How to make decisions and stay calm

Head space

I always think of myself as living more spontaneously than in a planned way and with that seems to come the need to make fairly big life decisions fairly quickly and pretty confidently. I don’t think that makes them easy, but I’ve recently had to make an important (and exciting) career decision and I was asked how… so here’s how I got there:

1. Go with your gut

If you have most of the answers to most of the questions you might ask about a decision then your brain doesn’t need days or weeks to come to a conclusion. It may be a throw away term when people talk about gut instinct but I do believe your mind can work that fast.

You know how that feels.  The spark of excitement you get when you or someone lays it out for you. The way you can easily imagine what it might be like to choose that. Not the spikey fear that makes you want to hide under your duvet but that good scary feeling that gives you energy and drive to move forward (or at least more of the latter than the former!). It’s the decision that resonates. The one that feels right.

2. Align that with how you want to feel

Now think about how it might feel to have made that decision and be a few months or years down the line from it.  Does it align with how you want to feel in your work, in your life? When you make a goal it’s not just about achieving something for the sake of it, it’s about knowing how you want to feel, who you want to be and how you want to be living your life at that point.  It may be that the decision gets you out of a hole now, or makes financial sense, or indeed is something that your best friend or colleague might do, but is it right for you, for your life goals, for your personal values?

If you haven’t done any work on this before, there are of course many resources out there that can help. I’d recommend Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map.

3. Ask for specific advice

Do not take a survey.  There is great video on this by the fabulous Marie Forleo, and indeed with the serendipity that often comes along in times when you most need it, this episode of Marie TV was perfectly timed for me.  However,  my experience has generally been that if you go through the two steps above you have a fairly good idea of what YOU want and asking a few well regarded opinions will help you reinforce that in your own mind along with some great insights you may not yet have considered.

I am lucky in that I have a fantastic network of friends and colleagues who all have different strengths and experience and so I tend to choose 3 or 4 of them to ask their advice. It’s not always the same 3 or 4, it depends on the decision and of course what situation they are in their own lives. I make sure I don’t do this lightly – they know I’m asking for a serious and considered answer. I will schedule in a phone call or take them out for coffee or lunch. Each one of the people I ask has given me good advice in the past and I know has my best interests at heart.

If it’s a work based decision then I ask one or two colleagues I have worked well with in the past who are senior to me and more experienced in my field as well as someone who’s career I admire who is not necessarily in my industry. I also always ask one of my best friends who knows little about my career but a lot about me and my life away from work.

4. Take some time out

I was lucky enough to have had a week’s holiday learning to surf already booked in my diary when I was thrown my most recent big decision (there comes that serendipity again!) and I took the time not to dwell on each pro and con,  but just to remove my head from murky indecision-infested-waters all together.

If you don’t have the time for a full-on holiday escape, it can be as simple as going for a long run,  taking a few hours of pampering time,  a night out dancing with friends – anything that not only distracts you but is good for your soul. It’s amazing what your subconscious can achieve when you’re not watching it.  I came back clearer and calmer having spent less than a few hours in that week with my decision at the front of my mind.

Meditating, just to clear the mind, can also be a really effective way of getting some head space in which the right answer just seems to appear. I have relatively recently become a headspace convert.

5. Don’t flip flop

Give yourself a time period after which you will assess the results of your decision in line with where you wanted to be and how you wanted to feel (make sure to write that down now!). Until that time, unless you are really struggling (and I mean unable to work, panic attacks, you know, the big stuff) go with what you have decided and make the absolute best out of it that you can.

Once you’ve made the decision there is no point in going back on it until you’ve given it a proper chance to take hold.  If you keep wondering what might have or could have been you’ve never really made the decision. Give yourself and the situation the best possible chance to succeed.

You are exactly where you need to be right now.

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