Should I stay in this relationship? Should I move? Should I go back to school? Should I change careers? We are constantly making decisions, BIG decisions, that effect our lives and the lives of those we love. For some people the decision making process is a very logical process and they consider only the facts. For others it is an emotional process where only feelings are considered, and for still others decisions are made simply be the default of not actually making a decision. Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to assist people as they work through making life changing decisions. However, it wasn’t until I myself was overwhelmed with the need to make a series of very serious life changing decisions that I developed a formula through which I could process the information and make those tough decisions. I have found that by working through this process I am easily able to see various aspects of the situation and take multiple factors into consideration. When I use this process I am able to stand secure and confident in the decision I have made and still be flexible to new information. I hope you will find it helpful as well.
In steps 1-4 you are simply examining the situation as it is now. As you take these things into consideration you may be able to gain a deeper understanding of the situation which will later help you come up with solutions.
STEP 1: Define the problem or situation. What does the problem or situation look like? Write out the situation exactly as you currently see it and express why a change may need to be made.
STEP 2: Get the facts. What are the facts relating to the problem or situation as it is at this moment? What specific things are making you desire to make a change? What is the history that led up to this situation.
STEP 3: Attend to your feelings. How do you feel about the situation? Remember you may have mixed feelings about any situation. You can love and hate someone at the same time. You are simply acknowledging your feelings as they relate to the situation and the facts. So consider the good, bad and the ugly; this is a judgment free zone.
STEP 4: Guiding lights. Are there any moral principals, values, or expectations that are entwined in the situation? For example: Loyalty to family or friends, religion or beliefs etc. Pay special attention to your personal expectations of yourself or others that may need to be examined or adjusted. Also, if you are a christian you will want to be sure you are spending time in God’s word and in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help guide you.
In steps 5-7 you will consider the opinions of others. You will also consider the effect of the situation and it’s potential outcomes on others who my be effected by your choices.
STEP 5: Consult your support people. These are the friends, family, or mentors in your life that you are willing to let see the real you. These are people whose opinions you respect, the ones who will be honest with you because they love you. There is no magical number of people, but typically I suggest you limit your choice to 3 or 4 people. Let them know some of the details of your situation. Ask them to pray for you and about the situation. Ask them to share their thoughts and ideas about potential solutions to the situation. This step is important because sometimes others will see things you miss and they may be able to offer valuable insight. Also, remember that while you are asking their opinions, you will ultimately be making the decision yourself. You are asking because you are in the process of gathering more information to help you make a good decision.
STEP 6: Consult with a professional. By reaching out to someone who is familiar with the situation you are going through you may find there are more solutions and resources available to you. The person you choose might be a counselor, a real estate agent, or a professor. The idea is to find some one with information to share from an area of expertise on the subject of your problem or one of your potential solutions. This step is meant to be an information gathering step. Ask lots of questions and be prepared to take notes!
STEP 7: Consider other’s perspectives. How does your partner view the situation? What about your children, parents and friends? How will making changes effect the people in your life? This is step will help you empathize with the other people in your life. The reason this step is so important is because as you make these decisions it is these people who will create the greatest source of comfort and motivation or distress. Attending to these issues now will help you to address their arguments and concerns when they arise later. They may not be in agreement with you, but at least you will have thought about how to give a thoughtful response to their concerns.
In steps 8-12 you engage in the process of defining a course of action. It is in these steps that you will set your course for your future.
STEP 8: Define your desired outcomes. What would you like to see happen? What would you like your life to look like in this area in the next 5 years? This is the dream step! Allow yourself to dream about the life you want! What does it look like? Take the time to write it out and reflect on it.
STEP 9: List possible options. Consider both the problem and the dream. List all possible courses of action including continuing to do what you have always done. For each course of action write out the pros and cons.
STEP 10: Choose course of action. Evaluate all the choices select one course of action to follow that will help you attain your desired outcome. What do you need to do to pursue that course of action? Decide what action steps you need to do and develop a timeline to get things done in. You may find it helpful to work with one or more of the people you identified in steps 5 and 6 to help you develop a specific plan and help hold you accountable for taking each of the steps.
STEP 11: Consider the obstacles. What are the obstacles that may hinder you in following this course of action? What may stand in your way or block you? Obstacles may come in the form of practical limitations such as education, finances, or safety. They may even come in the form of people or expectations. Make a specific plan for addressing each of the obstacles.
STEP 12: Implement the plan. Follow the plan you outlined in step 10. As you go through the plan continue to evaluate how things are going and making adjustments as new information comes in and as situations arise. Remember you can be flexible in your plan and make adjustments to move you closer to your desired outcomes and dreams.
Congratulations!! You have made it all the way to the end of the decision making process.