Should I stay or should I go?

I often work with clients who are grappling with the decision of whether to stay in a current, more familiar situation (a job role, an industry, a career, a relationship, a city, a country) or leave for something new (known or unknown). Feeling trapped in indecision can be a difficult and stressful experience, full of emotional turmoil and inner conflict. Here, I’ll share some tips on how to approach the decision-making process and soothe the emotional torment of feeling stuck in ‘decision-analysis paralysis’. With these 8 steps you won’t need that Magic 8 ball(unless you’re using it to help with steps 3 or 4)!

1. Identify your values and priorities

When you’re at a crossroads, it’s really important to consider your values and priorities before deciding on the path you are going to take. What matters most to you in life, in relationships, work, how you show up, and how others view you? Make a list of your values and rank them in order of importance. Then weigh up the scenarios against your top values. This can help clarify what option feels closest to what you want, what’s important, and what has the best potential of aligning with your needs. It also gives you a lens to see what you’re more willing to compromise on.

2. Gather information

Often, the aspect of decision-making that causes us the most discomfort is the depth of the unknowns. How can we be expected to decide when we don’t have a crystal ball telling us which one is going to turn out best for us?! No amount of research will amount to psychic powers, however, empowering ourselves with information is not only prudent but can also be hugely comforting. Gather as much information as possible about your options: research that company/city/course/job opportunity; talk to people who have experienced what you are considering; get clearer numbers on the financial implications. Doing the homework empowers you to better evaluate the pros and cons of each option. This can help with the more emotive decisions as well as the practical ones. Figure out which aspects of the decision scare you the most, and then find information and resources that help you feel informed, reassured, and more in control about what each decision might mean for you.

3. Tune into your intuition

Information is power… but there comes a point when we risk over-researching, which can lead to further avoidance (I just need to find out these final things and then I’ll make a decision…) as well as potentially overwhelming us, only serving to confuse us further. You can never know everything. The real fountain of knowledge sits within your intuition. Tune into your gut feelings – it’s a powerful tool. A helpful way to do this is to pay close attention to any physical sensations you may experience when you think of different outcomes. Can you feel something in your stomach? Is it dread? Or excited-nervous butterflies that just need some nurturing? Does your chest constrict when you think of that option, or does it feel scared yet expansive? In reality and all honesty, deep down you’ve probably known the answer all along, and it’s the fear and fog around the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of what needs to change that is holding you back from committing either way.

4. Use your imagination

Visualisation is an effective technique that can be applied to many challenges and goals, and decision-making is no exception. It is a safe, no-risk way to test out your future options and try them on for size. Imagine versions of your ‘future self’ based on the decision options. How does she look? How does she feel? Where is she and what is around her? Who is with her? This exercise can help to hone your insight into what your gut is telling you – notice how ‘present-you’ feels when you’re visualising each scenario as it might unfold. Which option felt more exciting / content / grounded / right? You can also carry out a thought experiment with yourself and imagine you have committed to one or another decision. Go about your life for 24 hours imagining that you have made your choice, then reflect on how you felt about that ‘decision’. Did you sleep better? Did you feel lighter? Or were you anxious, frustrated, or low? 

5. Seek support

Decision-making can be a lonely process. Seek support from trusted friends, family, peers, colleagues, acquaintances. Talking through your options with someone can help you gain clarity and perspective. Be mindful of whom you reach out to – will they be unbiased, open, supportive and non-judgmental as they listen? It can help to be clear about what you need from them – do you want to just be heard, and have a chance to say out loud all the thoughts, what-ifs and concerns that are buzzing around your head? Do you want their practical advice? Do you want their objective (or subjective) opinion on what you should do (although I’d caution a decision-making health warning on this one: beware how much weight you give this, and their expectations from you)? It would be remiss of me not to also highlight that finding a professional coach that feels a good fit for you can be an extremely empowering and effective step to support you in finding your own answers.

6. Give yourself a deadline

Procrastination to commit can in fact make decision-making even more stressful. Give yourself a (reasonable) deadline to decide and do your best to stick to it. It might feel scary, but this can help you move forward and feel more in control. It can also be an effective way to pull out that intuitive gut feeling (ever had to decide on what you want from the menu while the waiter is taking down the rest of the table’s order?)

7. Practice self-compassion

It’s easy to get caught up in self-criticism and judgment when we’re struggling with a decision. To make things worse, the longer we take to make a decision, the more we beat ourselves up about it while we put even greater pressure on ourselves to make the ‘right’ one. Stop, please. Extend yourself some self-compassion. Acknowledge that decision-making is HARD, and that it’s okay to not have all the answers. Ultimately, you’re trying to do what is best. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding.

8. Trust yourself

Making a big life decision is rarely always easy or clear-cut. It’s okay to feel stuck and uncertain – you’re human, and you care. Those are both great qualities already. There is no perfect decision, just the next decision. Try and trust yourself that you are aiming to make the best decision you can, with what you have and what you know. Furthermore, trust yourself that you can – and will – have the ability, resources, and resilience to navigate whatever comes next.

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