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How to Deal with Decision Making at Tough Crossroads of Life

How to Deal with Decision Making at Tough Crossroads of Life

Crossroads.

That is one of the few words I regularly used (too much) in my early twenties. Why? I was at a stage when I was presented with multiple directions to choose, yet not wise or experienced enough to make the decision without fear of failing or regrets. Often I felt the energy and drive to charge forward, but I was afraid that I might choose the wrong path or if I’d miss the opportunity to build on my expertise if I hopped around too much.

Need versus desire

Advises were all around but they’re just that, opinions of others, perspectives on what mattered to them rather than yourself. Often, we’re being told that we cannot have the best of both worlds, or even to go with the flow and see how things go.

It was hard. Sometimes we have to choose between what we need versus what we desire, other times we have to weigh the importance and pick what we value most. It was hard because as a competitive person, a rebel and as a go-getter, I felt obliged to take up such challenges, to pursue what others told me I couldn’t do, and so I did.

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Of course, there were moments when I made decisions right there and then, and never looked back because I know those were what I wanted all along. I’d charge on regardless of the obstacles ahead.

Then, there were times when I was unsure and indecisive, and I ended up making (some huge) mistakes which I’d never forget over my lifetime; like how I sacrificed four years in a company that didn’t even care about my career progression because it was well-paid. I was in the same position, taking the same salary for 3.5 years and it was my longest employment to date. It took me two years to finally decide it was the last straw and time to make the grand exit. That was when my career took flight and I realized how much more I could have gained had I left earlier.

The direction and decisions we take

Precisely because we are humans who will err, and we all want to avoid making expensive mistakes, it is so vital that we know who we are and what matters to us so that when we are presented with options, we are clear about the direction and decisions we’ll make.

So what happens when our stable life gets rocky with changes around us, most times beyond our control?

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It’s common to expect changes, but what if we come across big changes that require us to make choices that will affect us in ways we might never imagine? Having to leave a place we call home? Changing our environment or even profession?  Having to let go of what matter so much to us?

What if you are a free soul and you suddenly have to enter a situation where you’d be tied down for life? What if your life goal is to travel the world but you tend to get bogged down by commitments after commitments? What if your aim was to start your dream career but you need to stay in the job that you hate to pay your bills? What if you have your months / years / life all planned out and things take quite a turn, forcing you to change your priorities or even let go of your dreams for now?

In such situations, we often feel a sense of loss; loss of direction, loss of sense of belonging, loss of something that we held on to for so long. When you are clear about who you are, and what are important to you, it makes your situation more manageable and decisions simpler.

Understand who you are

Are you someone who prefers stability or likes a good challenge? Are you patient or fickle-minded? Do you value quality or aesthetic? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What sort of character and personality do you have? Are you practical or idealistic? Do you tend to sit on the fence or stand firm on your point of view? Are you strong-willed or easy-going?

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The little-known facts about you matter because often times when we choose to ignore who we are and choose something we’re not, or try to become someone we’re not, we become unhappy and disgruntled in our earlier decisions.

Find out what matters to you 

Do you carry any life principles that you’d never bend backward on regardless of what situations you come across? What do you value? Friendships? Morality? Integrity? Family? Loyalty? Knowledge?

These will help you weigh the pros and cons of your decisions in the majority of the tough situations you will come across.

If you have the opportunity to relocate overseas for work but you are a family person, how do you decide when you value both family and career? Which matters more to you?

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Pick up lessons learned from tough experiences

Changes and adversities can build or break a person, depending on how we respond. How do we see the light in dark times? What can we learn from tough situations? How do we make decisions that are best for us, even with much uncertainties and insecurities?

Stagnant and stable times may be good, but they cause us to be complacent. We fall into routines that we do almost on autopilot mode, yet nothing ever seems to change or improve. Choices allow us the opportunity to do something different, or even start afresh.

We actually learn more about ourselves from these difficult experiences. We pick up on how we manage ourselves and our responses in difficult situations when we try to make difficult decisions. We learn how we manage emotionally, psychologically and mentally; sometimes our body react to changes in ways we don’t even know; if we are pessimistic or optimistic, how we act in situations when we need to decide, if we are one who faces the music or runs away with excuses; on our thought processes and how we weigh our options.

On top of that, we build ourselves to be stronger, wiser and more resilient for the future.

Look forward, always

Although we may not want to welcome big abrupt changes that can turn our lives upside down, when they happen, they happen. No matter how grim a situation looks like now, there is always a silver lining at the end.
Old times may be good or even great but they are over. We can only look forward with confidence and positive mentality. We can choose to complain and live in the good old times but we can also choose to look forward to better days ahead. Have an open mindset and be willing to explore try out new things even if they feel challenging at first.
Appreciate what you had before but look towards the future with anticipation and excitement. Integrate what you have gained or learned before into what you’re going into moving forward. Our priorities change at different points in our lives. However hard it may be to accept, it is a fact. If we choose to ignore making decisions, we might end up in places where we don’t want to be in the first place, making it even tougher to get out.
Our goals may get postponed as our paths get diverted with changes and decisions to make, but when we are clear about what we want and who we are, we will still reach the destination we aim for eventually. In the meantime, what we can do is to enjoy the ride.

Featured photo credit: Hermanne Allan Poe via magickfromscratch.files.wordpress.com

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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