How can I make tough decisions in life?

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, and they can be overwhelming. If you don’t have a system for how to make a tough decision, 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 difficult 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 faced with tough decisions in life – 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.

Examples of tough decisions in life

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We face tough decisions throughout our lives – they’re a catalyst for growth and a crucial way we learn lessons that help us to ultimately succeed. In the moment these choices can feel cataclysmic, but others have faced similar decisions, like:

  • Choosing a college major: Your college major can affect your future salary, job opportunities and even where you live – and it can feel like a big deal.
  • Career decisions: Which direction to take your career, whether to leave your current job and how to find a fulfilling job are all important choices.
  • Starting and building a business: From whether to start your own business to dealing with crisis situations, business ownership is filled with tough decisions.

Even with all of these life choices, there is one decision that changes every aspect of your life. Hear it from Tony below:

How to make a 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.

Phase 1: OCC – Outcomes, Options, Consequences
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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 becomes more difficult. Successful people from entrepreneurs to athletes use goal visualization to help them achieve what they want – because it works. Visualizing your goals “tricks” your brain into thinking that you’ve already achieved them. 

Remember, reasons come first; answers will come second. If you don’t know the reasons you’re doing something, your brain will send 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 colleague or friend. 

This is another reason why it’s so important to find a mentor or join a mastermind group: They’ll understand where you’re coming from and where you want to go, so they can provide relevant solutions. 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. Plus, mentors and mastermind groups can help you achieve your goals through the power of proximity alone, encouraging you to take risks and helping you bounce back quickly from failures. 

3. Assess possible consequences 

Now, look at what you’ve got. What are the upsides and downsides of each option? What do you gain from each option? What would it cost you? By fully evaluating possible consequences, you can better use fear before it uses you. No one goes through life without fear –  but successful people have a deep belief in themselves that allows them to push forward, knowing that no matter what happens, they are strong enough to handle it.

Creating a powerful vision for your life will also crush your fear of failure. If you want something bad enough, you’ll stop at nothing to get it. When you’re clear on your goals and committed to your vision, you know that the direct consequences of making tough decisions are better than making no decision at all. You’ll be able to better assess the rewards and consequences of each of your options and choose the best one quickly. 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
dealing with disappointment
 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.

5. Mitigate the damage.

The reason these are tough decisions is usually because of what could happen if the wrong decision is made. In a business crisis, you could lose customers, destroy your reputation or even lose the business. In relationships, it’s the difference between finding a passionate relationship or settling for less than you deserve. Other decisions can cause your future to have completely different outcomes.  

That’s why you must review all downsides in more detail. 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. This part of the decision-making process is important because it allows you to be proactive about how to handle any fallout.

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. This ability to find the lesson is an essential part of developing inner strength – and making better decisions in the future.  

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 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?

Tough decisions in life are 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.

Tough decisions in life

2. Does this fulfill my purpose?

leaders in history who left a legacy

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.

Positive benefits of hiring family members

4. 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. 

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.

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