How to Make Life’s Hardest Decisions: 3 Decision Making Methods to Solve Dilemmas


Celes, after 25 years of marriage, I find myself alongside someone from whom I’ve grown apart. I’ve lost all desire to be with this person and yet the thought of being without him scares me to pieces.

I’m a successful businesswoman who is able to make some very high-powered decisions on the spot, but the one very important decision in my own life is the one I flounder with like a fish out of water. I just cannot seem to sort through this one.

And so to you I ask: How do you sort through one of life’s greatest decisions such as this? ~ Joi

What do you do when faced with a big decision to which you don’t know the answer?

Do you opt for the middle road that marginally meets everyone’s needs? Do you sacrifice your needs for others? Do you randomly pick an option, and simply hope for the best? Do you pick what seems to be the most logical, even though you are not 100% sure? Do you put off the decision making process and hope everything will sort itself out eventually?

Today, I share three of my best decision making methods to break out of any dilemma.

Biggest Decision I Had to Make Up Till My Mid-20s

The biggest decision I had to make up till my mid-20s was the quitting of my day job to pursue my passion. While I had faced some conflicting situations before, none were as close to my heart as this one.

Unlike what most would think, my decision was not between (a) staying on in my day job and (b) pursuing my passion. There was no doubt to me that I should pursue my passion. This was something I knew I wanted to do since several years ago. (For more on how I came to this realization, read: Two Important Things that Led Me to Discover My Real PurposePassion or Money?, and How to Overcome Fear Of Loss And Pursue Your Dreams.)

The decision was between (a) quitting right away to pursue my passion and (b) working for a couple more years before quitting to rake in more savings. The first option would bring me fulfillment because I would get to pursue my passion right away. The second one would put me in a calmer state of mind regarding my finances.

Initially I was unable to decide because both options had their pros and cons. Each one would aid me in some manner with regards to pursuing my passion. I found it very difficult to choose one over another.

It was when I took a different tack to the problem that the answer unveiled itself to me. This brings us to my first decision making method, what I call the Fast Forward Method.

Decision Making Method #1: Fast Forward Method

With my dilemma in mind, I mentally fast forwarded one year into the future as a thought experiment. Then, I asked myself which path I would want to be in.

The answer hit me like a bullet: “Quit right away and pursue my passion.” There was not even a moment of hesitation or doubt. It was so apparent what I needed to do. Quit right away, now.

Reason being that even if I were to pursue my passion and make little progress after one year, two years, or even three years, I would still be making more progress than if I continued working in my day job. Every extra day I stayed on at my day job meant delaying the pursuit of my passion by another day, and subsequently delaying the realization of my dreams.

In fact, the further I fast forwarded myself, the clearer my answer was. One year into the future? “Yes, I should definitely quit now and pursue my passion.” Three years into the future? “I can’t even believe I was conflicted about this decision. It’s so obvious that I should just quit. ” Five years into the future? “What am I even contemplating?? This job has no role in my long-term vision of my life. Hurry up and quit now!!

By adopting a future perspective, it removed me from my present situation, which helped me to evaluate the decision more consciously. What might have seemed crucial from a three to six month time frame melted away when I looked at the situation from a one-, three-, and five-year point of view. I was able to see the things that really mattered vs. the things that might seem important in the short term but did not matter in the long run.

How to Apply

  1. Consider a decision you are facing right now. It can be a small or big decision. It can be regarding your friends, your love life, your career, your business, your health, and so on.
  2. What are the main options you are considering with respect to this decision? Write them down.

Now that you are done, review the following steps:

  1. Mentally fast forward to one year into the future.
  2. What would your life be like in each option? Be as detailed as possible.
  3. Which option would you want to be living a year from today? Why?

(If you wish, redo the exercise with two different time frames: (b) Three years (c) Five years. You should get the same answer. If not, try to understand why.)

Example #1: Quit Job or Start Business?

Perhaps you are contemplating over a career move right now. You are considering Option A, to continue in your day job which you aren’t crazy about, and Option B, to start your business. You intuitively know Option B is the best path for you, but you’re fearful of the downsides it may bring (such as temporary loss of income, initial challenges faced when creating a start-up, and so on).

By using the Fast Forward Method, you can immediately see what your life would be like if you went with Option A (continue your day job), as compared to Option B (start your business).

When you look at how your life might be like one year into Option B, you may realize that the situation isn’t as bad as you thought it would be. While starting your business would come with some challenges, they are only temporary and short-term. Nothing that hard work, persistence, and proper strategy can’t fix. The income loss from quitting your job would only be temporary, since you would earn money once you make some headway with your business.

On the other hand, one year into Option A and the downsides of choosing your job over your business becomes apparent. You can instantly feel the weariness of having to work in a job you don’t love for another year. It’s such a dreadful feeling seeing that your business is still on hold after one year. And you feel regret for the one year of your life that you just wasted for not doing what you love.

It’s clear what you have to do. Quitting your job right away and starting your business is the answer. You need a few days to properly plan and think this through before sending in your resignation letter, but at least now you know what needs to be done.

Fast Forward: Great for Decisions where there is Fear

The beauty of the fast forward method is that it’s a simple thought experiment that lets you instantly “see” the realities of each option over time. This helps you to recognize if an option will lead you to where you want to be or if it will simply lead you to a dead end, rather than wait till one, two, three years later to realize this (and in turn waste that precious time).

Upon “seeing” the outcomes, you get the answer to your question, thereby ending the decision making dilemma.

I’ve found this method to be most effective in situations where one is fearful of taking action or where one is too settled in his/her comfort zone (to make a change). Sometimes, the fear of not realizing our dreams can be a great driving force to “push” us out of our comfort zones and offset whatever fear we may face in other areas.

Decision Making Method #2: Ideal Vision Method

Albert Einstein once said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” If you want to break out of your current problem, you need to adopt a different frame of mind – the mind of someone who has achieved your ideal vision. This is what I call the Ideal Vision Method.

How to Apply

Consider a decision you are facing now. (You can use the same decision from the previous exercise.)

  1. Think about your ideal vision with respect to this area of your life.
  2. Imagine you are living in your ideal vision right now. What would the You in your ideal vision do in this scenario?

Example #2: Start My Own Venture or Join My Friend’s Venture?

Let’s say your good friend is starting a new business and he invites you to join him as a partner.

His proposal puts you in a fix. Your friend is highly intelligent. You know this business venture will definitely take off. You respect him a great deal and you know this will be a great opportunity to learn from him and tap into his networks. It’s an honor that he is inviting you to join him.

However, you are in the middle of starting your own business at the moment. This is something you’re very passionate about and you’ve been meaning to do it for a long time.

Either venture will take up a considerable amount of your time and it’ll be tough to manage both at the same time.

Using the Ideal Vision Method, you create your ideal vision for your career. As it turns out, your vision is to turn your passion into your career. You want your business to be renowned in its industry. You also want to earn a substantial income from your business every month, which is a natural consequence of being really good in what you do.

As the You in your ideal vision, it becomes clear that you have to reject your friend and focus your efforts on your business.

While the opportunity with your friend looks tempting from the present perspective, it’s only going to divert your attention from realizing your passion. (Read: How to Get Maximum Results When You Have Too Many Ideas (Harnessing The Superstar Effect)You know that success, learning opportunities, and business networks are all things that will come your way as you succeed in your venture.

Ideal Vision: Crucial in Removing Faulty Thinking

The interesting thing about the Ideal Vision Method is that the answer you get is probably dramatically different than what may seem sensible from your current perspective. Yet, that doesn’t make it any less true.

Many times, we are not able to break out of our problems because we approach them with faulty lenses. The issue here is that these faulty lenses are the precise cause of our problems. Approaching our problems with these lenses will only perpetuate our problems due to faulty solutions we come up with. In the end, we dig ourselves deeper into our problems, going nowhere but down.

The Ideal Vision Method prevents you from making circular decisions. When you approach your decision from your ideal vision, you remove yourself from your faulty lenses, faulty beliefs, and faulty thinking. You adopt the mindset of someone who has already solved the problem, who is in a heightened state of consciousness, who knows what it takes to achieve your ideal outcome. This clarity is paramount to break out of your problems — permanently.

Decision Making Method #3: Heart Method

The last method, the Heart Method, taps into a fundamental core of what makes us who we are – our hearts. You can also think of this as listening to your gut or intuition.

How to Apply

Consider a decision you are facing right now. (You can use the same situation as the previous exercise.)

Now, close your eyes. Clear your mind. Think about nothing but this particular decision you are facing.

Listen to your heart. What is your heart telling you? What is it gravitating toward? That’s your answer.

Example #3: Reconnect with a Friend Who Betrayed You?

Let’s say you have a friend, B, who betrayed you before. You have been unable to forgive him for that incident. Because of that, both of you split ways. There was a point after you split ways when he tried to reconnect with you, but you ignored him as you couldn’t forgive him.

Recently, something came up that you need his help for because of his background in the subject matter. There are two paths you can take here: Reconnect with him or seek help somewhere else.

It’s not necessary for you to reconnect with him because there are other people you can approach; plus it’ll be awkward to talk to him again after all these years. Not only that, you still feel resentful for what he has done. Logically, you should just approach someone else.

As you listen to your heart, it tells you to put this resentment behind you and reach out to him. Not because you need his help, but because holding on to the resentment is silly. You are hurting nobody but yourself. He has reached out to you before, which means he has already taken the first step; yet you are still being an *ss by refusing to accept his connection.

Your heart also says that your connections in life are more important than any motivations or agendas you may have. Love, not hatred, not fear, is the key to living a happy life. You can go about living your daily life as if none of this is relevant to you, but it does not deny the fact that you are still resentful toward him and you are denying your connection with him because of that. This resentment that you carry around you will only make you a weary soul. It pulls you down; it doesn’t lift you up.

Forgive him and reconnect with him, not for him, but for yourself; for the salvation of your soul. Love him as you would yourself. Stop viewing him with tainted glasses; instead, give him a fresh chance.

Our Hearts Act as Compasses for Our Lives

I think our hearts are incredible compasses for our lives. Somehow, they have the answer to problems we are facing, even when our logical minds have not caught up on the situations yet. When honed over time, they can be incredible decision making tools – even more powerful than logic.

I’ve found that the decisions I’ve made using my heart have turned out to be highly astute, even though there might not be specific data backing up my thoughts at those times. Over the years, I’ve learned to rely more and more on my gut feeling, and less and less on other factors. I still use the logical mind for many situations, but at the end I leave it to my heart to decide what I should do.

For those of you who are in computing, IT, engineering, or very logic-centered jobs, the idea of listening to your heart may be hard to grasp. The concept of emotions may be very abstract to you. In fact, you probably experience them as a giant blob, rather than individual feelings. That tends to happen if you’re not very emotionally aware.

Emotional awareness is something that can be built up though. Just like the neural connections in your brain that strengthen whenever you recall something, your connection with your heart strengthens when you consult it more regularly. Be aware of how it feels with every situation you are in. Involve it more regularly in your decision making.

While at first it may not give you much insight on your decisions, over time you will find that there are times when your heart gravitates more strongly toward one option more than another. Soon, you will see how it’s a more powerful decision making method than logic-based approaches. It seems to have a way of knowing what will work and what will not work, even before your brain catches up.

Putting These Together

Any of the three methods above should give you a clear answer to your dilemma. Sometimes it’s possible that one method gives you a fuzzy answer. If that’s the case, use one of the other two methods and the answer should unveil itself.

With respect to my past dilemma surrounding whether to quit my job or stay on for another few years, the reason why the dilemma even came up was because I was no longer happy doing something that wasn’t my passion. My heart (method #3) was calling out to me to fix this situation.

When I considered my ideal vision (method #2), it seemed as though either option could work out fine.

It was ultimately the fast forward method (method #1) that sealed the deal.

If you use all three methods and get the same answer, then it’s a clear sign that this is the path to take.

I haven’t had a situation where my answers conflict with one another. They usually point to the same general direction. I don’t think it’s possible to get very conflicting answers here because these three methods are ultimately meant to lead you to the same place — your ideal life.

Reviewing Your Decision

Ultimately, your decision should satisfy certain criteria. Ask yourself:

  1. Will this decision bring me closer to my ideal life? (It should; otherwise why are you even contemplating this decision?)
  2. Will it make me happy? (Your decision should make you happy. If it represses you and makes you unhappy, then you’re sort of missing the point. Life isn’t about being unhappy. It’s about doing what you love and enjoying it every step of the way.)
  3. If I don’t do this, will I regret it in the future? (A good decision shouldn’t cause you to experience regret. I always think it’s better to do something that you’re unsure of and see how it turns out, than to avoid it and wonder what could have been. At least with the first path, I know I did my best and I have no regrets.)

If you get a “yes” on the first two questions and a “maybe” or “yes” on the third, then you’re on the right track.

Rounding Up

Sometimes, you may get an answer you don’t like from these three methods. It’s possible that the answer isn’t something you want to take on right away. It’s possible that you don’t even want to think about it.

There are times when I get answers that I don’t like from my own methods. However, it doesn’t change the fact that there is some truth behind them. Actually, a lot of truth.

I’ve found, from experience, that it’s only when I stop running and embrace the truth that I really begin to resolve my problems. Remember, faulty thinking leads to faulty solutions, which perpetuates our problems. To solve our problems, we need to approach them from a different place.

Perhaps the final thing I want to add is that when it comes to making life decisions, you shouldn’t make them based on what’s best from the current circumstance. To do so would be to compromise on your real wants. Rather, use the three methods to figure out what you really want, then find the way to get there. Your WHAT should come before your HOW, not the other way round.

I hope you’ve found this article useful. What you decide to do is up to you and it’s your decision to make. Decision making is never easy, but it’s when we make up our minds that we move forward in life.

This article is about tackling life’s biggest dilemmas. For day-to-day decision making, read How to Stop Analysis Paralysis and Make (Good) Decisions Quickly.

Feel free to share this post with anyone you know who may be in a situational fix at the moment. Who knows, it may help him/her make that crucial decision that he/she needs.

Image: Fence