Are You at a Crossroads in Your Life? Here's What You Need to Do

04/21/2016 10:23 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2016
Else Siegel

Are you facing a big decision, but aren’t sure which option to pick?

Have you recently made a big decision, but are now starting to regret it and considering changing your mind?

We get stuck because there are few black and white choices in life. There are pros and cons to anything, and it’s easy to get lost looking for the "right" choice when there may not be one.

So if you’ve gathered all the relevant information, gone through a decent decision making process, and still can’t come up with a clear idea of what’s best, then I’m going to let you in on a little secret: It doesn’t really matter which option you choose. Seriously, if you’ve carefully considered all aspects of your problem and still can’t find a clear answer, there isn’t a "right" way to go.

What you need isn’t a decision making process. You need a justification process instead.

What is a Justification Process?

It’s a way of working out what you’ll tell yourself (and other people) about why you made the decision you did. It helps you to justify the decision you make and in doing so, feel okay about it.

Say you consider facts and logic to be very important in life. Before buying a car, you should do a whole lot of research into cars. That way, if you end up buying a lemon, although you’ll be unhappy, you’re not going to feel your decision was a bad one. After all, you did the research, right? The fact the car is a lemon is not your fault. If reason and facts are important to you, you’ll feel justified you did your best in the situation.

But if you really value intuition and trusting yourself, then you should use your gut feeling to make the decision. That way, if the car is a lemon, you can say to yourself, this happened for a reason. I’m confident I made the decision in the best way possible, so whatever is playing out now isn’t my fault.

Another way to make the decision is to listen to your family and go with their advice. "Well, we Charlestons always have Toyotas, so I bought a Toyota." You take the self-doubt out of the decision by trusting in your family, which works if you are someone who considers family to be important in life.

The justification you choose only needs to satisfy one criterion: It needs to be believable to you, because it matches what you value in life.  As you can see from the above examples, knowing and acting on what matters to you in life is the key here.

Why Use a Justification Process?

Because our strongest regrets come from using someone else’s value system to make a decision about our own life.

In the example I gave above, if you’re a research/facts/learning driven person, then choosing a car by intuition, or because your family tells you to, isn’t going to feel very good. If the car turns out to be decent, you’ll still feel okay about it, but the reason you engage in a justification process is in case the decision doesn’t work out so well. If you go against your values to make a decision, and then it turns out to be the "wrong" one, that’s when you’ll regret and suffer for your decision.

If you can get clear on what matters to you, and make your decisions in ways which align with those values, you can spare yourself a lot of painful feelings like guilt and self-doubt. Your decisions won’t always turn out wonderfully, but you’ll feel the best you can about that as long as you feel like your decision reflected your values. A good example is taking a pay cut in order to follow your dreams. People never really regret trying to do this, even if it doesn’t work out well, because their dream involves pursuing something in life that truly matters to them. But if you love money and have no dreams of sharing your passion or making the world a better place, do not leave that high paying job.

The justification process explains why asking for other people’s opinions when you have a decision to make is so unhelpful. Unless they value the same things as you, their advice doesn’t apply to your situation. But once you ask for it, you can’t unhear it. It’s extra information that shouldn’t be relevant, but our brain will treat it as if it is. Then you feel more confused, and it’s harder to trust your own judgement and follow your own values.

"The only advice you should ever seek is from someone who you would happily trade lives with."

Keep this in mind as a quick-and-dirty test of whether or not the person’s values are similar to yours. If their past decisions have led to a life you’d love to lead, they may say something you need to hear. But if you don’t like their life as a whole (and successful people often have a whole life you wouldn’t necessarily choose -- yes you want the money, do you want the 80 hour weeks and disconnection from your family too?) then don’t ask for their advice. Endure it if it’s offered, but do so consciously and with the idea you’ll assign it as little weight as possible. You’re the only one that has to live with your decision, so it needs to fit you personally.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get professionals involved, because their ‘advice’ isn’t really advice.  A professional’s focus is on strategies. Strategies are fact driven: if you do this, this result will come. If you want that result, do this. You come up with the "decision" -- the result you want -- and they’re showing you the quickest way to get there. Advice, in contrast, tells you what decision to make. 

Summary: What To Do When You're Stuck at a Crossroad

1. Follow a thorough decision making process (get help with that here).

2. If you’re still stuck, justify! Identify what your values are and make a decision which reflects that (get help with that here).

3. If you don't know how to apply your values in your situation, ask for advice -- but only from a person whose values match yours.

Now, confidently step forward into those crossroads and choose!

Lana Hall is a Psychologist and Author who writes a weekly blog on how to use psychological techniques to boost your mood, motivation and happiness. You can read more of her work at http://www.lanahallpsychology.com/blog
She also works one-on-one with clients at her clinic in Brisbane, Australia and via Skype and IM with international clients.

Get information and inspiration on living your best life by connecting with Lana on social. 

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