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Navigating Tough Decisions

From time to time, life has a way of presenting us all with problems or tough decisions that don’t always have an obvious solution.

Common examples include:

  • Deciding whether to join a romantic partner who lives overseas
  • Being uncertain about what career to pursue
  • Deciding whether to leave an unsatisfactory relationship

For problems that feel big, it’s common to feel completely stuck on what decision to make or the direction to take.

A big problem can cause lots of psychological distress, including:

  • Constant worry and preoccupation with thoughts surrounding the problem
  • Stress and anxiety caused by pressure to make the “right” decision and avoid negative consequences
  • Impacted self-esteem caused by feeling stuck and future uncertainty
  • Relationship issues with loved ones who are tired of listening to your dilemma

The worst thing about a problem is you desperately want it to GO AWAY, yet each morning you wake up to the reminder of the status quo.

Tips and tricks for dealing with big problems and making good decisions

Break the “circuit”. By circuit, I mean the thought processes in your mind that take you around and around in circles. Typically, the more we want to solve a problem, the more we think about it. However, this starts to get unhelpful when you develop a “circuit” that doesn’t allow for a fresh perspective in thinking about your problem. It’s therefore important to give yourself forced breaks from thinking about your problem or to master the art of mindfulness.

Reduce time pressure. If there is no immediate deadline to solving your problem, give yourself permission to take a decent length of time. Pressure on decision-making creates anxiety, and self-doubt often emerges in how outcomes are viewed. Whilst it can feel “urgent” to solve a problem, you can effectively reduce time pressure by giving yourself “X” amount of time to make your decision – for example, “by December” or “by my birthday”.

Move yourself towards a solution. Whilst this is not always possible, it can be helpful to move yourself towards a solution. So for instance, if you’re thinking of ending a relationship, you may experiment with living more independently. This allows you to dip your toe in the water and see how you feel.

Understand your core values. If you’re unsure how to identify your core values, read blog post How Aligned to Your Values Are You? Decisions tend to feel “right” when they align with your core values. Therefore, you can use your core values to guide your decision-making by testing out how your values align with different decisions and their outcomes.

Search for creative or non-conventional solutions. Sometimes, not always, there are hidden solutions amongst the more obvious conventional solutions. Play around with mixing up different combinations of potential solutions. You never know what is possible when you think outside the square.

Build up your emotional resources. Making a tough decision is best done when you’re firing at all cylinders. If you’re tired and run down, it’s difficult to face some of the hard realities that come with certain decisions. Therefore, it’s important to build up your emotional resources by practising basic self-care, such as, getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, exercising and taking time out to relax.

Work through your problem with a psychologist. Difficult problems often have deeper underlying beliefs that play a role in keeping you “stuck”. These beliefs are not necessarily conscious, so it can be helpful to unpack a problem and dig deeper beyond your first layer of thoughts. It can be a great relief to understand your belief systems and how they are playing a role in your decision making.

How can Peaceful Mind Psychology help with difficult decisions or big problems?

Our team of Melbourne-based psychologists are trained in various evidence-based therapies designed to help you work through difficult problems. We use therapies, such as Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT), to support you in understanding deeper beliefs underlying your decision-making, as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to identify your core values to help guide decision-making. If you’d like professional support to work through a difficult problem, contact us today to be personally matched to a psychologist who suits your needs.