“Be Curious. Savor all of it.” –Kim’s tagline on her website, kimnicol.com
How to Make Hard Decisions
I know what I want but it’s scary and (maybe) irresponsible. I knew for a long time that I wanted to __________. I’m leaving out the specifics of my desire because you can place just about anything in there and this story will still work. (Try it: “I knew for a long time that I wanted to. . . move to New York. . . travel to Nepal. . . leave my job. . . start a jam business. . . become a designer. . .”)
I got stuck on the details. How, exactly, to make this happen, and when? Months passed, and then years. The desire persisted, and I felt increasingly frustrated and conflicted about what action to take. It became the source of an exhausting inner dialogue. “On one hand. . . Yet on the other hand. . . Maybe I should do it this way. . . No, that’s reckless, I should do it this way. . .” Yes, I was stalling. I was stuck, and in pain from the internal struggle. Perhaps you’ve been there, too?
I was spinning my wheels. So I decided to reach out for help. I went to facebook and posted this:
I didn’t want people telling me what choice to make — the details felt tender and personal, and not open to public comment. But I was very interested in the process that other people used to make hard decisions. I received a wealth of ideas, and tried just about all of them. Here’s what people had to say:
“Give yourself a big hug of conviction, and go with your heart!”
I love that this begins with kindness. I had been beating myself up over my indecision. When feeling confused, exhausted, or stuck, giving yourself a hug is a compassionate choice. It creates some breathing room on the inside. The second part, going with my heart, meant I had to listen to what my heart had to say — without my brain interrupting and shouting over it. So, hug first, then listen.
“Go with your gut. How would you feel if you let this opportunity pass you by?”
My gut felt queasy. I felt nervous about making the wrong choice, about being clumsy and screwing things up. But I loved the reminder to listen to my gut! After over-thinking my situation, this approach let me say, “Brain! Shhhh. . . I need to listen to gut and heart for a minute, ok?” It also framed my desire in terms of a time-bound opportunity, which is apt because really every moment is an opportunity to choose what kind of life you live. What did I want my life to be? How would I feel if I let this chance go?
“Take some time off by yourself and pray. When you feel peace come over you and through your body from head to toe, it doesn’t matter how crazy the option seems, it will work perfectly. But you need that peace to know if it is correct to go through that door.”
I love how this works with solitude — taking time off by myself to get quiet and feel at peace in my body, and to simply ask. Ever since law school I’ve translated “pray” as “ask”, as in “The plaintiff prays for special damages and reasonable attorney’s fees.” So for me, the idea of prayer is about asking a higher power (the court, or the Divine) to do something for me.
“Find a quiet place. Then just listen.”
Just like the above, but in other words.
“There are no wrong decisions! Just a chance to learn something new. I am a big fan of jumping in and taking risks.”
What a refreshing idea! A chance to learn something new. Choosing to change my life in a significant way would certainly be a learning experience. Yes, it is a risk. But perhaps a risk worth taking. And speaking of risks. . .
“Put it in writing. List pros and cons of either choice and then KNOWING all sides to be considered, add in faith and heart, then make your decision. I’m sometimes accused of looking at everything that can go wrong first, but what I really do is look at everything that could go wrong so I can tick off solutions and then move full speed ahead!”
This wisdom comes from a beloved family member who lives in Iowa, and I love how practical, spiritual, and feisty she is. I like how this approach enlists my brain and my heart, recruiting each for their strengths instead of letting them bicker.
“Having just made a hard life decision, I can tell you that it isn’t easy. Like others said, go with your heart. The rest will fall into place.”
Acknowledging that it isn’t easy gave me a tremendous amount of relief. You know what? Sometimes hard life decisions are. . . hard, not easy. So the fact that I was struggling wasn’t a reason to judge or criticize myself. It was simply where I was at the moment.
“I’m just coming up with ‘trust your feelings’ cliches from Obi-Wan Kenobi. Good luck!”
Who can argue with that? And Star Wars wisdom always brings a smile to my face.
“Go for it. Life is a temporary condition and, accordingly, should not be taken too seriously.”
I felt reassured and a sense of peace reading these words. This perspective comes from my dad, who has had many adventures and has seen much of the world. Beyond that, it feels good to get insight from people much older, who have a longer range of how life goes.
Reading these different approaches helped ventilate my inner dialogue, and allowed my thoughts to un-stick and untangle themselves. I began to breathe more fully. I took myself out on a date — ordered Thai noodles and hot tea, and settled in with my journal to help me listen. I took notes on what my heart, gut, and brain had to say. I considered angles, possible risks and learning experiences, and felt through the possibilities. I asked for clarity, peace, and guidance.
When I came to my decision, it felt light and deeply right. I moved forward with confidence and ease. I’m still not sure how this story is going to end, but so far things are unfolding beautifully.
If you’re struggling with a decision, I wish you all the support and kindness you need to find your peaceful resolution. If you have a process or approach that works when you feel stuck, please share it in the comments! It might shine a light for someone else.
Meet the Blogger – Kim Nicol
Kim Nicol lives in San Francisco. She teaches willPower & grace®, an intense and uplifting mind-body class, and has trained instructors in the US and Sweden. Her experience as an attorney, editor, hospice volunteer, and Reiki practitioner infuse her work with a unique blend of intellectual curiosity and practical compassion. She writes about savoring life and being a better friend to yourself.