How to Make Tough Choices

I can’t stand cold water. I was always that person who inched her way into the pool. Baby step by painful baby step. But ultimately, by the time the water was to my waist, I had a decision to make: I jump in all the way or I turn around and head back to land. Life is like that. As long-time readers know, I’m a fan of baby steps. Sometimes that’s all we can muster up. There are times when we can put off decisions and continue pursuing multiple objectives. This is what I did when I would only go into the water a little at a time. I was able to live part of my life in the water, and part of it out. But in life, there often reaches a point where there are no more baby steps to take. There comes a time when a decision needs to be made and rarely are they easy.

J.K. Rowling has written that, “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” I’ve seen incredibly talented individuals allow fear to keep them from making a decision they were more than qualified to handle, and I’ve seen highly ambitious people take risks and figure out how to live with them after the leap. When we are confronted with big choices, we can sit on that fence for a long time. We try to weigh out all the possible outcomes. Both short-term and long-term considerations are made. And yet, there we sit. Author Michael Port says, “You’ll never catch any fish if all you ever do is debate with yourself about which type of bait to use and never throw a line in the water.” So simple, yet…

Yet, it isn’t that simple, is it? Choosing between Rocky Road and Mint Chocolate Chip is, but life is a little more complex than that. Sure, you can leave a comfortable and secure job for what appears to be your dream job, only to find yourself disappointed and regretful. But I’ve never seen that as the ending to someone’s story. In fact, it is often those failures that ultimately lead them to their dream job. That’s the rub of choices. You often have to give up something good to get something better. No decision is without its losses. Very rarely (ever?) do we have to choose between something entirely bad and something entirely good. THAT would be easy.

So, what do we do? How do we make tough choices? First, stop thinking about your choices. Yup, STOP thinking about your choices. We’ll get back to them in a sec. See, when we are making a choice, it is often in the context of our life today. Yes, we may consider our future, but often, we are trying to decide which one would be better based on what we know right now. That’s what can make a choice so challenging because we know what we have right now. It’s the unknown of the future that makes a choice so difficult. To counter this you’ll need to get crystal clear on what you want your life to become. What do you value? How do you want your life to look a year from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now? Who do you want to be? How do you want to express yourself? If you had a blank canvas, how would you paint your future? That’s the inner work you need to do BEFORE you make a decision. It is only when you are clear about who you want to be and how you want to live that your choice will be much clearer. That doesn’t mean it will be easy to make, only that the best option will be more visible.

This exercise can also reveal alternatives you couldn’t see when you were comparing Choice A with Choice B. When you know what you ultimately want to achieve, sometimes a Choice C will show up. When you are clear on your ideal future, then you can return to your options and weigh the choices. You may still face regret and pain, but you will face those no matter which choice you make. They are part of life. However, when you make choices based on creating a better life and future for yourself, it is much easier to deal with the repercussions. Every choice results in a journey. The journey may be on a clearly marked path, or it may be on an undefined, bumpy one, but there will be “lions, tigers and bears” on both. Do your due diligence, and then get off the fence and make a decision. Your future is waiting.

Share in the comments section how you made a tough decision or how you dealt with the repercussions of an important choice.

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Comments

  1. “But in life, there often reaches a point where there are no more baby steps to take. / No decision is without its losses. / Every choice results in a journey. / It’s the unknown of the future that makes a choice so difficult. To counter this you’ll need to get crystal clear on what you want your life to become.”

    i just kept nodding my head and whispering yes as i was reading. you have a wonderful way of taking a very difficult subject and breaking it down into bite-sized pieces. though you’re quite clear (and honest) that it will not be easy, you provide tools that your readers can utilize to help navigate their way through. every time i read your blog, i am amazed by your insight and wisdom, april. and grateful that i am fortunate enough to have your words within close reach.

  2. Life is so hard sometimes. Wise words indeed, you give great advice. Thank you! 🙂 You April women have it down let me tell you! 😉 <3 I look forward to reading your next post!!!

  3. April.. This post… THIS POST.. so much wisdom.. I really love “See, when we are making a choice, it is often in the context of our life today. Yes, we may consider our future, but often, we are trying to decide which one would be better based on what we know right now”.. you are right.. and as I was in a bit of a bind today on some choices and what to do with them, this post has given me a moment of breath to think.. but yes, the choice in the context of now.. that is so powerful for me today. I used to make choices in a very systematic way.. sometimes I still do.. but I now try to look more about how I want to feel in the short and long term and take it from there.. still hard to let go of the analytical, but the challenge to go deeper is real.. your post provides a great formula for how to do that.

    • Pam, I am so glad this came at the right time for you and hopefully made you feel more confident in your decision. Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. I guess I’m reaching an age where there’s a lot to look back on, including some of the choices I’ve made for better or worse, but as you mention it is all part of an amazing journey. Coaching has been a relatively new feature in my life & I often wonder if I”d come across such wisdom as you have written, so many years ago how my life might have been, but that I will never know. Going forward I’ll certainly try to take on board all your advice, baby steps instead of giant leaps.

    • Rebecca, I have no doubt you have “such wisdom” to share yourself. We all do. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  5. The same with Pam, I also love “when we are making a choice, it is often in the context of our life today. Yes, we may consider our future, but often, we are trying to decide which one would be better based on what we know right now. “. We live in the present and only make choice on what benefit us in the short run, but we really need to think about what we want in the future, maybe 5-years, 10-years and lifetime. It is hard and scary, but once we know what we want, we can make a right choice for ourselves. Thanks for such a insightful post April!

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