Big decisions can be gut-wrenching. In the past seven years I have moved a family of six and two cats seven times and I have worked seven jobs in a variety of industries. None of those decisions came easily. However, in making each decision, I used a consistent formula. This formula was given to me by a mentor in my grad school days and has worked time and time again.
As with most methods geared toward self-improvement, don’t be fooled by the simplicity of it. This takes some work and you have to stick to it. If you do, I think you will find an increase in clarity as you work through the questions at hand. So here’s the strategy:
When choosing between two options, try them both on for a day and see how they feel.
David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, said it best at a recent commencement speech at Rice University. For all decisions aside from marriage, flip a coin. “But don’t go by how the coin flips,” he said. “Go by your emotional reaction to the coin flip. Are you happy or sad it came up heads or tails? That is your deepest self telling you what it wants.”
Pure genius. And it works. When I was in graduate school and nearing the completion of my master’s degree, I began contemplating the decision to either stay on and push toward a Ph.D. or go into the world of work and continue to figure out my life. I sat with my mentor and asked him what he thought I should do. He told me to pick a day, any day, and make it the day that I decided to go on for a Ph.D. Tell people what you decided and live as if that was what you were going to do. Then, throughout the day, or at the very least at the end of the day, write down how you feel. Did you find yourself questioning it? Justifying it? Did you feel a sense of dread in your stomach or a rush of energy? Were you excited to tell people or did you only share on a need-to-know basis? Then do the same thing with the other side of the coin. I did this, and it was clear as day that I should move into the workforce. As I shared my Ph.D. ambitions I felt inauthentic and empty. But when I talked about getting a job, I lit up and my general countenance shined.
Others were able to tell me what I already knew deep down: I had already made the decision but I needed to figure it out for myself.
A side effect of using this method is solid confirmation that this is the path to take — you can reflect back on the feelings you had and the notes you took that were evidence to you that this is what you should do.
This is increasingly important as the dark clouds form to cast doubt on your mind as you draw closer to “the day” to follow the decision. Give it a try and let me know how it works. So far for me, it’s seven for seven.
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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