Published on March 2, 2021

10 Actionable Tips To Make Tough Decisions in Life

10 Actionable Tips To Make Tough Decisions in Life

You make decisions every day, from what you’ll eat for lunch to the route you’ll drive through on your way to work. But when you consider the phrase “tough decisions,” your mind probably wanders to bigger choices, like accepting a job offer, buying a home, or asking for a raise.

Tough decisions in life can be even grander in scale including those related to health or caring for a loved one. Planning for a safe, healthy, and financially secure future may be your definition of tough decisions. But everyone is different. What you consider a tough decision may be a no-brainer for your best friend.

Regardless of how each of you qualifies the level of this choice, here are some actionable steps to help you prepare for making tough decisions in your life.

1. Visualize Preferred Outcomes

Before you even dig into the homework and data, consider what you want. Visualization is not something mystical but rather intentional. Organizations build strategic plans around their visions. Leaders, influencers, celebrities, and athletes (to name a few) attribute visualization to their success. Just ask any Olympic gold medalist or a sports psychologist how visualizing the best outcome has been critical in their success.

You certainly don’t need to be playing at that level to use this strategy for tough decisions. So, step back a moment and take some time to think about and perhaps, journal your desired outcome.

2. Do Your Homework

Before making any tough decision—or any decision at all—start by gathering relevant data that will help you best ferret out your options. The devil is in the details.


Let’s say that you are considering which college or university to attend (or send your child to). What are the placement rates, the tuition, room and board costs, campus life factors, and of course, what is their reputation around your degree path? The data collection step is critical to help you narrow your choices and elevate the best options. Otherwise, you are taking your chances with very little footing.

3. Think Through Each Option

This may seem obvious, but you may be struggling if you’re only focusing on only one choice. Instead, ferret out all the alternatives and the paths of each choice. Think of it as a flow chart. If you decide one way, where might that path lead?

If you need to decide on a medical procedure, more than likely you will want to know all of your options. Considering alternative medicine, a second opinion or a different type of procedure or treatment may help you feel more confident about the path you ultimately choose.

4. Identify the Pros and Cons

Remember the “old school” pros and cons list? Well, it’s not as dated or inane as you may think. Putting your options down in black and white helps you to weigh your outcomes, literally.

For example, you’ve been offered a new job and are uncertain whether you should leave your current job for this new opportunity. Write down “stay” or “go” at the top of your page and then under each header, write out all pros and cons of each. This is where you enter your research data, opinions, benefits, and risks involved in each decision. Typically, the column with the lengthier list is your better option. However, you still have a few more steps to complete that will help you feel more confident about your tough decision.

5. Consider Others’ Opinions

Talk to people who’ve been down this road before. Come prepared to the conversation with questions that will not only be respectful of their time but will also help you get real-time opinions and advice. These conversations should also extend to family, friends, colleagues, mentors, coaches, and of course, anyone who is ultimately affected by this tough decision. Not only will they give you great insight, but they can also serve as a beacon of support and will help solidify that you are not alone in the process.


Keep in mind that not all decisions warrant others’ input, and you’ll have to make the tough decision by yourself. But if others will be affected by your tough decision, they’ll probably feel better about the outcome if you include them in the process.

6. Expect Pushback

You never want to focus on negative outcomes, but any decision will have some pushback. There will be others that disagree with the choice that you make, and they will certainly let you know it.

Remember, you can’t please everyone, nor should you try. Otherwise, you’ll let emotions—not facts—rule, and that can cloud your sound judgment. Even though there will some emotions involved in every decision, you must rely on the hard work you’ve done so far and the data and opinions you’ve collected.

When people do voice their objections, let them know that they’ve been heard and that you respect and honor their opinion. By doing so, you should be able to assuage their concerns and seek their counsel in the future.

7. Be Willing to Course Correct

If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again. No one is perfect—you are human and mistakes will happen. But when you own your mistake, it is much more likely that others will support you if you need to correct your course.

Blaming others (and yourself) for mistakes is unhealthy. Instead, be proud of the work that you did to get this. And remember, you’ve already outlined choices, paths, and outcomes that you can try the second time around. And since you’ve already planned for course correction, this should provide you with an added level of confidence.


8. Be Confident in Your Decision

After going through the steps thus far—and there may be others that you’ve included—you’re ready to make your tough decision. You should feel confident about your choice. You should also feel proud of yourself for doing all the heavy lifting to get to this point.

If you haven’t done so already, start shedding the doubt or worry about the choice you’ve come to. If you do feel like there is more work to be done and you’re not confident about your decision, go back to step one and visualize new outcomes.

9. Trust in Yourself

Renowned leaders, business moguls, and industry experts all share one thing in common: trust in themselves. They believe wholeheartedly that once they’ve arrived at this point in making a tough decision, they must trust in themselves.

You’ve heard the expression, “trust your gut.” Intuition can indeed play a critical role in making tough decisions. Scientific evidence lays out how somatic markers—those feelings inside the body, like elevated heart rate, that align with emotions—often guide decision-making.[1]

When the best potential outcome seems unclear, explore how each choice will ultimately make you feel. And in some cases, like first instincts on exam answers, your gut is spot on. It’s certainly okay to feel stressed about a tough decision but not to the point where it detracts from your abilities to make tough decisions.

Steve Jobs has readily admitted that he didn’t always have the answers or that he made the right decisions. But once he was ready to make the tough decision, he believed that: “You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”


10. Make Your Tough Decision

While tough decisions in life are not easy, nor are they always going to be fun in the implementation. You will feel better once the tough decision has been made. So, take a moment to acknowledge your thorough vetting process, the hard work, and the thoughtfulness that you’ve put into this tough decision. There is a lot that went into you arriving at this point. Therefore, you should feel good about your journey. Now it’s time to commit and take action.

Final Thoughts

You will be faced with making tough decisions throughout your life, but by walking through these steps, you’ll find the decision process much easier. Your confidence and clarity will increase as you visualize positive outcomes and gather the intel required to vet your choices.

Remember, it’s okay to admit mistakes and course-correct along the way, but if you include others in your decision-making process, you will have support and buy-in. Too many decisions are made lightly without any pre-planning—but you shouldn’t. Now, you have an action plan for making tough decisions in life. So, bring them on!

More Tips on How to Make Tough Decisions in Life

Featured photo credit: GRAY via


[1] Annual Reviews: Emotion and Decision Making

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Kim Monaghan

Career Happiness Coach, HR Consultant, Trainer & Speaker

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

Quitting smoking is the easiest thing in the world. Some people quit smoking a thousand times in their lives! Everyone knows someone with this mindset.

But this type of change is superficial. It doesn’t last. For real, lasting change to take place, we need to consider the quadrants of change.

Real change, the change that is fundamental, consistent, and longitudinal (lasting over time) has to happen in four quadrants of your life.

It doesn’t have to be quitting smoking; it can be any habit you want to break — drinking, biting your nails, overeating, playing video games, shopping, and more.

Most experts focus on only one area of change, some focus on two areas, but almost none focus on all four quadrants of change. That’s why much of change management fails.

Whether it is in the personal life of a single individual through actions and habits, or in a corporate environment, regarding the way they conduct their business, current change management strategies are lacking.

It all stems from ignoring at least one part of the equation.

So, today, we will cover all four quadrants of change and learn the formula for how to change fundamentally and never go back to your “old self.”

A word of warning: this is simple to do, but it’s not easy. Anyone who tells you that change is easy is either trying to sell you something, or they have no idea what they’re talking about.

Those who want an overnight solution have left the article now, so that leaves you, me, and the real process of change.

The Four Quadrants of Change

There are four areas, or quadrants, in which you need to make a change in order for it to stick. If you miss or ignore a single one of these, your change won’t stick, and you will go back to your previous behavior.

The four quadrants are:

  1. Internal individual – mindset
  2. External individual – behavior
  3. Internal collective – culture/support system
  4. External collective – laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

All four of these quadrants of change may sound like they could carry change all by themselves, but they can’t. So, be sure to implement your change in all four quadrants. Otherwise, it will all be in vain.

First Quadrant — Internal Individual

This quadrant focuses on the internal world of an individual, and it concerns itself with the mindset of a person.


Our actions stem from our thoughts (most of the time), and if we change our mindset toward something, we will begin to process of changing the way we act.

People who use the law of attraction fall into this category, where they’ve recognized the strength of thoughts and how they make us change ourselves.

Even Lao Tzu had a great saying regarding this:

“Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.” [1]

One of the most impactful ways you can make a change in this quadrant is to implement what James Clear calls identity-based habits. [2]

Instead of prioritizing the outcome of a change (ex.: I want to lose 20 pounds), you prioritize your identity as a person (I want to become/remain a healthy person).

Here are a couple of examples for you to see the strength of this kind of resolution:

I want to watch many movies = I am a cinema lover
I want to clean my apartment = I am a clean person
I want to harvest my crops = I am a harvester (farmer)
I want to swim = I am a swimmer

This quadrant is about changing the identity you attach to a certain action. Once you re-frame your thinking in this way, you will have completed the first of the quadrants of change.

Second Quadrant — External Individual

This quadrant focuses on the external world of an individual and concerns itself with the behavior of a person.

This is where people like Darren Hardy, the author of the Compound Effect reside. Hardy is about doing small, consistent actions that will create change in the long run (the compound effect).

You want to lose 30 pounds? Start by eating just 150 calories (approximately two slices of bread) less a day, and in two and a half years, you will have lost 30 pounds.

The same rules apply to business, investing, sports, and multiple other areas. Small, consistent actions can create big changes.

This works — I’ve read 20 extra pages a day for the past two years, and it accumulated into 90 books read in two years. [3]


Here, you have two ways of dealing with change behaviorally: negative environmental design and positive environmental design.

Negative Environmental Design

This is when you eliminate the things from your environment that revert you to the old behavior. If you want to stop eating ice cream, you don’t keep it in your freezer.

If you want to stop watching TV, you remove the batteries from the remote and put them on the other side of the house (it works!).

Positive Environmental Design

This is when you put the things that you want to do withing reach — literally!

You want to learn how to play guitar? Put your guitar right next to your sofa. You want to head to the gym? Put the gym clothes in a backpack and put it on top of your shoes.

You want to read more books? Have a book on your nightstand, your kitchen table, and on the sofa.

You can even combine this last trick with my early advice about removing the batteries from your remote control, combining the negative and positive environmental designs for maximum effect.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

If you just change your behavior and leave your intentions (thoughts) intact, your discipline will fail you and the real change won’t happen.

You will simply revert back to the previous behavior because you haven’t changed the fundamental root of why this problem occurs in the first place.

That is why you need to create change both in the first quadrant (internal individual — mindset) and the second quadrant (external individual — behavior). These quadrants of change are two sides of the same coin.

Most change management would stop here, and that’s why most change management fails.

No matter how much you focus on yourself, there are things that affect our lives that are happening outside of us. That is the focus of the two remaining quadrants.

Third Quadrant — Internal Collective

This quadrant focuses on the internal world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the culture of that collective.

There are two different distinctions here: the Inner Ring and the Outer Ring.


The Inner Ring

These are your friends and your family. The Inner Ring is the place where the social and cultural norms of your friends and family rule.

So, if everyone in your family is overweight and every lunch is 1,000 calories per person, then you can say goodbye to your idea of becoming healthy.

In this case, the culture of your group, the inner norms that guide the decisions, actions, thoughts, ideas, and patterns of behaviors are all focused on eating as much as possible. [4]

You need to have the support of your Inner Ring if you want to achieve change. If you don’t have this support, the the best way to proceed is by either changing your entire Inner Ring or distancing yourself from it.

Beware — most Inner Rings won’t accept the fact that you want to change and will undermine you on many occasions — some out of habit, some due to jealousy, and some because supporting you would mean that they have to change, too.

You don’t have to cut ties with people, but you can consciously decide to spend less time with them.

The Outer Ring

The Outer Ring consists of the culture of your company, community, county, region, and country. For example, it’s quite hard to be an open-minded person in North Nigeria, no matter how you, your friends, and your family think.

The Outer Ring is the reason why young people move to the places that share their value systems instead of staying in their current city, county, or country.

Sometimes, you need to change your Outer Ring as well because its culture is preventing you from changing.

I see this every single day in my country, where the culture can be so toxic that it doesn’t matter how great of a job you have or how great your life currently looks — the culture will change you, inch by inch, until you become like it.

Fourth Quadrant — External Collective

This quadrant focuses on the external world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the systems, teams, laws, and rules of that collective.

This quadrant is about the external manifestations of the collective culture. If the majority of the environment thinks in a certain way, they will create institutions that will implement that way of thinking.

The same rules apply to companies.

One example for companies would be those managers who think that employees are lazy, lack responsibility, and need constant supervision (or what is called Theory X in management).


Then, those managers implement systems that reflect that kind of culture– no flexible work hours, strict rules about logging work, no remote work, etc.

Your thoughts, however, may be different. You might believe that people want responsibility, that they are capable of self-direction, that they can make good decisions, and that managers don’t need to stand on their necks if they want something done (this is called Theory Y in management).

Then, you would want to have flexible working hours, different ways of measuring your productivity (for example, not time on the job but work produced), and remote work, if possible for your profession.

This is when you enter into a conflict with the external collective quadrant. Here, you have four options: leave, persevere, neglect, and voice.


You can simply leave the company/organization/community/country and go to a different place. Most people decide to do this.


This is when you see that the situation isn’t good, but you decide to stick at it and wait for the perfect time (or position) where you can implement change.


This is where you give up on the change you want to see and just go with the flow, doing the minimal work necessary to keep the status quo.

These are the people who are disengaged at work and are doing just the bare minimum necessary (which, in the U.S. is around 65% of the workforce).

I did this only once, and it’s probably the only thing I regret doing in my life.


This is where you actively work on changing the situation, and the people in charge know that you want to create a change.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your company, community, or your country; you are actively calling for a change and will not stop until it’s implemented.

Putting It All Together

When you take it all into account, change is simple, in theory, but it isn’t easy to execute. It takes work in all four quadrants:

  1. Internal individual — mindset
  2. External individual — behavior
  3. Internal collective — culture/support system
  4. External collective — laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

Some will require more work, some less, but you will need to create a change in all four of them.

But don’t let that discourage you because change is possible, and many people have done this. The best time to start changing was yesterday, but the second best time is today.


Featured photo credit: Djim Loic via


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