I'm overwhelmed. How do I make tough decisions?

What you will get from reading this article:

  • Understand that facing tough decisions is better than indecision
  • Learn the powerful 6-step decision-making model, OOC/EMR
  • Access the free Four Rules of Decision-Making audio resource

Tough decisions exist everywhere in our lives. From choosing a college major, to career decisions, to whether to leave a difficult relationship, tough decisions can be very overwhelming. If you don’t have a system for making tough decisions, you may procrastinate and avoid making them or make rash decisions that lead to a host of problems.

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How you ultimately make tough decisions can mean the difference between failure and success, as well as the difference between fulfillment and a pervasive sense of emptiness. One of Tony’s most powerful statements sums up the importance of decision-making like no one else can:   

“It is in your moments of decisions that your destiny is shaped.” 

Is it any wonder some of us have trouble making tough decisions? We become paralyzed, worried that if we make the wrong decision terrible things will happen. Or we become overwhelmed and have no idea where to start. But there are plenty of people who know how to make a tough decision – a decision that could shape everything from a company to a country. So how do they do it? 

Those who set the intention of keeping a mindset of abundance and seeing life as happening for them instead of to them are always in a better position when making tough decisions – and dealing with the consequences – than those who do not. But the best decision-makers also have a set of tools they can use to process big decisions and feel good about the choices they make.

How to make a tough decision

tough decision

Decision-making works best when you have a system to break down what your options are and can anticipate any potential downsides. Here we’ll cover the six-step process Tony calls OOC/EMR – that stands for Outcomes, Options, Consequences/Evaluate, Mitigate, Resolve.

Ready to start making tough decisions quickly and with less stress? Before we get started, make sure to follow the first vital rule for how to make a difficult decision:

Write everything down on paper.

If you attempt to do everything in your head, or even on a screen, your brain will end up looping over the same things. Instead of getting resolution, every possible idea will create more stress because you’ll just go back to your first thought. Putting everything on paper removes this pressure and helps you focus. Because energy flows where focus goes, this helps quiet the noise in your head and is essential for making tough decisions.

How to make a tough decision

Phase 1: OCC – Outcomes, Options, Consequences
 1. Get clear on your outcomes.

What’s the result you’re after? Why do you want to achieve it? You must be clear about your outcome(s) and its/their order of importance to you. Visualize your goals and make sure that whatever you choose to experience is aligned with your values and purpose. Without this clarity, making tough decisions just becomes more difficult. Remember, reasons come first; answers will come second. If you don’t know the reasons you’re doing something, your brain will be sending you mixed signals and you won’t follow through. The first step toward making tough decisions is to get as specific as possible about what you want to get out of the process.

2. Know your options.

Write down all of your options, including those that initially may sound far-fetched. Remember: One option is no choice. Two options is a dilemma. Three options is a choice. Write down ALL possible options whether or not you like them.  You may even have some options you’re not aware of. It’s a good idea to get an outside perspective from someone who’s experienced a similar issue, like a mentor, your mastermind group or even a colleague or friend. Even if you don’t take their advice directly – it may not be right for you – an alternative viewpoint can still inform your decision. And the more options you have, the more confident you’ll be.

3. Assess possible consequences

Now, look at what you’ve got. What are the upsides and downsides of each option? What do you gain by each option? What would it cost you? By fully evaluating possible consequences, you can better use fear before it uses you. If you’re clear on your goals and committed to your vision, you’ll know that even the direct consequences of making tough decisions are better than making no decision at all. Again, the more detail you can get here, the better equipped you’ll be for phase 2 of Tony’s process for how to make a tough decision.

Phase 2: EMR – Evaluate, Mitigate, Resolve
 4. Evaluate your options.

In phase 2, review each of your option’s upsides and downsides. As you think about the potential consequences, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the possible outcomes if I take this option?
  • How important (on a scale of 0–10) is each upside/downside in terms of meeting my outcomes?
  • What is the probability (0–100%) that the upside/downside will occur?
  • What is the emotional benefit or consequence if this option were to actually happen? This is an especially important question for emotionally tough decisions such as those involving your relationship or your children.

After jotting down these answers, you’ll probably be able to eliminate some options from your list. You’re already getting closer to making your ultimate decision.

Tough decisions

5. Mitigate the damage.

For each of your remaining options, now it’s time to review the downsides. Brainstorm alternative ways to eliminate or reduce those downsides. Again, the more ideas you can come up with, no matter how far-fetched, the better prepared you’ll be to face that potential consequence. The reason these are tough decisions is usually because of what could happen should the wrong decision be made. This part of the decision-making process is important because it allows you to be proactive about how to handle any fallout should it occur.

6. Resolve.

Time for the big finish. Based on the most probable consequences, select the option that provides the greatest certainty that you will meet your desired outcomes and needs. This is your best option – and because you’ve looked at so many other possibilities, you know that to be true. This will help you beat procrastination when making tough decisions and avoid the deadliest decision of all: inaction.

Resolve that, no matter what happens, this option will give you a win. Even if your tough decision ends up in what is technically failure, you can still choose what that means to you. Instead of seeing it as failure, you can choose to view it as a learning experience or a jumping off point to go in a different direction.

Addressing the fear of making tough decisions

Having a good process to make tough decisions is clearly important. But it’s also valuable to understand why many of us are so afraid of making tough decisions in the first place. The biggest reason people dread these decisions is because they are afraid things won’t work out as planned. They let fear drive the process and wait until they have absolute certainty that everything will work out before moving forward. The problem is, there will never be absolute certainty surrounding any decision. At some point, you simply have to take a chance.

Sound scary? Here are five questions that can help you embrace the beauty of uncertainty and learn how to make a tough decision.

1. What am I afraid of?

Making tough decisions is often about more than the options on the table in front of you. The root of most indecision is fear – of failure, of repeating past mistakes and even of success. Events in our lives, the results of previous decisions and how we imagine the future all come together to create our beliefs and determine whether they limit us or empower us. Examine your beliefs, and you’ll be able to uncover and overcome your fears.

how to make tough decisions

2. Does this fulfill my purpose?

Tough decisions

It’s easier to learn how to make a tough decision when it is powered by purpose. This goes back to step one: getting clear on your outcomes. Your purpose is more than a short-term goal. It isn’t anything material, and it isn’t a job or a status. It’s the one thing that will give you true fulfillment in life. Once you determine what that is, you’ll feel much more prepared to take massive action and make those tough decisions.

3. Who am I really doing this for?

Tony’s best advice for how to make a tough decision? “Create a vision and never let the environment, other people’s beliefs or the limits of what has been done in the past shape your decisions.” Don’t get caught up in what you think you’re “supposed” to do. Don’t let other people’s agendas distract you from your end goals. Take a step back and determine if others are influencing your decision too much – then get clear on what you want.

Tony’s best advice for how to make a tough decision? “Create a vision and never let the environment, other people’s beliefs or the limits of what has been done in the past shape your decisions.” Don’t get caught up in what you think you’re “supposed” to do. Don’t let other people’s agendas distract you from your end goals. Take a step back and determine if others are influencing your decision too much – then get clear on what you want.

4. Does this decision help me grow?

Does this decision help me grow?

Everything that happens in life – including tough decisions – can help us grow if we let it. But growth can also be scary. Making a decision can feel like racing around a bend in the road, sight unseen. That’s why it’s so important to follow the six steps outlined above. If you’re still tempted to stay where you are, remember: If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

5. What will I regret the most?

Need to learn how to make a tough decision quickly? Go through each of your options and think, “Will I regret not doing this?” Tony calls this the rocking chair method: When you’re 85 years old and reflecting on this decision, which option would make you proud? Which option would make you feel like you missed out? Sometimes we gain the most conviction when we know that we’d regret doing it any other way.

 rocking chair method

No matter how much you study how to make a difficult decision, you will never be able to guarantee the outcome. The only thing you can do is take action and be ready to deal with the consequences. If you’ve used a good decision-making process such as the OOC/EMR technique, you can ease some of this fear by knowing you’ve chosen the best possible option. 

Remember, it’s better to make tough decisions and monitor the results to see if you need to shift your approach than to remain paralyzed in indecision. Find out more about the four rules to effective decision-making and say goodbye to being overwhelmed when you think about how to make a tough decision.

Sharpen your decision-making skills and gain clarity by working with a coach.

Learn more about Tony Robbins Results Coaching by scheduling a free strategy session.