Landing a great job. Choosing the career path we desire. Finding the person we want to marry. Determining where we want to live and the living quarters we’ll inhabit. These are big moments in anyone’s life. Big moments require big decisions. Big decisions aren’t easy. The fast-paced lives that many of us live require us to make key decisions and too often, we aren’t well prepared.
We can choose indecision — which effectively leaves us right where we were — in the short-term, though this has a habit of affecting us in the long-term. We can jump in hastily and make a decision without gathering all the facts. We may rely just purely on our intuition without thinking ahead to the future. There are ramifications and ripple effects that both indecision and decision will have on our lives and our loved ones.
The best way to prepare for a big decision is to stop over-analyzing your situation, which clouds your mind, and actively concentrate on clearing your mind. A great way to do this is to seek time in solitude — to find your place, which could be in nature, at a coffee shop or even your room. Be present in the moment without all of life’s distractions.
The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision. — Maimonides
A clear mind enables us to remove biases, worries, fears and overly-analytical thoughts. This is our respite away from the thoughts that race around in our heads. Here, we can slow the game down. This later helps us by “trimming the fat” and stripping down to the bare bones of the facts and information at hand.
We remove the emotion from the situation, which enables us to objectively weigh all of the factors that will influence or affect our decision. We take the aggregate of all the input we’ve received and rely on our intuition — to trust what is in our hearts.
A Story to Tell
10 years ago, I was drifting along in my career without goals or any plan that would move me forward. I didn’t know what I wanted. This “not knowing” is adventurous, frustrating, exciting and anxious. It’s the career version of flying by the seat of your pants. You’re on a ride without control of the gas pedal, steering wheel or brakes.
I was living in Boston and working in a sales job that provided a steady income, good client exposure and a very uncertain future. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I didn’t want to make sales phone calls for very long. I was following a course that many people do right after college. Hoping that somehow, someway, our experiences will lead toward some kind of “Eureka!” moment that magically puts everything together.
We’ll suddenly have our answer as everything culminates in some great epiphany — some divine understanding of our future path.
This may work for a very select group of people. But it certainly did not work that way for me or most people that I know. So as I ambled along and realized that I wasn’t in any kind of career, but rather — a job — I started to think about going back to graduate school. I needed to learn more skills, plan better for my future and experience more of life.
So I created my list of schools. I narrowed it down and in the end, I fell in love with the University of Georgia. It would be a long way from home and a completely different way of life. As I often do in my moments of big decision, I reached out to my Dad, brother and Mom. I talked to some friends. I’ll always remember what my Dad said to me. Because I thought he’d be completely against this move. He said,
“If you feel in your heart that this is what you want, then I’m behind you 100%.”
It was an amazing moment and one I’ll hold dear and remember for the rest of my life. In many ways, it’s become my mantra for when I make big decisions. Big decisions take time. This is the framework or the mindset that I find to be critical. We arrive at this feeling or intuition when we have clarity, not when we’re distracted by mental anguish and emotions.
Decisions are our own to make. While others can advise or coach us, only we should be the ones that decide what is best for our lives. Because only we truly know what is placed in our hearts. No one will ever know your ambition and drive better than you. Seek the counsel of others but make the decision yourself.
Clear Your Mind
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. — Carl Jung
The process leading up to a big decision often plays back in our minds at breakneck speeds over and over. We keep analyzing the same thoughts, convincing ourselves of outcomes that we don’t yet know and playing devil’s advocate with ourselves. Initially, this is a good analytical exercise. When we persist and obsess over these thoughts, they can become toxic.
Take a step away. Try and clear your mind by turning your attention to a movie, sporting event or a get-together with friends. Get outside and breathe in some fresh air. A new setting is helpful for changing your perspective and allowing you to refresh and revitalize your thoughts. When we do this, we remove that which clouds our mind and we clear the way for our intuition to empower us with its wisdom.
In his book, Strategic Intuition, Columbia Business School professor, William Duggan, discusses the breakdown of intuition in three ways: Ordinary, Expert and Strategic:
“Ordinary intuition is just a feeling, a gut instinct. Expert intuition is snap judgments, when you instantly recognize something familiar, the way a tennis pro knows where the ball will go from the arc and speed of the opponent’s racket… The third kind, strategic intuition, is not a vague feeling, like ordinary intuition. Strategic intuition is a clear thought… That flash of insight you had last night might solve a problem that’s been on your mind for a month.”
Ordinary intuition sometimes is the way to go. But when we have time to make a decision, strategic intuition is best. This helps us think clearly and with mindfulness about what is in front of us. It enables us to extract that which really matters to us — the substance of what we feel is in our best interest — and provides us with value that guides us toward self-satisfaction.
Otherwise, we’re just going on a whim.
The big decisions of life are best left to a prepared, clear mind. Eliminate the bad fears and take some time to chill. You’ll find that everything from the smallest to the biggest decisions in life will come more naturally to you.