Making life-changing, hard decisions (like changing countries, moving out or breaking up) can be difficult. Hell, even small changes seem impossible!
Change disrupts our routine; we no longer feel safe, and generally, that change is accompanied by an unpleasant feeling of discomfort that we try to avoid at all costs.
That discomfort shows up in many forms, like self-doubt, fear, anxiety, sadness, insomnia, sadness, etc. But in my experience, if it’s a change that was necessary, what you gain far outweighs the temporary negative side effects.
But here’s the tricky part: not changing, and not making the hard decisions causes discomfort too! That’s the very reason why you are thinking about changing something. If everything was peachy in your life, you wouldn’t be here reading this article.
When you keep postponing necessary change, like quitting an addiction or a relationship for years or even decades, the negative effects of not confronting your feelings become more and more harmful to your health. And it can even morph into chronic issues, or even illness.
So here are 8 tips to help you make hard decisions and be ok with what you decide.
1. Comfort is your true ennemy
The problem is, we don’t want to make that hard decision because we are too comfortable.
After a year of active change and constantly putting myself in uncomfortable situations, I am now convinced that comfort, more than anything else, is the enemy of growth.
We are like the frog in the increasingly boiling water: we may be slowly dying but we don’t see it; we are just too damn warm and comfy!
Hard decisions are hard because they usually imply losing said comfort, or at least parts of it.
We also believe that we are incapable of finding something similar, let alone something better. And so, we get scared.
But, whether that’s true or not, your mind will manipulate you into believing that, just so that you stay in the known. And that’s because your mind just doesn’t like the unknown.
It is important to always keep in mind that, just because something changes or ends does not mean that what is to come will not be good.
You must also learn to have more faith in your capicity to meet challenges. You’ve survived so far, haven’t you?
So, if change is so difficult, how do you go about making the hard decisions that lead to change?
2. Understand your reasons for considering that hard decision
The key to making hard decisions and sticking to them, is to understand how your brain works and how you work, so as to not allow yourself to fall into every trap your mind will inevitably set-up to manipulate you.
You do that by figuring out what you want and sticking to it.
Why are you facing that decision that seems so impossible today? What are the reasons why you need and want change? Write them down. Weigh the pros and cons.
- What is the problem?
- Is there a cost to of letting things continue as they are?
- What are the possible benefits?
Write down everything you can think of until you have nothing to say about it. Then reflect on it for a couple of days or weeks.
This step is a must because, in challenging situations, you will most likely have doubts. You will question yourself and it will weaken your resolve and destabilize you. It’s in these moments that you will need to remember your reasons to stay on track.
3. Make a plan… and stick to it
Another key to helping you make hard decisions is to make a plan, and stick to it.
A plan is not a prison and things don’t always go as planned. That being said, it is still important to create an as clear as possible picture of what the first steps will be and to prepare accordingly.
Where do you want to go? What will you need to succeed and what might go wrong? Will you need to save money for your plan to work? Do you need to be in better health? The support of family? Friends?… Figure this out. And then act on it.
But remember: a plan is not everything so be ready for the unexpected, and welcome it.
4. Stop seeking permission from others
Don’t seek validation from others, seek validation from yourself.
If you are uncomfortable or unhappy in a situation, that is a good indicator of whether or not you should change that thing (or yourself), if that is within your power.
That’s why it’s so important to understand your reasons. Besides, it really doesn’t matter how many people encourage you or give you advice…. The bottom line is, you will not listen to them, you will only listen to you! Or, if we are to be honest, you will probably listen to your fears.
So, find out what you think, waht you want and what you are afraid of, and then give yourself permission to act.
5. Understand that (unnecessary) fear surrounding hard decisions robs you of the energy you need to make that hard choice
Hard decisions are difficult because their outcome are unknown, and thus, scary.
But here’s the good news: things are scarier in your head. Also, you are judging a hypothetical tomorrow from today’s point of view.
Stop replaying catastrophic scenarios over and over in your mind. If you take a new road, you don’t know the context you will be in, the resources that will come your way, the skills you will gain, or the help you will receive. Fear and anticipation of something that has not yet happened deplete the energy and focus you need to navigate that change effectively.
You are capable of facing situations more difficult than you think; you already do it every day. But right now, you are wasting your strength imagining disasters, instead of facing reality.
6. Practice facing your fears by doing smaller things that make you feel brave
You are scared of making the hard decision you want to make deep down, because you think you are not capable of facing the challenges that will result your choice.
But think about it: what other things do you tell yourself you cannot do?
Do you think you are too afraid of heights to go rock climbing? Try a 2-hour introduction class with an instructor. Are you paralyzed at the thought of speaking in front of a group of people? Force yourself to raise your hand more in class. Or volunteer to make a presentation to your co-workers on an interesting topic. Do you not think you are capable of traveling alone? Buy a bus or train ticket and go spend 24-48h in a near-by city/town.
Courage and self-confidence are like a muscle. They become stronger with deliberate practice. The more you put yourself in unknown or uncomfortable situations, the more you learn to trust in your ability to manage every situation that comes your way. You don’t have to predict the outcome. You just have to trust that you will find a way.
7. Act. Jump. The more you wait, the scarier it gets
Observe what happens in your head every time you think of making a (difficult) change:
You go from being determined to make a change → to beginning to question yourself → to self-doubt → to delaying action → to feeling like crap again → to wondering again if you should make a change → etc., in an infinite repetitive loop, that grows bigger and bigger the more you delay action.
Do you see it? Now, the way to stop that is by taking action. You can’t “solve” everything in your head, you won’t solve it in your head. You solve problems by going through them.
8. Don’t over analyze things. Leave your head. Bring your attention back down to what’s happening in your gut, in your heart
Ah. The age-old “listen to your heart” concept. But I’m finding out more and more how true it is. You cannot imagine how many times my head comes in the way of my heart. I almost want to say that my head always comes in the way of my heart.
So often you try to rationalize our feelings, and then dismiss them because they don’t fit an image we have in our mind. We underestimate the power of our gut and our heart. But what are they telling you? That you are unhappy? Stuck?
Consciously bring your attention to what is happening in your gut, in your heart: are you constantly thinking about something? How does that thing make you feel? How would you feel if things were different? Do you have the means to make that change happen, and if not, can you find the means to do it?
Don’t over-analyze things. If your gut is telling you that something is not working, and you know you’ve tried your best to make it work, then it is perhaps time to move on, even if your mind is telling you that you are wrong.
9. It’s okay to be uncomfortable and that’s because a part of who you were is dying
I have learned that discomfort is not something to avoid. It is just a feeling that signals to us that we are in unknown territory and that we should be more alert. It’s actually very useful.
But do you know what makes discomfort even more… ‘uncomfortable’? When you don’t accept it, or when you actively try to avoid it by distracting yourself.
Allow yourself to be sad (or whatever feeling you may be experiencing) when you feel sad. It doesn’t mean you will always be sad, or that you should always be sad. It’s just the way you feel at the moment. It will go away if you allow it, and don’t over-analyze it.
Change is hard, but I think we make it harder. We avoid it at all costs often at the expense of our physical, mental, and financial well-being.
Welcoming change in your life and taking action starts by figuring out what you want, understanding the protection mechanisms of your brain, mapping out your first steps, and taking the plunge.
Leave me a comment below. I’d love to read about your own experience: are you struggling with a difficult decision? How long have you delayed action? What pushed you to finally make a change?