Whether we like to admit it or not, our life is a series of decisions. The quality of our life, then, is determined by the extent to which those decisions are “good” ones or “bad” ones.
We’ve all seen bad decisions before. And hey, if we’re willing to admit it, we’ve probably made a bunch of them too. You know a bad decision when you’ve made it– you rushed through it, you ignored your intuition, and you still feel stuck, confused, anxious and maybe even frightened. Perhaps you over relied on your logic and reason or maybe you reacted solely from emotion, and though making a decision is supposed to bring you some form of relief, you don’t feel any relief at all.
It’s been my experience and life observation that there are 4 key elements that make a decision a good one. Knowing that all of our lives can go from a series of bad to better and good to great decisions, I share the tips with you below.
1. Know who you’ve been.
Any good decision begins with a knowledge of self – an awareness of the little voices inside you that beg for your attention day in and day out and that make up your self-identity or definition of “me”. When it’s decision-making time, some may whisper “hey, go this way” and others may whisper “don’t go this way, go this way”. Most often, we find ourselves in an experience where all of these voices are going off at the same exact time and we become stifled, confused, and maybe even frozen, not knowing what to do. If this experience resonates with you, just pause here and take a breath. Know that you are not alone. Decision-making is not a linear process for most people, and it rarely, if ever, is a straight shot to a goal. There is, in fact, lots of opportunity for navigation– and that navigation is most skillfully done when we learn to acknowledge and truly listen to all of our little voices (also known as “parts”). After all, the one saying “hey, don’t go this way” has a really good reason for saying so. Perhaps there is an experience in your past that’s taught you that this sort of direction or interaction with this sort of person may not be the best decision for you. And the one saying “don’t go this way, go this way”– is very likely saying so because it too has had some past experience that taught it to think twice before going in that type of direction again. Contrary to some misconceptions about meditation and the mind, these voices are your history and your experience speaking to you. They contain the wisdom of who you’ve been and they need to be heard.
2. Know who you’re becoming.
I often say that “Who I am is always changing” because I am where I’ve come from and who I’ve been but also where I am going and who I am becoming. This sentiment is so important to embrace in times of decision-making, always and especially when we feel like we are about to make the same ‘ol decision again… the one that we feel powerless to… the one that we’ve made in different but similar ways on numerous occasions in the past that hasn’t always turned out so well. You may find yourself feeling powerless to that decision you’ve made so many times before yet vowed to make differently the next time around. Now is the next time and you fear that you will make the “wrong” decision again. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t be disparaged. You’re actually in a really good place of turning a new leaf. You’re playing on the edge of “who I’ve been” and “who I am becoming”. All you need to do is pause, take a breath, and reconsider. If you weren’t on the verge of becoming the next best version of yourself, this decision wouldn’t feel as hard as it does. You would simply make the old decision again and be done with it. But you are on the verge… you are so close to becoming the next best version of yourself that it’s become somewhat uncomfortable to parts of you who are somewhere in between “then” and “now”, in between “there” and “here”. But you’ve got this. You’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. Take your own hand, ask yourself who it is that you are becoming, and let that version of you do the decision-making, while letting the former version of you know that it’s okay… that its wishes, wisdoms, and concerns live on into this new version of who you’re becoming… that everything it’s learned and wants you to know will not be forgotten even as you change and invite new decisions into your experience.
3. Drown out the noise.
Society, parents, neighbors, and everyone you allow into your decision-making process will have an opinion about it. And while some of those opinions will take into account your values and heart-centered wishes, many will not. So if you want to seek advice or guidance from the people closest to you, by all means do it. But keep in mind that everyone is always operating from the greatest sense of awareness that they have in any given moment or place in time. And while some may be well-versed in setting their own histories and desires aside to tap into you and yours, many will not be– and their well-intentioned wishes and advice to you will nevertheless come from a place within them that needs to be voiced and seen for their own journey (which may or may not align with yours).
Central to knowing who you are becoming is knowing who you are not becoming. And it’s this barometer of “who I am not becoming” that really helps us to drown out the noise. “Oh, that person’s advice is based on a version of me that they see and want, but it’s not really in alignment with how I see myself so I think I’ll thank them for their opinion but won’t let it become my own”… “Hm, I think my friend means well but I think she’s forgotten how much I’ve changed in the last 3 years and that my dreams have too, so while I appreciate him/her being here for me in this important decision-making process, I’ll let her opinion serve as a reminder of what I don’t want and who I am not becoming, rather than as a sign-post of what I do want and who I am becoming”.
4. Follow your heart.
While all the well-meaning people in the world may not know your innermost workings and desires, your heart does. While drowning out the external noise, don’t also accidentally drown out the voice of your intuition. Get outside for a walk, spend some time in nature, open your shades, disconnect from the mayhem and habitual activity for just a bit. Tune out the external world so you can tune in to your internal knowing. How do you know it’s your intuition talking to you? You feel its nudge, you feel its pull, and you sense its gentleness. It isn’t screaming and yelling; it isn’t coming from a place of need, should, and must; rather, it’s a soft whisper that suggests “you’re ready for this“ or “this may be scary, but you know it’s what you want to do”.
I was lying. Actually there are 5 elements to making a good decision. The 5th and often forgotten element of the decision-making puzzle is this:
5. Whatever decision you made– make it good.
That’s right. Don’t just lament or rejoice at the decision that you made. Make the decision a good one, no matter what the course your life has taken since it’s been made. Did everything turn out jolly in the days following your decision? Great. Did it feel like everything blew up in your face after you made this decision? Not to worry. I promise– this is not the end.
So, how do you make a decision good?
Own it. Own the decision you made as the best decision you could have made with the knowledge and awareness you had, no matter its outcome. It couldn’t have gone any differently and by accepting this fact, you allow your life to be lived in the ever-evolving present, rather than the unchangeable past.
Make it work. No decision is ever final. Even if some of the aftereffects of your decision were unpleasant or things didn’t turn out exactly as you’d hoped, I bet there is something that did turn out well. And unless we actively and intentionally invite ourselves to find what went well, too often we miss it. So take a moment to reflect on your recently made decision and find at least one thing about it that turned out well. Even if someone was angered or upset, even if you lost an intimate relationship or a $20 bill, what is the meaning and opportunity that’s been given to you through this whole experience? Did you learn how to use your voice? How to stand up for yourself? How to do what you think is right? How to take a risk? How to listen to your heart? Whatever the meaning and benefit of this recent decision-making experience is for you, find it and let it nourish you.
Make it you. Every decision you make in the days and weeks following your original decision is just as significant to your unfolding life as the first. In the days, weeks, and months following your decision, keep asking yourself “Who am I?”, “Who am I becoming?”, and “Who am I not becoming?” and let your ongoing decision-making process be guided by your answers to these questions. I bet you are not the same person who made that decision a few days, weeks, or months ago. I bet you’ve learned a thing or two about yourself, and about what works and doesn’t work for you. And that, right there, is the greatest gift of all.
Follow your heart, let the tips above be your guide, and you can’t go wrong.