Life is packed with decisions, big and small. But some require deeper contemplation. Often, our hesitance to make up our minds when confronted with a big choice results in not taking any action whatsoever. We avoid it. We want to hide under the covers and hope our need to do something will pass.
But the harsh truth is that inaction is a decision too. If we don’t move to Austin, forge ahead for that VP title, start a side project this summer, or call off our less-than-satisfactory relationship, we are deciding to stay where we are. We are deciding to live in Chicago. We are deciding to remain in our current job. We are deciding to reject entrepreneurship (and more dough). We are deciding to stay with James or Jessica. If you feel a big decision is looming in your life, don’t hide! Ask yourself these 12 questions—and write down your answers—to get clear on what's the right choice for you.
1. How long have I been thinking about this?
This is a brilliant question that a good life coach would ask you. If someone comes to me wanting to start a party-planning business, it’s very different if their answer is “Since I saw a movie about it two days ago!” versus “Two or three years—it’s always been in the back of my mind.”
The length of time is a good indicator of how important something is to you. The longer you’ve been thinking about it, the more important it tends to be.
2. How committed am I to this change?
Rate your level of commitment on a scale out of 10. Think about the amount of work, effort, and time you'd have to put in. Is your level of commitment higher than a 7? That’s great data for your decision!
3. When I think about it, how does my body feel?
Imagine the potential outcomes of the decision. Picture yourself and your life a few months down the road. How does it feel? How does your body respond? Excitement, a little nervousness, and relief are very positive emotions! Beware of feelings of dullness or indifference.
4. Am I feeling fear or intuition?
Our fear often tells us what we need to do next. That’s because when something really matters to us it scares us. Hey—we don’t want to fail or screw up on this very important thing! Get real about the fear you might be feeling. Think: Could my reluctance here be intuitive—guiding me toward the right path?
5. Is this decision in line with my long-term goals?
Ask yourself: What do I want five, even 10 years from now? Write down your goals. Then think about how this decision plays into that longer-term plan.
For example, if you’ve been single for a while and hope to be married with kids in a few years, getting out there and creating an online dating profile is probably smart! Do what your future self will thank you for.
6. What are my precise options?
Let’s go deeper. What specific options are there? Are there only two? Are there more? Are there other options you might not have considered? Write them down—the possibilities might surprise you!
7. What are the risks of my options?
When you get clear on your options and have outlined the one you most want to pursue, ask: What is the real risk of doing this? List every single thing that is stopping you and the absolute worst outcomes of making the decision. Now be honest: How risky is it, really?
8. What is the risk of not doing it?
This is one of my favorite questions! If something is stirring within you—a creative idea, a calling to move somewhere new, a desire to end a relationship—what are you giving up when you don’t do it? Because inaction is action, the truth here can be very sobering. What might you be missing out on in your life if you do nothing?
9. Is now the right time?
Bear in mind: Not all decisions need to be made immediately. But there are few real reasons we ever need to delay making a big one when it presents itself. Remember, life is always uncertain and time waits for no one.
10. If not now, when?
If right this moment isn't the best time to make this decision, give yourself a deadline. But don't wait too long—deadlines made further than six months out rarely work because we cannot “taste” them. What will you commit to—before the holidays, this year?
11. What does my past experience tell me about this?
If you are still doubtful, let your past experiences guide you. When have you had to make big decisions before? Did you survive? Are you happy you made them? How can past choices inform you in making this choice?
12. Where is the fun?
Change is scary, yes. But growth never happens without change. There are no exceptions. Can you see or anticipate the fun in making this decision?
Change is scary, yes. But growth never happens without change.
A client of mine went through an emotional breakup last year but soon enough snagged herself a great studio apartment in a neighborhood she loves and took her first solo vacation. She's about to take her second trip alone, and it’s all she talks about. But this could only happen after her big decision to move on as a single woman. Even in tough times you can focus on the positive—it’s always there!
Making a big decision doesn’t have to be so daunting. There are no right or wrong answers or right or wrong ways to live your life. A lot of decisions are not even necessarily permanent. Think about the decision in the grander scheme of your life to put it in perspective. You don’t have to ask other people what they think. Your inner wisdom has the answers.
So get busy asking the person who knows best—you.
Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!