Baltimore, MD

3 Ways to Make Tough Life-Altering Decisions Faster

Declan Wilson Alexander Schimmeck/Unsplash

I proposed to my girlfriend in my aunt’s basement. We were watching Shrek 2 and it felt like the right moment. I should mention we were both 21 at the time.

In hindsight, a 21-year-old proposing to his girlfriend in his aunt’s basement seems rash and a bit unwise. But is it?

After marriage, our life followed a similar decision-making pattern. At 25, we wanted a family so we got to work. At 27, I hated my corporate job so I left to start my own career. At 30, we thought we’d never be able to afford a house so we bought a house.

We once booked a trip to Ireland on a whim.

I don’t have many superpowers but quick decision-making is up there as one of my top skills, along with catching food in my mouth. Like most people, I fret about the smaller, insignificant decisions like what book should I read next, or is it too early for sweaters.

When it comes to making big, life-altering decisions, however, I’m blessed with clarity and gumption. I know what I want and I go after it. Simple as that.

Actually, it’s not that simple. Making big life decisions takes a lot of trust in oneself, understanding of oneself, and the belief in oneself that the person you want to become is attainable.

Here’s how you can start making quicker life decisions.

Start with a Life Values Heuristic

What do you value most in life?

The first step to making quicker life decisions is understanding your life values and building a heuristic to measure future decisions.

A heuristic is nothing more than a mental model to simplify the decision-making process. For example, if you value money more than time with friends, accepting the promotion at work is a no brainer.

However, life isn’t that clear cut. Our values change and often we don’t quite understand what’s at stake. Sure, I value money but I also value creativity, how do I compare the two?

This is where most people get hung up on big life decisions and why it helps to have a heuristic already in place. Here’s what you do:

  • Get a blank piece of paper and fold it in half
  • At the top of each half write “Maximize” and “Minimize”
  • Start listing things you’d like to maximize in your life on one side and minimize on the other
  • Save this piece of paper for future reference

Now when a big life decision comes around, grab your paper and study it. Compare your options by the number of things they maximize and minimize.

My paper is pretty simple. I want to maximize: Time with my family, number of opportunities, creativity, learning experiences, money. I want to minimize: Stress, uncertainty, debt, obligations.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

Trust your first instinct

Your initial reaction says a lot.

I knew early on that the cute and quirky girl I met on the first day of college would be the girl with whom I’d spent the rest of my life. Yes, she was a slob and left clothes all over the floor — a battle I’ve yet to win — but I didn’t overthink it, my instinct said she was more than adequate as a life partner.

8 years later I can’t complain, except for all the clothes on the floor.

Our gut instinct is an emotional one. It doesn’t factor in logic or data or right and wrong, it’s pure animalistic desire. When this applies to small life decisions, like whether I want to eat that Snickers bar or not, my brain tends to overrule my gut instinct with reasoning.

But when you find that house, or that person, or that job and just know deep down there is something special about it, listen.

Will you be right 100% of the time? Of course not, my wife and I once fell in love with an apartment the moment we walked in, only to later find out it leaked every time it rained.

You’ll learn. You’ll adapt.

It is what it is

When my wife received a second job offer in Baltimore, we had a decision to make. Our belongings were already packed in Uhaul pods and were set to ship out to NYC where she had accepted another offer.

Do we change course? Is this the better option?

My friend Jon asked me which city I preferred. I said either would be fine.

“If we go to New York we’ll make a life there and be happy. If we end up in Baltimore, we’ll do the same. Both are different journeys, but it is what it is.”

We did, in fact, end up in Baltimore. It was a big decision but I haven’t once looked back to think: was it the right decision? To me, it doesn’t matter. It is what it is.

Life moves on.

How does this apply to making quicker life decisions? No matter your decision, life keeps going. You adapt and change and keep trudging forward because ultimately, that’s all you can do.

So at the end of the day, make a choice and push forward.

Time spent hesitating is time lost

I look at it this way: big life decisions are big for a reason, but they’re just another fork in the road. Spending days, weeks, or even months flimflamming back and forth is time not well spent.

Second-guessing and overthinking are anxiety-inducing. If the act of deciding is worse than the options available, why put yourself through it? Make a decision and move on.

I’ve gotten this far without talking about why. Why make quicker life decisions? Why the necessity for speed?

For that, I don’t have a great answer. I just know I’d rather make a decision and see what awaits me. It’s how we grow as human beings.

Sometimes making the best decision isn’t the end goal. Sometimes it’s learning to take risks, trying new things, or finally trusting oneself.

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Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado.

Baltimore, MD

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