How to Mindfully Make Important Life Decisions
Ten tips for mindfully choosing your best option.
Posted Jun 30, 2017
Important life decisions can be challenging to make. They are often complicated, involving many factors, some of them with competing interests. The stakes may also be high, and you are right to be concerned about making the best decision possible.
In the previous post, we looked at ways to listen to your gut, which is your “second brain,” and informs your quick gut reactions. Gut reactions can be important because they cut to the chase and reveal how you really feel about each option.
Next, harness the power of your mind, which involves your thinking brain; the source of slower, thoughtful responses. Indeed, important decisions often benefit from your careful consideration and analysis of each option.
But sometimes thinking seems to get you nowhere. Even after days of analyzing your options, you may be unable to effectively weigh the pros and cons, determine what you really want, or settle on what you think is best. How do you stop going around in circles? Plus, sometimes our minds lead us astray. How can you be sure you’re not mistakenly rationalizing one option over others due to unwarranted fear or unfounded fantasy?
In a word: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness means that you are conscious and aware, focused on the present moment, and able to calmly observe and accept all your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness means you’re able to pause, reflect, and listen to your inner wisdom. Mindfulness means that you can focus on the relevant information, know when to cut your losses, stay aware of your biases, and check your ego. Mounting research shows that mindfulness benefits decision-making.
Here are ten tips on how to be mindful as you make important decisions and determine what’s best for you.
1. Slow down.
Mindfulness means taking your time. Sometimes, this isn’t possible, such as with medical emergencies or sudden, time-limited offers. In these cases, mindfully gauge your gut reaction. Otherwise, take the time you need to reflect on your priorities, your goals, and your values. Let the options percolate in your mind as you take stock of your strengths and talents, as well as your true interests and desires. Your slow, deliberate reflection can grant you clarity.
2. Accept that making important decisions can be hard.
Big decisions often have big, long-lasting consequences. Even when the outcome is happy, you may have doubts. And some decisions can be heart-wrenching to make, even when you’re certain your choice is for the best. Instead of wishing a big decision were easier, honor the fact that it’s not, nor should it be. Embrace the thoughts and feelings you have as a testament to the significance of this crossroads.
3. Aim for integrity.
This means being true to your authentic self, your priorities, and your values. If an option requires that you compromise your ethics, downplay your priorities, or go against your nature, this is a red flag. Only consider options that are aligned with what’s truly important to you.
4. Aim to reduce your stress.
Reducing the stress in your life is good for your physical health and mental health, both of which are keys to living a contented, fulfilling life. Focus on reducing your stress—for example, choosing simplicity over complications, choosing ease over difficulty, or choosing interesting over boring. Then you can better pinpoint what’s best for you.
5. Understand that there are many paths that can nurture your soul.
There may be times when you reach a fork in the road and all paths look equally appealing, with balanced pros and cons. When multiple options are “right,” but you’re forced to choose just one, you may feel angst contemplating “the path not taken.” But this angst doesn’t indicate the potential for a bad decision. It just means you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by viable options. To choose one more wisely, read the previous post about “gut decisions.” Your gut can give you the extra clarity you seek.
6. Go with the flow.
Taking the path of least resistance is often the best option. Whether the funding comes through, or you’ve been eager for an opportunity like this, or you finally feel “at home,” or your friend keeps trying to set you up on a blind date, it’s as if life is presenting you a neon sign that reads, “Go This Way!” Even if you’re skeptical about stars aligning, grab the brass ring whenever it’s handed to you.
If you’re faced with an opportunity that involves leaving your comfort zone, it’s normal to feel hesitant or fearful at the prospect. But feeling scared doesn’t necessarily mean you should shy away from that option. Sometimes the “right choice” is The Brave Choice, particularly because it can entail positive change, new skills, and worthwhile risks. But how can you tell if you’re cringing because it’s requiring you to stretch and grow, or cringing because it’s truly not right for you? Here’s how: Physiologically, the difference between fear and excitement is breath. If something seems scary, by mindfully taking some deep breaths, you may transform your fear into excitement. With deep breathing comes relaxation, which can change your thoughts from “Danger: Do not proceed” to “Thrilling: Proceed with excitement!” But what if it’s truly scary and not right for you? You’ll remain hesitant or fearful. The wisdom in your gut will see to that.
8. Focus on being, not doing.
What you do is not as important as who you are. Strive to be trustworthy, responsible, and kind, and you will attract people with the same stripes.
Likewise, what you do isn't as important as who you do it with. For example, which would you rather: Dig ditches with a group of fun, trustworthy, kind people, or work your dream job with a group of mean-spirited, two-faced, manipulative people? It’s not the doing, but the being that is most important.
9. Ask others to tell you about the hard decisions they've faced.
It can be immensely helpful to hear other people reflect on the choices they've made. Doing so can help you mindfully reflect on your options, and others' insights may lend clarity to the choices you face. Reading about others' journeys can also be helpful, including memoirs, biographies, or explorations of this terrain, such as the book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy. Also, listening to and reading about others' decisions can make you feel less alone in your struggles.
10. Trust the process.
Whatever you decide to do, it's impossible for you to make a wrong decision. Even if you have regrets with hindsight, you can learn extremely valuable lessons from mistakes and failures—lessons that can lead you down a path of even greater fulfillment. You can also adopt the calming perspective that your life will unfold as it should, which means you’re always exactly where you belong. And you'll leap when you're ready and able. When that time comes, keep a calm, open, curious mind, and watch the net appear.
Even if you feel caught between a rock and a hard place, take heart. By tapping into your gut’s wisdom and harnessing your brain’s mindfulness, you can determine the path that is best for you.