“Write a list of pros and cons,” they told me when I was trying to decide whether to go to grad school.
“Did you do enough research?” they asked me years later, as I pondered the decision to start my own business.
“Follow your intuition,” they suggested when my business was performing so poorly I considered quitting.
None of this well-meaning advice helped.
After wasting time obsessing about whether I was making the “right” decisions — but still making many wrong decisions — I realized that clarity wasn’t the result of a single action or someone’s advice. Rather, it's a process that naturally evolves at its own pace, one that depends on our mental and emotional readiness to make a life-changing decision.
Here are five tactics I used to find clarity, which will guide you as you select the best path for yourself:
1. Only focus your energy on a decision to be made when you’re in a positive mood.
If you try to make monumental decisions when you’re angry, disappointed, or worried, you’ll be more likely either to make a decision you’ll regret or to become even more ambivalent about what to do next. Don’t decide whether you need to switch jobs after having a frustrating argument with a co-worker. Don’t choose the future of a relationship during or after a fight. You get the idea.
Do your strategic thinking when you feel upbeat and energized. You’ll naturally come up with ideas that'll excite and propel you to take positive action.
2. Give yourself a break.
Have you ever thought so much about a decision that you’re unable to concentrate on anything else? And then, have you become even more anxious and unclear about the decision?
The stress of making significant career and life decisions robbed me of peaceful rest for days, sometimes even months. Looking back, I realized all that worry wasn’t worth it.
Just as your muscles need to rest after a tough workout, your decision-making power needs recovery time. Allow yourself to step away from what's troubling or puzzling you, and you might suddenly “see the light.” Breakthroughs usually happen when we’re not thinking about our issues.
3. Pay attention to trends in your thinking patterns.
Sometimes you might be driving or even grocery shopping when a thought about your current challenge pops up in your mind. When that happens, catch the thought! Keep track of these seemingly random thoughts. What did you think about? How did it make you feel?
I remember feeling exhilarated every time I thought about the possibility of starting my own business and deflated when I imagined myself behind a corporate desk running monthly performance reports in Excel.
A trend of good-feeling thoughts is usually a sign you should pursue that particular path. A string of bad-feeling thoughts, however, indicates you might be better off doing something else.
4. Visualize a decision realized and notice how you feel.
When you’re feeling rested and in a good mood, sit in a quiet place and picture yourself experiencing the change that hasn’t materialized yet. To bring up strong feelings, you must be as detailed as possible when you’re daydreaming. Then, notice how you feel.
When I was pondering whether I needed to quit my business, I'd picture myself shredding all my paperwork, deleting electronic files, and telling people I'd quit. I felt so terrible, I had to stop the visualization after a couple of minutes. That’s how I knew that quitting wasn’t best for me.
Now it’s your turn. Visualize the path you’re currently considering. How do you feel?
If you feel elated and excited during the visualization, you’ll have a clear sign that particular path might be best for you. If you feel dread, despair, or anger, it might be best to step away.
5. Be patient.
Remember that clarity will arrive at its own pace. Trying to speed up a decision or a change in your life will only add stress and anxiety to the equation. These negative emotions will lead you further away from clarity. Instead of rushing to get to your final destination, focus on the now.
What can you do now to learn and practice new skills that might help you get to your final destination? What can you do now to enjoy life and switch to the positive mood you need to be in to make good decisions?
Your path will become clear to you when you’re ready. In the meantime, enjoy every second of the clearest gift that has been given to you: your life.