Making good decisions was not something that came naturally to me. That’s why, by the age of 21, I was an alcoholic prostitute with barely a roof over my head. It wasn’t that I was stupid. I just had problems that I didn’t know how to fix, and the decisions I made to cope with a difficult life were, quite frankly, terrible.
It all started with an anxiety disorder that I didn’t know how to manage. I was agoraphobic, and I turned to drink just to be able to deal with the fear of leaving the house. Initially, my plan worked quite well, so it seemed like a good idea. But the decision to drown the fear in drink caused me far more problems, over time, than it solved.
I’ve recovered from all my issues now, after learning how to make good decisions that don’t lead to regrets. I was desperate to help others make good decisions in difficult circumstances, which led to me becoming a therapist. Here are some lessons about decision-making that I share with my clients. I hope they help you make good decisions too.
1. Face the truth bravely.
People sometimes flee from the truth, because it’s scary or unpleasant. Instead of making good decisions based on the reality of a situation, people procrastinate, hide, or delay taking real action. That’s precisely what I did when I decided to hide in a bottle.
I now have a tattoo (yes, therapists can have tattoos) that reads: “Face Your Truth—Take Your Freedom.” It’s a formula for making good decisions. You can only truly be free by acknowledging the truth, however difficult, and dealing with it, rather than burying your head in the sand. You’ll thank yourself later on for being brave.
2. Look at the long-term.
It is easy to make quick decisions that seem to work in the short-term; but what really counts is the impact of a decision in the long-term. Don’t go for quick fixes—look at what really works over time. If I had done this, I might never have lost my pancreas, my sanity, and a decade of my life.
Ask yourself whether this decision is a real solution with beneficial long-term consequences. Good decisions sometimes bring pain in the short-term, but that’s not the rest of your life. It’s always worth temporary pain and struggle to make good decisions you won’t regret.
3. Do a value-tally.
The decisions we most regret are usually those that don’t match up with what we value. As my later career as a therapist and writer shows, what matters to me is being able to help others, to express myself, and to make a difference. Drinking my way into oblivion was no way to live the life that I wanted.
It’s never a good idea to do something that clashes directly with your own values, because it will make you very unhappy. Good decisions match your values, and allow you to lead a life that fulfils you.
4. Consider what’s at stake.
Good decisions are those which give us benefits without losing us anything important. When I chose to drink to get through life at university, I hadn’t factored in that if it didn’t work out, that was one thing I would really regret screwing up.
And of course, I did screw it up. I was in and out of university for years between ill health, suicide attempts and generally losing the plot. I try not to regret anything these days, because it’s a wasted emotion. But of all the things I look back on the most sadly, it’s the fact that I had to jettison university permanently in the end. I will most likely never again get a shot at something I loved so dearly. Good decisions are those which don’t burn bridges you can’t rebuild.
5. Do the death-bed test.
A great way of making good decisions is to ask yourself if, on your death bed, you would regret anything about your choice. This applies as much to not doing things as to doing them. If you decide never to have a shot at improving yourself, starting your own business, or writing a book, would you look back on your life and wish you’d just given it a go?
The greatest regret usually comes not from failure, but from not having tried at all. I don’t regret much of my life now, because I eventually made good decisions and turned my life around before I reached my death bed—although it was a close call. No matter how hard or scary the work is, the decision to try for all you are worth is better than looking back with regret at things you never even attempted.
Featured photo credit: Impact Hub via flickr.com