Everybody is forced at times to choose between two courses of action, whether this means choosing the lesser of two evils or committing to something for the next several years. It can be extremely difficult to even know where to start, never mind going through with it.
In this case, there is often a temptation to ask the advice of someone you hope is wiser and better informed than you are, or simply do what everybody else seems to be doing. Unfortunately, this will separate you from neither the responsibility for your choice nor its consequences.
Do Thorough Research
A few things can be more disappointing than realizing that you’ve chosen a career, an academic program or moved to a new city without knowing all that this implies. Some decisions do have to be taken on the basis of limited knowledge but you can try to minimize the uncertainty facing you.
When choosing a career, try to talk to a few people in that profession to learn what the job really involves. Too many people have based their life plan on the perceived glamor or status attached to a certain job – only to realize that it was something completely different from what they were expecting. If it’s at all possible to get an internship or other jobs in the industry, this can teach you a great deal about the industry culture.
One approach that has helped many people make up their mind is to divide a sheet of paper into three columns, labeled “Positive”, “Negative” and “Interesting”. All the pros of making some choice go in the first, the cons in the next and any other important information in the last. Doing this will help to organize your knowledge about the possible options, and help you choose between courses of action that are equally attractive but in different ways.
Trick Your Brain
Often times, making a choice is difficult because we don’t know our own mind and emotions sufficiently well. This may be because your choice affects the well-being of another person in some way and you’re not sure how to weigh up your respective desires, or both options open to you might seem equally attractive (or frightening) and you feel conflicted between them.
The listed method above can help you gain some clarity in this case, but another trick is also useful. Take a coin and assign one option to each face, then flip it without looking. Close your eyes and think about what side you hope to be showing. Even if you’re not the kind of person who makes choices based on gut feeling or intuition, this little mind hack can help tell you which way your emotions are running.
Take a Day, or a Week
Difficult and complex decisions should never be made on the basis of a moment’s thought. Our desires, priorities, and feelings are more volatile than we generally realize, so it’s a good idea to shut off unnecessary distractions. Spend some time alone in a quiet place and look at the dilemma or your inclinations about it from all angles.
Also, be very careful when someone is trying to pressure you into a quick decision which happens to be a notorious and manipulative sales tactic. If your dream car or job will somehow not be available tomorrow, chances are, this is only a ploy to get you to act against your own interests.
Sometimes it really isn’t possible to assess different options rationally, while getting stuck in the process of analyzing their relative merits is a trap of its own. Still, it is rarely a good idea to follow the first idea that pops into your head or base your decision on who and what you think you are without making sure that you really possess the necessary level of self-knowledge. When confronted with an important, impactful decision, making a choice is something that has to be approached strategically.