As I look forward to graduating in May, I feel bombarded with decisions. Some are big decisions, such as where to go to graduate school. Others have smaller repercussions but affect people outside myself, such as who to hire to take over my job next semester. Other decisions are as mundane as whether I should hang out with friends tonight or read those last ten pages of Nietzsche before class.
After struggling with indecision for much of my life, I have learned a lot about satisfying and effective decision-making. I have learned even more about what not to do when making decisions. Hopefully these lessons can be useful as you make decisions about college, life, relationships, what to eat for dinner and so on!
1.Honor your decision-making process.
I take a long, LONG time to decide. I will always be the last one staring at the menu before ordering, and I will always be the person who compares job offers right up to the day I have to give an answer. Instead of getting upset with myself, I have learned to observe and be patient with my decision-making process. For me, honoring this process means giving myself lots of time to decide. If you are the person who makes decisions quickly, honor that too. Whatever your process, recognize that the way you come to a final decision will not look the same as anyone else. And that is OK.
2.Use techniques that work for you
Along with honoring your decision-making process, allow it to be a process. If it helps, write it out. Journal about your decision, list your feelings, draw mind maps that show how this decision may affect different areas of your life, write those pros-and-cons lists.
Get wise counsel from a variety of sources. Talk to people who know you well (academic advisers, professors, family, friends or co-workers). Talk to people who do not know you well (that person you took a class with freshman year). Visit a counselor. Read blogs. Read your Bible. Take Buzz-feed quizzes.
Pray or meditate. If prayer helps you think through your decisions, spend a few hours (days?) on your knees seeking wisdom from God and telling Him what you are thinking through.
3. Know your values.
Know what matters most to you in life. I value growing closer to God, living courageously, deepening my friendships, supporting my family, and serving the people around me. If there is an option that clearly doesn’t align with my values, I toss it out the window. If an option reflects someone else’s values but not my own, I toss it as well!
4. There is not always a good and a bad option.
I typically stall my decision-making when I try to find the right answer. Sometimes, there is more than one right answer. That is what makes the decision difficult! If this is the case, remind yourself that whatever you decide is a great option. Majoring in psychology or majoring in engineering are both great options. Hanging out with friends or reading Nietzsche could both be the right answer.
5. Be honest.
I often struggle to decide because I do not want to be honest about what I fear and what I want. I did not become a psychology major until I was a second-semester junior. If I had been more honest about what I wanted out of college and about my hesitation in becoming a psych major, I could have switched much earlier. Because I didn’t want to admit my fears, I did not get to hear the honest responses from people who had the same trepidation I experienced. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with God. As much as you can, be honest with those you seek counsel from.
6. Commit to no regret.
Although I have always hated making decisions, I have never made a decision that I regret. (I am only 21, so I’m sure I still have lots of time to make regrettable decisions!) Everytime I make a big decision, I commit to no regret. This commitment does not mean I always pretend like I made the right choice. Rather, if I end up sitting in the devastating results of choices I made, I practice grace-filled acceptance.
I remind myself that I made the decisions I made based on my values and based on the knowledge I had at the time. I give myself grace to not be God and not be able to predict failure in the future. I never trash-talk my past self, and I never tell myself I should have known this would happen. I mourn what happened, and I acknowledge what went wrong. I think about what I learned. I never, never, never tell myself I should have made different choices. I don’t let my what-if’s center on the past (What if I had gone to that college instead? What if I had majored in something else? What if I had realized that I would feel this way?). I center all my what-ifs on the present and the future: What if I learn from my mistakes and make different, more informed choices today?
7. God does not make mistakes.
Two friends shared some wisdom with me: First, God does not waste anything in our lives. Second, we are not powerful enough to ruin God’s plan for our lives. God does not let your experiences go to waste in His kingdom. Our “wrong” decisions do not mess up God’s story for our lives. Every experience you have can allow you to grow closer to Him and fulfill your calling as a follower of Christ. So many older Christians have stories about how small experiences that they thought were irrelevant at the time ended up playing a role in their lives later. None of our experiences are irrelevant to God’s plan if we are willing to let Him use us and use those experiences for His glory.
God has great things planned for you! You can’t mess that up.
Now, go make great decisions!