Have you ever felt like you’re at a crossroads and just don’t know which path to take? However decisive we may be, we all experience a difficult dilemma every now and again. Recently, I had to deal with one and after it tormented me for several weeks, I finally found the right decision for myself. Although there are no perfect decisions, I am now confident in my choice, and so I thought I’d share the 5 steps that helped me.
Perhaps some of them will be useful to you as well, next time you have to deal with a difficult dilemma of your own. If there are other decision-making strategies you want me to know about – please leave a comment below.
A few weeks ago, I had to decide if I should stay in Spain or go back to Bulgaria. There were plenty of arguments for both, they came with lots of desires, expectations, and needs. So even though I am usually good at decision-making, I felt like I was drowning in a whirlpool of doubt and rumination. It seemed like a truly difficult dilemma. Obviously, turning round and round led nowhere, so I took a different approach, which I share with you below.
Pros and cons
It seems so obvious that it’s almost banal. But sometimes the simplest things are also the best. Lists of pros and cons can have a lot of value, especially if you structure them with awareness.
– It’s always better to write, than to just think
This rule of thumb applies to everything that has to do with our emotions and thoughts. Every time we want to understand ourselves better, whether it be why we act a certain way or the metaphors in our dreams, writing is a fantastic tool. If we just think about a difficult dilemma, we risk creating a vicious circle of rumination. On the other hand, writing makes it easier to express a coherent thought and, in time, we can go back to review our argument. That’s why a list of pros and cons is most useful when it’s written.
– Short-term vs. long-term
I got this idea from my therapist. It means choosing a short period, for instance a week or a month, to which the pros and cons apply. Then do the same with a longer period – say six months or a year. With my difficult dilemma, this approach enabled me to determine if the impact of the choice.
Inspiring speeches and scientific studies
Even though science cannot explain everything in our world and words can only express a fraction, I always find anchor in both. TED is a great place for inspiring talks, backed by solid arguments and interesting stories. And these are the videos I found most helpful for my difficult dilemma:
Then, I focused on the science of decision-making. Studies give me a stable base because they help me understand a topic more fully.
Here are some of the scientific findings that were most useful with my difficult dilemma:
Proactive decision-making (actively generating ideas and testing alternatives) makes us more effective, satisfied with life, and assured in ourselves
When we are facing a difficult dilemma, this often means distress. On the other hand, distress impedes effective decision-making. To deal with this, we can look at where our distress stems from
If we are constantly taking good care of our well-being and happiness, it is easier to manage a difficult dilemma, when one should arise
What are my values?
How often do you ask yourself that question? Can you name specific values that you want to base your life on? And what are the behaviors that correspond to these values?
Lately I’ve been loving this psychotherapy-inspired approach. It helps me gain perspective about the things that are truly important to me, and that’s especially helpful when I feel confused, face a difficult dilemma like this one, or want to change something in my behavior.
This time I went to my apartment building’s rooftop and hung my hammock. I always think better under the open sky and it’s no coincidence – nature makes us more creative and reduces anxiety.
I then took pen to paper to write the main values I try to base my life on. When I finished that list, I wrote down behaviors that correspond to each value.
Here are the first two from my list, to make it clearer:
2. Empathy (for myself and others)
1. To try new experiences, even when they make me feel uncomfortable
Non-judgmental listening to feedback.
To consider what my emotions and discomfort are trying to teach me.
To approach alternatives without prejudice
2. To try and understand, as well as accept, rather than judging myself or others
To have loving and caring self-talk
To act towards myself as a “good mother” (this is a concept derived from Tantra and psychotherapy)
To use non-judgmental words and descriptions
To give space to emotions as they are.
In total, I wrote down 7 values and their corresponding behaviors. Then, to help with my difficult dilemma, I asked myself which alternative is a better match for each.
Meditating on the decision
Naturally, there is no one perfect answer to every problem, but meditation gets close.
After I had gained valuable insight into the first 5 steps, I let my inner voice have a say on the difficult dilemma.
There are many theories on intuition. For instance, that it’s repressed experience from our entire lives, held in the unconscious mind, which guides us in time of need. Or that it’s the voice of the universe, trying to take care of us. Whether you consider one of these explanations to be true, or feel that they say the same thing with different words, you’ve probably experienced the benefits of intuition at least once or twice. Now, I am still learning to listen to it and it’s a process, but whenever I do it, it does help.
In the case of my difficult dilemma, I listened to my intuition by meditating in the following way:
– I found a secluded spot where nobody would interrupt me and I switched off the sound of my phone.
– I sat down in a comfortable position, with a straight back (it helps to picture that there is a string connecting my spine and the top of my head to the clouds, this keeps me sitting straighter).
– I closed my eyes and focused on my breath by deepening it and evening my inhales and exhales. Then, I used a technique that a Buddhist monk showed me in Cambodia – focus on the place where the breath comes in and out through the nostrils.
– I envisioned that I had already made the decision to stay in Spain and let myself feel how that affects me. It’s difficult to put this step into words but the basic idea is to experience the emotional imprint of the decision. As many other people do, I often focus too much on intellectual reasons, and too little on emotional experience. But we are not rigid rational robots – emotions are just as important as intellect. They give us information inaccessible to the rational mind, which is why the two complement each other so well.
– I did the same, envisioning that I’ve chosen the other alternative of my difficult dilemma – going back to Bulgaria.
After meditating, the right decision became perfectly clear. Of course, for that to happen I needed the base of the previous steps. They created a foundation and then meditation helped me focus on what it is that I truly want. It sounds unbelievable even to me, as I am writing this down, but a difficult dilemma that tormented me for weeks, turned into a clear and confident path.
I would be so happy to hear if you’ve ever tried this or if it’s something you would consider trying. What else had worked for you in the past? Let me know in the comments.
It’s wonderful that you got to the end of this article on resolving a difficult dilemma and as my way to say “Thanks!” I am sharing my favorite Alan Watts decision-making video.
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