How to Make Difficult Decisions

You know when life seems to come at you from all angles, non-stop, and all you want to do is hole up somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and take a deep breath? Make it all STOP, just for a moment?

I’ve been feeling like that lately. There’s been a lot of shizzle happening in my world, and the consistent factor seems to be that I’ve being asked to make lots of decisions. All. Day. Long.

And we’re not talking what to have for dinner. I’ve had to make some pretty big, life-changing decisions lately, and it’s been crazy overwhelming.

If you’re not in it now, I am sure you’ve been here before:

It feels like everything is happening all at once.

Everyone seems to want to know RIGHT NOW – and you feel immense pressure to give the right answer.

It feels like there is not enough time to tap into your intuition and core desires and all that personal growth stuff that you know you’re “supposed” to do.

You don’t feel like you have all the information you need to make the right decision…yet a LOT rides on the decision you’re about to make.

On top of it all, life’s shizzle keeps happening, like phone calls coming in non-stop (doesn’t everyone love texting like I do?), plumbing getting backed up – while you’re breastfeeding :/ , a family member getting seriously ill…need I go on?

It is ALL still happening, and no one and no-thing is pausing for you to create a nice and calm space in which to make your decisions.

Welcome to adulthood, right? Stressing about that high school paper I had to write sounds pretty awesome right now.

One of the myriad decisions I had to make recently was about an Integrative Medicine Fellowship with Dr. Andrew Weil at the University of Arizona. Last year I had been accepted into this prestigious program, geared towards MDs, as one of the few nurse practitioners. I was ALSO offered a scholarship – for both years of the fellowship.

Most people I spoke to who didn’t know my whole resume said it was a no-brainer and that I should do it – for sure. Why were they so sure? Here are some of the things I heard:

“Dr. Weil is SO FAMOUS and brilliant! ANY chance to study with him would be awesome.”

“I’d go see someone just because I knew they studied with him.”

“This is such a rare opportunity – it’s SO HARD to get into that program!”

“Even though you’ll learn something and the people are great to connect with, you probably know most of the stuff they teach there already. But if you want it on your resume it can be worth it.” (This is what I heard from several people who did the fellowship themselves).

Here’s the thing though: upon careful investigation into the curriculum, I learned that it really wouldn’t add to my body of knowledge THAT much.

Fellows would study Ayurveda for 2 weeks. I studied it for 1 year already. They had 2 weeks of Chinese Medicine – I had 2 years of Classical Chinese Medicine under my belt. Plus yoga teacher training. And massage school. And health coach training. Functional Medicine education. Herbology studies…and endless hours of continuing education in Integrative Medicine.

Suffice it to say, no matter how big the scholarship, I had to decide if this would be worth my time and energy.

Often in making big decisions, we let finances be the ultimate factor. But I have learned – often the hard way – that time and energy are just as, if not more, valuable than money.

Ultimately, I decided that the return I’d receive for the time and energy and other resources that I’d be investing would not be worth it for me. It would be awesome for someone else, but not for me at this point in my life.

What were some of the other decisions I had to make?

Do I move my mother up here to live with us now, where she has no friends or community, so I can care for her and watch her diet like a hawk…or trust that she will do what it takes to preserve her barely-there kidney function as she enters Stage 4 kidney failure?

Do I go for a spot in a PhD doctoral program in nursing, a functional nutrition doctoral program, or a public health program?

Do I take out my IUD because of the side effects I’ve been experiencing even though I know I absolutely cannot handle getting pregnant right now…and I HATE condoms and hormones?

Do I go to Colombia with my husband to have an adventure with our baby, or do something relatively “boring” yet much-needed, like go to Ashland and Portland to eat organic food, hang with my girlfriends, and take a sensual writing workshop with Alexandra Franzen? (OK the Franzen writing salon is SO not relatively boring LOL!).

There are more…but those are what I’ll share here.

How did I make all these decisions in such a short amount of time, under a lot of pressure,  with the defecation hitting the oscillation all over the place and at very inconvenient times? Well, while it seems every coach out there will tell you to “listen to your intuition,” what do you do when you haven’t learned that skills yet? I know it has taken me YEARS to figure that out…and it can still escape me, especially when overwhelmed.

Here are some tools I used (that aren’t about tapping into your intuition):

Chew on it. Pretend to make the decision one way or another. Allow yourself to imagine life with the decision you just made. Sit with it. How does it feel?

Do you want to spit it out? Or swallow? Savor it? How does it feel 2 years from now? What is your day like when you wake up? What are your weekends like? How do you feel falling asleep? Do this for about a 1/2 day per decision option.

Ask yourself: “Will I have regrets about this 5 years from now?” If it’s clear that you’ll have big regrets after saying yes or no, I would seriously consider rethinking your options.

Make a list about what values you’re saying “Yes” to and what you’re saying “No” to. In my fellowship example above, I discovered that if I did the fellowship, I’d be saying Yes to my love of studying with other geeks about a topic I am passionate about, my love of learning in general, and enjoying studying with someone I greatly admire (Dr. Weil). Plus, I value being at the top of my field, and studying in a prestigious program would validate that (ahem…I mean, it would validate my ego).

However, I’d be saying “No” to my values of: not doing something just because it would look good on my resume; not spending time doing things that didn’t add substantially to my body, mind, or spirit for the time and energy they required; and my priority of more time with my super freakin’ awesome baby.

Drop into a routine/schedule. When you know what is happening when, you don’t have a bunch of background “static” to interfere with your mind’s clarity. You can then create the mental quietude to make a better decision.

When shit is happening randomly and unexpectedly, it makes it much harder to have the calm required to make big decisions. If you’re not a big schedule or routine person, this can be a temporary tweak to your style until you make the decision. Having a morning and/or evening routine also help the mind chill out and see through the muck.

Set the intention to receive clarity in your dreams. You can also ask for sign during the day. I do this a lot. I say, “Hey, Universe/God/Source/Gaia – could you puh-lease send me a sign about what I should do?” I have had so many clear signs drop out of the sky after asking for this.

Like the time I asked for clarity about whether I should break up with someone or not, then minutes later got a Facebook message from a complete stranger that my boyfriend was cheating on me. Clear sign, right?! Suffice it to say, I got really clear in about a nanosecond. What a douche. It was a relief actually. I have since learned to make decisions much sooner. I’ll have to write a different post about that one…

Write a pros and cons list. I’m not shitting you. This works. It’s not like I base decisions on anything related to how long the lists are. Rather, the process really helps me get clear as I think it through. I find my Yes/No practice that I describe above more helpful than this one, but it’s a good place to start.

Talk to a friend that lets you babble. I have found more than a few times that simply talking about my process with a good girlfriend will bring me clarity as I babble, even though I may not be making sense in the moment. Journaling can also substitute if it’s 4am and you don’t think your friend would appreciate you calling at that time. Once you’re done babbling, offer to buy her a glass of prosecco or a green juice.

Try to get as much sleep as possible…and sleep on it once you think you know your answer. Your mind will be much more sharp and discerning. It’s amazing the difference that sleep makes. Your brain is actually working on organizing all your thoughts while you sleep, so it can really help!

Do any one of these ideas really resonate with you? Or do you have a tip for your fave way to make a difficult decision? Share with me below – we could all use tips and support around this one!