6 Ways to Deal with Difficult Decisions in Life

The recent Channel 4 Reality TV Show The Audience has demonstrated the problems that can result from being stuck in a difficult dilemma.   In the first show we saw how Ian, a 48-year-old farmer, was in a complete state of limbo because he could not decide whether to stay on his ageing uncle’s farm and so fulfil his duties to them or give his relationship with his loving girlfriend a chance.  In the second show, a single mother, Andreena, struggled over whether to send her 10-year-old daughter to Devon for a different, and potentially better, lifestyle with her father.

The TV show amply demonstrates how such dilemmas cause problems for the decision-maker. Whether or not he was clinically depressed and suffering from generalised anxiety disorder, Ian was certainly “down” and worried.  When The Audience told Andreena that she was a good mum and there was no reason to think that she couldn’t provide everything her daughter needed in London, the joy on her face was a delight to behold.

If you are facing such a dilemma – be it in your career, relationship, environment, personal responsibilities – you might think you now have a new problem – how to get on the TV show so The Audience can solve your problems!  However, there are other ways to tackle such difficulties. One of them is seeing a coach, counsellor or therapist who specialises in helping people deal with issues concerning decision-making.

By talking over your problem with an experienced practitioner, you will be able to get more clarity about what the key issues are and get a more objective perspective on the situation.  Some coaches have models of good decision-making which they will take you through. The simplest of these is to look at the pros and cons of each option and decide which is the weightiest.  But as The Audience has shown, decision-making is a very emotional process, and a really good decision-making procedure will also take into account the emotions that come up  and help you deal wisely with your feelings.

Together with my colleagues David Arnaud and Antonia Macaro, I have been developing such a model of decision-making, Progress (http://www.decision-making.co.uk), for over ten years.  It consists of the following steps:

1. What is your situation? What are the headlines? What precisely is the decision you need to make? When do you need to make it by? What happens if you don’t make a decision? What are you doing already about it? Are you spending a lot of time dwelling on it or worrying about it unproductively? Is there any important information you need to find out?

2. What do you feel about your situation?  What emotions surface when you consider each option? Are there any unwarranted assumptions you are making that are causing negative emotions? Or are these emotions important existential messages about what matters?

3. What matters most? How will your well-being be impacted by implementing either option? Who else is affected by the decision? What are your duties and responsibilities to them? Which are most important?

4. What options are there? Are there choices you haven’t considered that may satisfy more of what matters?

5. Making a wise choice.  Which option satisfies the most important values?

6. Implement the wisest choice. 

By going through these six stages, you can get a much more balanced and rational perspective on your decision.  Of course you won’t get the reassurance of having the fifty members of The Audience telling you it’s the right decision – but maybe on balance you would rather make the decision for yourself, only with a little professional help.



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