It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.
-Roy E. Disney
Seems pretty straight forward – right?! As long as you know your values, making decisions is a piece of cake!
What if you’re a young adult and you’re still unsure of who you are and what you want? What if you’re trying to figure out what you truly value? This is why making decisions is so difficult for young adults. It’s tough making decisions when you’re still trying to figure out what you value.
The real kicker is that it’s through the decisions you make and the experiences you have that you really begin to understand what you value and believe in and what kind of life you want to create for yourself.
Just because you’re still determining your values, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make any decisions. To give you a little jumpstart, here are the five most important things to know about making a decision:
Too many options, too much confusion
There’s a very famous study called “The Jam Experiment” in which a researcher from Sanford University wanted to learn how people make choices.
The researcher sent her assistants to a grocery store to pose as jam suppliers. One table was set up with six different flavors of jam to taste and the other table there were 24 flavors of jam to taste.
The researcher found that while more people were attracted to the table with 24 flavors, there were fewer buyers. Shoppers flocked to the colorful array of options but mostly became overwhelmed and dropped out of buying anything. Only 3% of those shoppers bought a jar of jam. On the other hand, the shoppers who visited the table with six flavors of jam bought 30% of the time.
As a twenty-something just embarking on your life, you’re metaphorically standing in front of all those jars of jam. Having lots of choices is exciting and fun for a moment or two. The problem is when it comes to making a decision, all those choices just leave you feeling unsure and lost.
This is why you want to narrow your choices down as much as you can, as quickly as you can. Let’s use the jars of jam example. If you were in front of 24 jars of jam and you know you hate apricot, don’t try it because you’re not going to buy it. Knock the apricot jar off your list.
Get rid of life, love and/or career options that make no sense for you or make no sense for you right now.
Accept that with choice comes loss
This is one aspect of decision-making that doesn’t get discussed as much as it should but it’s an important lesson to learn and understand because it will trip you up and confuse you right after you make a big decision.
Anytime you have to make a choice between two (or more) options you’ll feel a sense of loss for having to give up something you really wanted. Once you make a choice, you’ll be giving up all the other options available to you and that feels like loss.
It’s important to understand that feeling loss is part of the process. There is a big difference between loss and regret. I see a lot of my clients feeling a sense of loss after they make a big decision and that ultimately makes them doubt their choice.
So after you make a big decision, don’t fret if you’re feeling sad or a bit down. This isn’t an omen that you made the wrong choice; its sadness of the road not traveled. You have to accept now that you’ll not be able to travel down every road and that’s OK. The roads will always be there when you’re ready.
Don’t make decisions based on fear
The biggest reason why we don’t want to make a decision? We fear making the “wrong” choice. We would rather sit on the fence and endlessly debate our choices than make the “wrong” choice and end up in a job, city or relationship that makes us unhappy.
I get it. No one wants to end up working for a terrible boss or for a company they despise. No one wants to discover they’ve spent the last two years in a relationship with someone they can’t see themselves with long-term. There are no guarantees that the choices we make will turn out how we want them to. In fact, I can guarantee that nothing ever turns out how we want it to – but that’s a different blog post.
This is what you have to remember, there are no “right” or “wrong” choices, just the choices you made. We can’t label our choices in positives or negatives because in the end our “wrong” choices usually teach us more about ourselves than our “right” choices.
There are few decisions that can’t be changed or corrected
You can leave a job, a city, a relationship, an apartment. While you may not be able to quit your job at this very moment, you can start taking action today to find another one.
Each time you make a decision, remember that you aren’t selling yourself into indentured servitude – you’ll be able to leave the job, the relationship, the city, the apartment. This is critical because I want you to take some risks and not make decisions from a place of fear.
We spend too much time making choices based on what could happen. Make the decision and if the bottom falls out – you’ll handle it then. In the meantime, enjoy the choice you made. Making choices means you are moving in a direction in your life.
You have to live with the outcome – so make it based on what you want
Stop thinking in terms of what you think you should do or what you think your parents think you should do. This is where most 20-somethings get tripped up. They feel this pull to create a life that they “think” they should have, instead of creating a life that feels authentic to them.
Trust what you already know about yourself.
If you’re having a hard time making a particular decision or choice right now, think about your strengths, your likes, your dislikes, what makes you happy, what creates anxiety for you, etc.
You’ve made a million choices and decisions for yourself up until now. You’ve chosen the kinds of friends you have, your clothes, your hobbies, the food you eat, your college and major, and the list goes on.
These are all clues to who you are. You know what you like and what you don’t like. If you hate math and have never done well in math – well you can cross off future CPA from your potential career list. If you love fresh air and hiking – my guess is that taking a job in New York City would not make you very happy.
When you start to think, “If I move to New York, what will my mom think?” remember that your mom is not the one who is going to have to live in New York – you are. We make too many decisions based on what others think but are they living our lives? No, you are. So you need to like the decisions you make. You’re the only one who’s going to have to deal with the outcome.
The reality is that is there’s no magic when it comes to decision-making. A vision is not going to come to you in the middle of the night. The big “aha” moments you read and hear about are few and far between in life. Most likely you’ll get your clues in small and subtle ways.
Don’t let fear or other people’s opinions influence your decisions because whether they’re “right” or “wrong” or somewhere in between, they’re the decisions that are going to make up the person you were meant to be.
All this information was put together using years of experience in helping 20-somethings and those who struggle with decision-making. In the next few weeks, I’ll be offering a decision-making challenge. It will be a 3-day challenge hosted via email, but you’ll be able to sign up on Instagram – use the link to follow me on Instagram and you’ll be the first to know about the challenge!
Photography by Christian Acosta