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The Question that Makes a Tough Decision Easy

I accidentally discovered a great way to make a tough decision easy. I’ve never been good at making big decisions, until recently. One thing a life-altering illness teaches you is how to make a million decisions in a short amount of time, while facing enormous uncertainty. 

Before, I used to take forever to decide anything because I wanted to be sure that I was making the right choice, especially if there were other people involved. When I was choosing whether to pack up everything and move the family west, it took me almost a year to decide. My husband Kurt was ready to go, but I was overwhelmed by the feeling of permanency around the choice. I couldn’t concentrate on anything but the push and pull of Should we stay? Should we go?

We moved. And it all worked out better than I imagined. Now it seems to me that I added a lot of extra suffering to that year with my inability to decide.

Since then, because of my diagnosis, we’ve made countless life-or-death decisions. At first, they all felt excruciating, until we figured out our personal systems for knowing what to do. 

Kurt’s way is to build a spreadsheet that lists the options, the costs and benefits, and assigns rankings to each based on our values. 

My way is to wait until everyone is out of the house, then I sit on the bed, in the quiet, with my eyes closed. Next, I invite Fear to tell me what to do. 

I’ve heard this strategy described by The School of Life as “Ask your enemy.” The point is to invite an imaginary version of someone who wants your demise to the decision-making table. The rationale? We are so much better at knowing our weaknesses and our temptations than our strengths. It’s more effective to invite our “enemy” to tell us what to do. 

In my case, my own mind is my worst enemy because it is run by my scared self, the voice of Fear. So I let Fear have the floor for a full five minutes. I listen to the worst-case scenarios, the “inevitable” losses, and the many disappointments to come. I let Fear tell me what to do. 

And then I do the exact opposite. (Remember the Seinfeld episode when George Costanza experimented with doing the opposite of what he thought was right? He was on to something!)

I thought this was the quickest way to make a choice until recently. Now I know that there is an even faster way to get out of our scared minds and into the wisdom of the body. 

Here is the simple question that guides me to make a tough decision easy. It comes from my brilliant friend, Koelle Simpson. I was telling her about the latest health-related decision I needed to make. She listened, then looked right at me and asked,

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t get it wrong?

The answer came to me immediately. It felt clear and obvious. And I knew instantly what to do. 

Decisions don’t have to be painful, but our perfectionism steps in to tell us we’re going to get this wrong and our lives will be ruined forever. We forget that the only right decision is the one that is right for us. And we also forget that most decisions are reversible. Move away and don’t like it? Come back. Quit your job and regret it? Learn from it and move on. 

What I like about this no-wrong-way question is it works to bypass the scared and confused mind. It shoots past Fear and goes directly to the heart of what we want, now. Don’t believe me? Practice asking yourself the question to make small decisions, like what to wear, what to eat, and who to spend time with for one week and let me know how it goes. 

(By the way, Kurt’s spreadsheet came up with the same answer as I did when Koelle asked me the no-wrong-way question 😉 

The way to build a life that is deeply rewarding, healthy, and full of peace is not by bending your life to fit through the right door. It is by going inward and finding who you are, one decision at a time. All you have to do to find your right answer is to ask yourself the right question.  

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t get it wrong?




image credit: Knock Knock Pros