What time will I wake up? What will I eat for breakfast? What tasks will I tackle at work? Should I say yes or no to this commitment? Do I want the promotion? Do I want this person for my partner? What doctor should I see? Where should my kids go to school?
Psychotherapist Alison Thayer, LCPC, helps her clients navigate all sorts of decisions — “from how to handle a difficult situation at work or a disagreement with a loved one, to life-changing [decisions], such as quitting a job, ending a relationship or even doing both and relocating to another state.”
Decision-making can be tough. “Most decisions are not ‘no-brainers’ and there are justifiable reasons to move in different directions,” she said. You also might have a particularly tough time making decisions when your options don’t align with your ideals or dream scenarios — something Thayer notices with her clients.
“Part of the decision-making process involves letting go of the perfect image we had hoped to achieve.”
Another part involves asking good questions that help you reflect on your options and put them into perspective. Below, Thayer shared four questions we can consider when making a decision.
- What are my options, and what are the pros and cons of each option?“It seems trite, but over and over I see this exercise provide profound clarity to my clients,” said Thayer, also the director of operations at Urban Balance, a counseling practice in the Chicago area.
Writing out the benefits and drawbacks of your options helps you organize your thoughts and serves as a resource to refer to in the future, she said.
Doing so might even reveal a surprising, yet better, choice. Thayer’s client recently created this list to help her decide on a job offer. Initially, she was excited and wanted to accept it. But after outlining the pros and cons, she decided to decline. She also realized that her current job has many positives she wasn’t aware of before.
- A year from now, if I decide to do X, what might this look like? “While we cannot predict the future, this question can help visualize the finish line,” Thayer said. If you feel good about your decision when you envision the future, then it’s probably the right path to take, she said.
- What’s the worst-case outcome?According to Thayer, this is an especially helpful question to ask for anxiety-provoking situations. If you consider the worst-case scenario and realize it’s manageable, you’ll alleviate your stress and feel more confident about your decision, she said.
For instance, many of us avoid talking directly to others about difficult topics — and instead spend hours worrying about the situation. Asking this question can help to “clarify that the anticipated response may not be as bad as we are making it out to be.”
- What would I tell a friend to do?“We are often hypercritical and hard on ourselves, but gentle and compassionate with others,” Thayer said. For instance, you might tell a friend to proactively look for another job, while you remain miserable in your position without an exit plan. Reflecting on this question helps you “realize that you are holding yourself back without taking action.”
If your decision can wait — and often it can — sleep on it. “People may feel one way and then after a night (or multiple nights) of rest, they may see it from a different perspective and surprise themselves.”
- The four factors that interfere with decision-making.
- 8 tips to help adults with ADHD make good decisions.
- Making healthy decisions when you have bipolar disorder.
- 6 general strategies for making smarter decisions.