For some of us decision-making is easy, but for most of us, it’s difficult to know whether we are making the right choice when it comes to some important decisions in our personal or professional life, especially if you are a perfectionist or overachiever. Not all decisions we face on a daily basis are easy and it gets even more difficult with certain big or life-changing decisions regarding your professional, academic or relationship choices. Every time we confront a complex problem or a situation that involves a need to make hard choice, most of us struggle with hesitation, confusion, apprehension and indecision. What if i make a wrong choice? Will this choice land me on the right path? What if i regret my choice later? Having to make tough choices from time to time that might involve alternatives with high risk consequences and uncertainty can be mentally and emotionally demanding.
Some decisions are complicated and cause stress for days even after the decision has been made if we are not certain of their outcome or of consequences. However, making tough choices is almost unavoidable and absolutely necessary in some life situations even if everyone dislikes the choices you make. When you lack the ability of making tough choices, you end up procrastinating most of your important decisions or make poor decisions that make you look incompetent. this does not mean that all hard decisions are big and important, sometimes even small decisions can be hard to make when there is no best option or when they are very different in kind of value. Worrying about what is the right choice or the best decision in your professional endeavours can result in analysis paralysis where you kind of feel stuck.
Why some choices are hard?
With easy decisions, we are able to pick one choice or other. With tough choices on the other hand, the choices are either related or because of their negligible difference. For instance, deciding whether to stay in your current job or move on to a new and more challenging job can be slightly complicated. Because staying in the same is better in some ways and moving to a different job is better in others and neither is significantly better than the other. Research shows that our brains do not make decisions based on their inherent value but for what they offer. When the difference in quality between two choices is great, the choice is made more quickly. But when there is very little difference, we can get stuck for long before we can come to a decision. This is the reason, many of us waste our resources like time and energy, making choices between equally attractive options in everyday situations.
Sometimes we agonise over making tough choices because we fear the consequences or how it might affect ours or others’ personal or professional lives. For instance, in workplace environment, once you hire someone and when you find out that he or she is not a good fit for the team or for your work, you have to make a hard choice of letting that person know he or she is no longe required even if that disappoints or affects him/her personally. Even though certain choices are difficult, they become absolutely necessary for your work or business. Sometimes too many choices can also lead to decision paralysis when they have different values and different impact on your life. Also, one of the hardest thing to do is choosing between two things that have absolutely nothing in common unless you are aware of their pros and cons.
Why do we procrastinate on difficult decisions?
Decision-making in general is a process of choosing between different alternatives based on your beliefs, values, preferences and the knowledge you have at any given time. The reasons for putting off difficult decisions can be many and some of the common reasons are,
• Uncertainty of the outcomes or fear of making wrong choices.
• Lack of emotional clarity and sound judgment when we let emotions interfere with our decision-making.
• Other complex interrelated factors the cause ambiguity or self-doubt.
• Perfectionist attitude or a belief that ‘life is only black and white, consisting of a right and wrong and grey is not normal or unacceptable.’
• Wrong perceptions or biases.
• Alternatives with high-risk consequences.
• Lack of self-awareness or lack of clarity on your goals and purpose makes hard decisions a source of anxiety and stress.
• Sometimes, we don’t want to seem unfair or disappoint some people.
How to stop avoiding hard decisions
While leading or managing, how you make tough choices often shapes your workplace decision-making culture. Blindly following your perception of what’s right or wrong can lead to decision avoidance or poor or faulty decision-making. It is very essential to have the ability to come up with the correct solutions to most issues exactly when they are needed instead of delaying or avoiding them especially, while leading others or when engaged in problem-solving. The key is to have a framework to use when tough decisions pop up. Here are some ways to build your decision-making framework to fall back on when you are struggling with hard decisions.
Align your choices with your core values
Many times it’s hard to make a decision because you don’t just have one outcome. Often there are many. This is where your core values serve as effective decision-making guidelines that help you to remain congruent, consistent and balanced in making tough choices. When you know what truly matters to you and what you stand for, making decisions becomes easier as you can prioritise decisions that complement your values. By growing insightful about what compulsions drive you and what instincts dominate your actions, you can decide upon what your highest and most important values are. Understanding your hierarchy of moving-toward values can make your decision-making more simpler. For instance, do you choose passion over comfort or freedom over security, which one do you value most? Is it integrity? compassion? self-improvement? When there is a choice needs to be made between several proposals or choices of similar value, base your choice on the difference in their value.
Ask yourself: Which of the choices are in conflict with my desired values? What values are of priority and occupy the top of my list? Which of the choices resonate with my values? Which of my values are aligned with the goals I would like to achieve the most? What is most important to me?
*When many options seem reasonable, it can be helpful to rely on your core values and use them as a guide to point you in the right direction. *
For more on value-hierarchy read: How to live in sync with your values
Get emotional clarity
Sometimes your emotions make it difficult for you to accept hard decisions. Emotional responses although natural, tend to cloud our judgment. This is because our emotions are short-term based. When strong emotions are interfering with your ability to make a difficult decision, pause and take a mental break. Try to gain clarity on the type emotion affecting you and strive to understand the root cause of it. Sometimes, feeling guilty for honouring our priorities leads to misplaced emotions. In such scenarios, buy yourself sometime and assess the decision in light of your value or priority framework. Why are you making this decision? Will this benefit you emotionally and mentally? The more clear you get on your reasoning the more likely you are to make tough choice regardless of the outcome. Adopt a stoic mindset to differentiate between what you can and cannot control while making your decisions.
Ask yourself: What are some of the emotions that I mostly try to avoid? What are my dominant emotions at this moment and how are they interfering with my ability to make tough choice? Am I misinterpreting the situation because of my emotions? What is my reasoning and how good is it in comparison to what i am feeling?
*Gaining emotional clarity during your decision-making process can help you make tough choices thereby changing the way you think and perceive things.*
Commit to making decisions
Many times we avoid taking hard decisions because we are afraid things won’t work out as planned. We tend to lose out on valuable resources like time and energy if we let fear control and wait until we have absolute certainty before moving forward. When we worry of uncertainty, it’s easy to give into doubts and insecurities or false perceptions. Fear can make you feel comfortable because it keeps you in a pattern of inaction or indecision. Having a go-to process will give you some of the certainty you need to take action in midst of doubt that almost always accompanies hard decisions. It is important to understand that there can never be full certainty on any outcome and the only thing you can do is to take action and to deal with the consequences. The next time you fear uncertainty, give yourself a time limit for taking a decision and act upon it because the only way to know if it works or not is to try it.
Ask yourself: What fears are driving my indecision? What doubts or insecurities are keeping me from making this choice? What are the disadvantages of not taking this decision?What manageable risks could be worth going for? What exactly am I uncertain about?
*Making decision from a place of awareness and committing to it lowers your fear of insecurity or uncertainty.*
Let go of your perfectionism
Perfectionism can be a positive trait when it comes to excelling personally and professionally but it can turn you into rather restrictive and stressed person when it comes to making hard choices . Because you have extremely high standards and don’t like to make mistakes, you tend to wait for the right moment to work on your hard decisions. If you are worried that you will make bad choices in making major decisions about some areas of your life, assess whether your thinking is realistic, rather than assuming what your outcome going to be. However, you can only make them based on the information and knowledge you have in the moment. Step out of patterns of thinking that are holding you back from making certain choices and give yourself freedom to change your conception of what’s preferable. Because you can always learn from a mistake moving forward, but cannot make progress by remaining indecisive.
Ask yourself: Am i making decisions around what my idea of perfect is? Is my pursuit of high standards interfering with my decision-making? Do I constantly fear making mistakes ? Do I get stuck in ‘all-or-nothing’ or ‘black and white’ thinking?
*Consider what you are thinking about the decision and release your need to be perfect in every choice you make.*
Weigh your Pros and Cons
Some decisions are hard because they involve competing interest. Like for instance, If you have something that you are deciding whether to walk away from or persevere, or take a different path altogether. You may take a hard line when you feel you are right despite having very little to gain form such a stand. Alternatively, you may become fearful of minor failure that you undermine positive opportunities. So, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each choice against its corresponding risks. When you are really stuck in making a tough choice, write out each of your options and then list positives and negative consequences. Considering the upside and downside of each choice can make you aware that even the direct consequences of making tough decisions are better than making no decision at all. Look at the big picture and assess how each choice will fit into your present or long-term plans.
Ask Yourself: What are the upsides and downsides of each option? What are the possible outcomes if I make this choice? Am I ready for the possible outcomes of this choice? What is the probability that the upside or downside occur? Will I be able to cope with the consequences of each choice? How important are these pros cons in terms of getting my outcomes? How will I deal with the fall-out if there is any? What are the consequences if these were to actually happen?
*Based on the most probable consequence, select the option that provides greater certainty. Brainstorm alternative ways to eliminate or reduce downsides. Think through the ‘what-if’ scenarios to weigh the cost of failure , not just financial, emotional and also interns of your time and energy. It is important to assess your resilience and coping skills when things won’t work out the way you had hoped.*
Limit your options
When it comes to making tough choices, we need to research our options. We think if we consider all the variables, our chances of making a mistake are reduced. But in reality, the more options you have to consider the harder it is to make choice and the less satisfied you are with that choice once you make it. Sometimes it is not possible to consider every possible alternative. Reduce the number of variables you consider when choosing between them. This doesn’t mean you limit yourself to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choices. Limit yourself to the most relevant and possible options initially and then gather new information or alternatives and perspectives. Try reducing everything to quantifiable variables. For instance, while hiring, narrow your choice of candidates on factors like experience, skill and commitment. Defining the key factors that go into your decision will help you quickly discern the relevance of a particular option.
Ask yourself: How relevant are the choices or alternatives I am considering? Am I focusing on the priorities when considering different alternatives? Am I ready to allocate time and resources to consider these options?
*While you can never have all the answers surrounding your options, don’t narrow down to your choices based solely on hopes or wishes but on facts that can support the choice.*
Consider long-term implications
Tough decisions require looking not only at an immediate gain from a particular choice but also its potential long-term benefits. Consider long-term implications of any decision you make because you don’t want to end up doing something you will regret in the future. When you mentally fast forward through a decision and project yourself into the future, the pros and cons of that decision gets magnified. Sometimes, we avoid making a tough choice because it may rock the boat or hurt someones feelings. But if you consider long term, it is better to make a decision now rather than let things fester and grow into complex problems. Ask yourself, What you may gain or lose in the long-term by making certain choices? We tend to think about short-term repercussions of decisions as worst-case scenarios, but same decision might prove different in long-term.
Ask yourself: What options am I considering? What would each option look like in a year from now or how could it pay off later? How relevant are my worst-case scenarios of my present moment in a year’s time? How does this option make me feel in long-term – will I still be confident in my choice/will it still help me achieve my goals?
*Sometimes you have to pay a small price in the short-term, but the long-term gains could far outweigh immediate sacrifices.*
Space for Self-reflection
How confident are you in your ability to make difficult decisions?
Do you have a habit of procrastinating on your difficult decisions?
Do you struggle with indecision while making hard choices?
How often do you give into fear of failure or uncertainty while making a tough choice?
Do you delay your decisions for the fear of making mistakes?
How often do you reflect on the reasons that prompt you to make a decision?
What thoughts, emotions or biases may be clouding your judgment?
If contexts were to change, would you make the same decision in long-term?
How aligned are your choices with your values?
Being a good decision-maker starts with re-centring yourself, being aware of your emotions and gaining clarity of pros/cons and long term implications of your choices. Make sure that whatever choices you make are aligned with your values and purpose. It’s hard forcing yourself to overcome your innate tendency to see the worst case in every hypothetical as opposed to what is possible, but overtime and with constant practice you can work through your hard decisions with more ease and confidence. Use the above strategies to build a framework to make your decision-making more simpler. Nurture the habit of reflection and mindfulness to help you find with solutions instead of agonising over hard choices or making choices you will later regret. Sometimes it’s not which choice you make, but your commitment to it is what makes it the right decision for you.