Take a new job or quit an old one; leave a relationship or stick it out and see if it gets better; go back to school to train for a new job or stay put; spend money to fly to a cousin’s wedding or skip it and send a gift. With decisions big and small, it’s easy to be uncertain. You hem and haw and sit on the fence.
Time to get off. Here’s are some tips that you can use on their own or ideally together to help you know what to do when you don’t know what to do:
1. Focus on ends, not means. It’s easy to get these mixed up. Getting a new job or switching careers seem like ends, but are they? Try thinking of them as means: Does a new ultimate end emerge – greater income, higher job satisfaction – what?
Once you have a clear idea of what you are ultimately trying to achieve, you're freed up to think of other means: talking with your boss about in-house career options or moving to a different team with a different work climate that suits you better; exploring less expensive online training; driving to the wedding rather than flying. You get the idea.
2. Focus on your values. You decide to work on the relationship because you believe in commitment or you leave because you believe that life is about discovering and becoming yourself. You fly to the wedding because family is always important or you don't go because you believe relationships are lived in the everyday and need not be focused on a few big occasions.
Values act like ballast to keep us straight. By sorting them out you discover bottom-lines and priorities, and by building on them avoid regrets in the future.
3. Take action. It’s easy to get stuck on the fence because you want to make the right decision and don’t want to do anything until you’re sure. This is the Ready Aim Fire approach. Better is the Ready Fire Aim approach. Take a baby step in some direction. Apply for the new job and see what happens; go for the interview and see how it goes, or better yet, actually walk around the building or check out your future office if you can. Similarly, look up how long it would take to drive to the wedding, look for free online courses, check out possible relationship counselors.
By doing something rather than waiting you're sure it's the Right thing, you get feedback that can help you fine-tune your thoughts and feelings.
4. Talk it out/get a second opinion. In the process of talking aloud, your thoughts often become more clear, the dots connect. Similarly, by getting another's feedback, you get feedback about whether or not your thinking makes sense. This can come from a friend or family member, a person working on another team at the office, someone working in the field you are thinking of moving into, one session with a relationship counselor, or an online chat room. Again, don't dither trying to figure out who the Right person is, instead take action.
5. Trust your gut. If at some point your head starts to spin with too much information, it's time to look down and check out your emotions and instincts. Here, affirming your values and reflecting on your past experiences in making big decisions are good ways of getting to those gut reactions.
But just as you don't want to confuse ends and means, you don't want to confuse the good information of emotions and instincts with impulsive reactions and potential acting out. Being absolutely fed up on a bad day with the job or relationship and stomping away is impulsive. Noticing an uneasy feeling after the job interview or the tug of deep regret when you think about leaving your relationship is not.
6. Sleep on it. No, you don’t want to be impulsive, but you do want to take action. You want to get info but also trust your gut and clarify your values.
But after all is said and done, you probably want to sleep on it. After all your hard work, it’s time to let go and focus on something else, giving your mind the opportunity to sift and settle. This is like the resting of the dough when making bread, or the incubation stage so important in the creative process. So give it a day or more, focus on other things, see what comes to the surface.
You might be surprised.