Difficult decisions can lead you to over-analyse, which makes the decision seem harder to arrive at. The more you try, the more it will seem that you are caught in a dilemma.

We must all face difficult decisions at times. Reflecting, and weighing the pros and cons is a sensible course of action. The trouble is, the more important we perceive the decision to be, the harder it seems to get to arrive at one.

Difficult decisions are scary

I was talking with a friend who was wrestling with a difficult decision. In less than 24 hours he would have to choose one of two options related to his life and his career. He had known for a long time that this moment was coming, and yet despite this lead time – or possibly because of it – he was caught in a quandary of conscience.

His decision, whatever it finally proved to be, would have far-reaching – possibly life-shaping – consequences. This was not a decision to be taken lightly. Trying to decide had led my friend to a place through which most of us must pass at least once in a lifetime. The uncertainty and potential gravity of his situation produced in him a cycle of paralysing trepidation, alternating with analytical clear-sightedness.

This was a frozen-in-the-headlights moment. A time of fantastically exciting opportunity laced with the real possibility of finding a life’s purpose was bleached out by a dazzling array of ‘what ifs’; “What if I make the wrong choice/end up poorer/lose my friends/and judged to be wanting….?”.

Of course, he knew the answer all along. But instead of bathing in his freedom to choose and looking forward to the future with his usual unbounded optimism, he was losing sleep and, as my grandmother probably would have said, “getting himself into a state”. We’ve all done it, but that’s no help when you are in it.

Conversations produce ‘miracles’

A certain way through the conversation it occurred to me that, in life in general, when we are in the right place, we never question it. So I said “You know, it occurs to me that, when we are in the right place, we never question it.”

That proved to be a turning point for us both. His decision to move on to new pastures was ratified in that moment (he told me later).

Not only that, a week after he announced his decision publicly he wrote me, “I notice that I have no question in my heart about the rightness of my decision to leave. There has been no second-guessing, no wringing of hands.There is, on the contrary, a new eagerness to meet the unknown…. There is a new lightness in my body too, an energy that manifests in everything from the different music I play on the drive to work to all (that) I am scrambling to get in before I leave.”

For me, it was also an important insight. I am not facing any such dilemma of choice at the moment, but the understanding will stay with me; I’m sure it won’t be long before I need it.