have some tips and tricks that might help. Try one, or try them all! Keep in mind, though, that if the decision you’re trying to make is whether to break up with your abusive partner, you might consider talking to a love is respect advocate about how to do that safely before you act.
What goes into a decision?
- Figure out what you really want
Sometimes you’re not happy with any of the options in front of you because they’re not right for who you are. Even if there are two choices that seem to make sense (like picking between taking summer courses or going backpacking right after graduation), the real reason you might be unable to make up your mind is that neither option is what you really want. Maybe you really want to get a job. When you find yourself stuck between two options, think about what you want. Ask yourself what you like (or don’t like) about your current situation.
- Ask yourself...
Try asking yourself some questions to help you figure out how you feel about the situation, like: If I don’t do this now, will I regret it? What am I afraid of? What does my gut say? What am I really doing this for? Who am I really doing this for? Will I like myself after this decision? and Can I cope with the fall-out?
- Set a due date
Setting a due date for when you will make the decision can help things feel less indefinite. Whether you need a few hours or a few months to weigh your options, you deserve to take the time to make the right choice for yourself. It’s totally ok to not have an answer right now, but setting a due date for yourself can keep you moving forward. If you are overwhelmed with too many options, take a piece of paper and write a list of the decisions you could make. Give yourself a set amount of time and then, one by one, cross off the things that don’t make sense for you. Make the best decision you can make in the moment.
- Make a pros & cons list
Even when making day-to-day decisions, most of us quickly weigh the pros and cons of our options. Writing out the potential pros and cons of a given decision can help you clarify whether option A is better than option B. Having everything on paper can help solidify your feelings about the good and bad things each choice has to offer. (This list can also be a good reminder when your set due date arrives!)
- Pretend you're advising a friend
If a close friend of yours came to you for your opinion on a decision like this, what would you tell them? Changing your perspective can sometimes make your feelings more clear.
- Think about the long term
Tough decisions mean you’re not only looking at what will happen right away, but also considering the longer-term results of your choice. Will you still be confident in your choice next week, or next year? What if you realize that you made a mistake? Can you survive even if you feel like you failed? It’s important to weigh the cost of failure, but it’s also important to assess our resiliency and coping skills when things don’t work out the way we had hoped. If you choose a path that would devastate you if its outcome were unsuccessful, it may not be a wise choice.
- Play the "what if?" game
Throw in a couple of off-the-wall options to your decision making process. Instead of A) Either I tell my friend I like him or B) I don’t tell him how I feel, get creative! What if a friend told him how you feel? What if you sent him a note from a “secret admirer”? What if you painted a mural showing your love for him? What if you took a vow of silence for the next 3 months? What if you hired a sky writer to tell the world how you feel??? (Ok, a sky writer may be coming across a little strong.) Getting creative can help you see the options haven’t considered yet.
- Flex your deciding muscles
Do you spend more time scrolling through Netflix than watching that half-hour show? Or do you keep telling the waiter that yes, you still need more time before you decide what you’d like to order? If little choices make you nervous, build up your deciding muscles by starting small. Give yourself 30 seconds to decide what to eat, what to watch or whether to go out tonight. Follow through on your decision. Repeat. Then work up to bigger things. If that gives you anxiety, ask yourself, “What is the worst-case scenario if I pick wrong?” If you choose a movie that isn’t great, you can turn it off. If your lunch is boring, have something different for dinner.
- Let math decide
This spreadsheet lets you enter up to five qualities you consider important about each of your options. Then, you rank those qualities according to how important they are to you. The algorithm spits out a numerical value for each option and voila! You have a decision.
- Try the coin trick
Grab a quarter and make one choice “heads” and the other “tails.” Flip the coin and before it lands, pay attention to which side you hope it lands on. More than likely, this immediate reaction is what you truly want to do. Something in your heart is pulling you in that direction. Examine this result carefully. Even if the choice conflicts with all the practical considerations, it’s important to be true to yourself.
Decision Coach Nell McShane Wulfhart says, “No one makes perfect decisions 100% of the time. We date the wrong people, we stay in a job longer than we should, we order the wrong dessert. But action works in your favor, while inaction never does. When you delay making a decision because you’re afraid of messing up, nothing changes. But when you’re proactive, you’re choosing to move ahead— and that’s one of the best decisions you can make.”
No matter what you’re struggling with, remember: we’re each only in control of our own words and actions. Just like there’s no way you can make the barista at your favorite coffee shop feel the same way about you as you do about hir, there’s also nothing ze can do to make you ask hir out. So, take comfort in the fact that the decision to act (or not) is always…yours.
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