Struggling to Make A Tough Decision? Ask Yourself 3 Simple Questions

The best decisions are made when we use rational thinking in combination with our gut.

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Employer or employee, we all struggle with tough decisions on a daily basis.

When making decisions like these, you need to consider the pertinent details. But it’s also important to step back and see the big picture.

Enter Ellen Hendriksen, aka, The Savvy Psychologist. Hendriksen holds a PhD in clinical psychology, and her column uses evidence-based research to help you be happier and healthier, without losing yourself in the process. In a recent column, Hendriksen offered tips to consider when you’re grappling with tough decisions.

I’ve picked my favorite pieces of advice, and put them in the form of three pivotal questions you need to ask.

So, the next time you’re faced with a difficult decision, consider:

1. What advice would I give another person in this situation?

We often see a situation much differently once we take ourselves out of it.

For example, you may be battling with the decision to quit your job and start your own business. You’ve stuck around because you’re emotionally attached–and you’re afraid of losing that steady paycheck. But if a friend was in the same situation, what would you want them to do?

“While there is always room for empathy and tolerance, don’t ask of yourself what you wouldn’t ask of others,” Hendriksen explains. “If you set a double standard, you’re setting yourself up for martyrdom at worst, resentment at best.”

2. In addition to what I think, how do I feel?

In the 80s and 90s, researchers studied individuals who suffered damage to the frontal lobe–specifically the parts that feel emotion and produce emotional drive. It was observed that these people lacked the ability to learn from their mistakes or make sound decisions.

“It turns out your gut is actually in your frontal lobe,” quips Hendriksen.

The lesson? I’ve spoken about the need to pause–take time to remove yourself from an emotionally charged situation–before making any major decision. But it’s also important not to take emotion completely out of the situation.

The best decisions are made when we use rational thinking in combination with our gut.

3. What if I had no choice?

To get to the heart of a matter, Hendriksen recommends the following:

“To make a tough decision, sometimes it can be helpful to test the waters of both outcomes by imagining you don’t have a choice. For instance, pretend you’re trying to decide between staying or walking from a less-than-stellar job. First, pretend all other jobs in the universe vaporize. You have to stay in your job. How would you feel? Pay attention to your gut reaction: relief, resentment, something else?

Next, go the opposite route: Pretend your position is cut. You have to look for another job. Now how would you feel? Take your feelings and use them as information to make your decision.”

This exercise is a way to cut through the noise in your head, and identify your strongest thoughts and feelings.

Big decisions aren’t easy, but these tips can help you figure things out. Just remember, it’s important to take action, one way or the other. (Set a deadline if you have to.)

I compare it to riding a bike–if you don’t like where you’re going, you can always correct your course, or even turn around. But you won’t get anywhere until you start pedaling.

So, take the time you need.

Then, start pedaling–and don’t look back.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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