How to deal with decision making at tough crossroads of life

UX Consultant & Creative Strategist

How to deal with decision making at tough crossroads of life

One of the most complicated tasks any of us will face in life is the concept of making the right decision. Every few seconds we have the opportunity to change our lives. Our careers. Our happiness. By taking that opportunity the lives of many others, some of which we will never meet, will forever be changed as well.

The small decisions are simple. You may not even notice you are making them, but our brain has an efficient way of going into auto-pilot on tasks we do often.

Be the change you want to see.

Think about it this way. Do you have to make a decision to read this sentence? This word? Did you measure and decide exactly how much coffee you poured? We make decisions every second of every day.

What about those life changers. The ones that you can’t go into auto-pilot with. Where the only help others can give you is common sense. “Do what will make you happy“, is a generic response in life. Would you ever truly want to do something that makes you unhappy?

What if you don’t know how the outcome will effect you? Making such a large decision based on your gut? Would you do that?

You are the keeper of your own future. You can only control the decisions you make.

Be the change you want to see. Be productive. Be happy.

When you are at a crossroad in life

Have you ever found yourself in a position where all you have worked toward is right in front of you, but instead of a simple black and white decision you are presented with a handful of options. None clear cut. None with reassurance of long term happiness.

You already have the tools to succeed. It’s simply a mindset.

It is becoming more apparent that some decisions are more attractive than others. But none of them are ideal. Pulling the trigger on an exciting, high-risk decision may turn out to fail more quickly. Big promises rarely ever pan out in business. Take your heart out of the equation. Rationalize to be successful. Break your goals into smaller milestones.

Making a smart decision based on where you want to be provides more long term growth potential.

It may be related to your job, your business, or your personal relationships it’s important that you know what you want out of life. You already have the tools to succeed. It’s simply a mindset. Success is right there on the horizon.

You don’t need a detailed road map. You just need to start your car.

This was part 5 of the Essential 5-part Productivity Guide series. Make sure to read the entire series to learn about decision making, productivity, and overall methods of success!

How to deal with decision making at tough crossroads of life

Life’s crossroads create opportunity for us to choose between different options, and when we see someone embracing the moment when choices are decided upon, it can be awe-inspiring. A crossroads is about change. Choices must be made — not just when things are not working out as we had planned, but also during positive moments when we must choose to continue the course or veer off into something new. When we experience an ending in a marriage, a change in careers, political upheavals, the end of childrearing, or challenges with our health, the crossroads we find ourselves facing can either inspire us to choose differently, or during these moments of change we can paralyze ourselves with fear.

Making a crossroads a moment of profound and lasting change and learning how to thrive when life’s changes descend upon us can be learned.

The key to weathering life’s crossroads:

1. Do not settle for normal. When our habitual response leads us to what is expected and customary — when we choose ordinary — we can expect the unremarkable.

2. Do not resist. Attempting to control, manipulate or force things to happen is a typical response to the fear that comes with change. Some of us will be so fearful that we refuse to make a change without understanding that even if we choose not to make a decision or take action, this in and of itself is a choice. Our learned way of coping with stress and uncertainty should be reevaluated constantly as we evolve in this world. Move with the changes instead of against them.

3. Trust your deepest feelings for guidance. We all know, deep within ourselves, what we need to do — what we know, how to think, when to trust — during times of crisis. We can learn to access and trust our innate wisdom; it is personal and always available. Through this, we will know how to adjust our course, move toward our personal destiny. When we don’t follow our inner guidance, we feel a loss of power and energy.

4. Dream bigger. Change what you expect from life and then create a plan and work to cultivate the right conditions for your growth and success.

5. Limit distractions and strive to create balance in the midst of chaos. When we let go of our own or other’s agendas and when we push away the demanding concerns of the moment, we are able to hear our own thoughts. Do less at the moments of crossroads and give yourself the gift of time — time to be in the present moment. Respect the value of being here and now. Ask yourself, “What is the one area of my life that needs more balance?”

6. Failure is just another way to start again. When we face a crossroads with fearlessness and the choice turns out to be prosperous, we are hailed as a genius or visionary. When our choice creates failure, then we are judged harshly, ridiculed and diminished, and it has the potential to make being fearless more difficult when we face the next crossroads. We must remember that failing creates not only additional opportunities for success, but fosters courage and determination in those of us who are brave enough to attempt it.

When I’m faced with fear at life’s inevitable crossroads, I have learned to “let it rip” and charge “no holds barred” into the abyss — if for no other reason than to see what is there. I have emerged out the other side bloody and battered at times, but I’m stronger for having risked, taken a stand, trusted and believed.

For more by Linda Durnell, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.

How to deal with decision making at tough crossroads of life64 percent of people admit that they’ve missed out on a big opportunity because they were unable to make a decision quick enough.

When it comes to tough decisions, it’s best to approach them carefully. But some decisions, like accepting a job offer or making an offer on a house, can disappear if you don’t act quickly.

Are the “what-ifs” keeping you from progressing in life? Keep reading for effective strategies for making tough decisions.

1. Make a Pro-Con List

Write the overall issue at the top of a piece of paper. Then, divide the rest of the paper into two columns, one for pros and one for cons. Think of all the possible effects and outcomes of the decision and decide whether they are negatives or positives in your life.

The hard part comes when comparing the two columns.

Just because you have more pros than cons, doesn’t necessarily mean the opportunity is a positive one. Instead, you could have five minor good outcomes and two big bad outcomes. In this case, the two bad outcomes would outweigh the five small positive ones.

Try to rank each pro and con on a scale of 1-5 in terms of how much the item would affect you. A huge pay increase would be a 5 in the pro column, but a 5-minute longer commute might be a 1 in the con column.

2. Think on It Overnight

Another great way to figure out how to make a hard decision is to not make a decision right away. This may sound counterintuitive — after all, the whole point is to make a decision as quickly as possible. Right?

By slowing down and giving yourself time to think about the decision, you take a lot of the pressure away from the process. Instead of feeling rushed, allow yourself to think about the decision overnight. Often times, the answer will seem clear and obvious after a good night’s sleep.

3. Test out the Decision

Another helpful tip for how to make difficult decisions is to try testing out the decision. Obviously, you can’t test out all decisions in life, but some you can — and should.

If you’re considering moving to a new town to be closer to family, consider renting an Airbnb or hotel room for a week instead. See if you like how the town is laid out, search for possible job opportunities, and get a feel for how the local schools rank. After just a short period of time, you’ll be able to make a more educated decision when it comes to whether you want to live there permanently.

For these experiments, it’s always best to start out by writing all the questions you wish to figure out during the trial run. During the test phase, take notes of things you notice and how you’re feeling about the experience. Then, after the trial run, you can sit down with your initial questions and answer them to come up with a decision.

4. Ask for Help

Making tough decisions isn’t meant to be easy, that’s why they’re called tough decisions. But, like most things in life, decision making is easier with a little help.

Talk to your spouse, mom, sibling, friend, or anyone who will listen about the issue. Present the decision and the possible outcomes in a way not to sway their opinion on the matter. If you find that you can’t explain the decision without slanting to one side, then you’ve already made the decision in the back of your mind.

Then, ask them for advice. Find out what decision they would make and what they think of the possible outcomes.

If it’s a decision that you don’t want to share with someone you’re close with, seek out the help of a professional. For example, you could ask for advice through a psychic reading or a counseling session.

5. Consider What a Role Model Would Do

Need more help making a decision? Stop and consider what a role model would do in the same situation.

Many religious people use the phrase, “what would Jesus do?” when overwhelmed with decisions. This allows a person to approach the situation from a values standpoint and can provide a clearer view of the issue.

But if you’re not religious, you can use the same method with any role model, from a celebrity to a family member. Think about how they would react in the situation and why they would pick a certain outcome.

6. Listen to Your Gut

If all the other steps haven’t led you to a clear decision, try listening to your gut instinct. Odds are when you think about the issue your brain and body react in a particular way.

Do your palms start to sweat and your stomach churn when you think about the possibilities? Or do you feel the subtle excitement and get jittery considering the opportunities that lie ahead?

Experts say that your gut feeling is actually your intuition in action. Based on your life decisions, your brain is able to know the right decision before you’re even aware of it.

Make Tough Decisions a Thing of the Past

Using these strategies, you can make battling through tough decisions a thing of the past.

Start by making a pro-con list and thinking about the decision overnight. If you can, consider testing out the opportunity for a period of time or ask for help from a trusted source. If that doesn’t help, consider what a role model would do in the situation.

And most important of all — always listen to your gut when it comes to decision making.

Looking for other ways to get ahead in life? Browse the Lifestyle section of this site for more great content like this.

Redesign Your Life One Step at A Time

How to deal with decision making at tough crossroads of life

My friends and I recently had an encounter with a black butterfly. The butterfly stayed with us for quite sometime before flying away. Out of curiosity, I researched about what it meant. Many people believed that a black butterfly is sign of bad omen. But contrary to popular belief, a black butterfly is actually a symbol of rebirth, transformation, transition and new beginnings. When my friends and I saw the black butterfly, we were at crossroads, making life-changing decisions in our lives, careers, family and relationships.

Transformation

Butterflies undergo metamorphosis in their lives. They were not born with such beauty. As caterpillars, they have long and worm-like bodies. Caterpillars wrapped themselves in cocoons in order to become the beautiful full-winged creatures known as butterflies. In order to become butterflies, caterpillars had to fall apart and die first. Butterflies needed to undergo a very painful process before they can fulfill their purpose and become the best versions of themselves. And this is the very essence of life.

As individuals, we all need to undergo transformation in order to fulfill our purpose in lives . Unfortunately, the transformation process is not easy. Challenges are needed for growth and success . Everyone wants to become happy and successful, but how many are actually willing to change? In order for our circumstances to change, we must be willing to change the way we do things and change ourselves in the process.

We can’t continue doing the same things and expect different results.

Crossroads in Life

Crossroads are all about change. It is about making choices. In a a way, it is an opportunity to choose between different possible paths that you can take in your life. The choices can be equally good and exciting or can also be very painful. Whatever choices that are right in front of you, making a choice can be quite scary because change is scary. That is why many people remained stuck at where they are in their lives because of fear.

Whether you are contemplating on leaving your job, changing careers, migrating to a different country, getting married or ending a relationship; whatever life-changing decision you are trying to make, it is not easy. Crossroads decisions are hard. They are difficult because it involves changing the direction of your life. Although it is a natural part of life, there are instances that it is forced upon us by uncontrollable circumstances.

So, what to do when you find yourself in crossroads?

1. Yield

Do not resist. You are at a crossroad because it is life’s way of telling you to rethink the direction of your life. Are you in the right path? Open yourself up to the signs around you. What is life telling you? Move with the changes instead of going against them.

2. Trust Your Instinct

An instinct is a feeling inside you that only you can experience. Trusting your instinct means trusting yourself. Sometimes, we spend too much time asking other people’s opinion and trying to adhere to the status quo when in fact deep inside you, you already know the answer. Just learn to believe in yourself and what you can do and accomplish.

3. Act on It

Once you have made the decision, now do it. Make the leap. It is useless to decide on your head alone. Your decision must be coupled with action. Whether it is right or wrong, only time can tell. Every decision has no guarantee. There is no such thing as a win-win situation.

4. Give Yourself Time to Grieve

Big changes is not without pain. There will be a feeling of loss. It’s okay to not be okay for some time. Give yourself time to cry your heart out . One day, it will all pass. You will start feeling better.

5. Surround Yourself with your Support Group

Find your support group . The people around you will help you get through it. They play an important role in your overall recovery. Their emotional support can help you reduce stress.

6. Look Forward to New Beginnings

The best way to move forward is to dream again. Visualize what your whole new world will look like. This is the time to create new dream s and goals. Dream big. Rather than looking at the past, focus your attention on your future happiness and success. Embrace the changes.

Your life changes the moment you make a new, congruent, and committed decision.

Photo by Crown Agency on Unsplash

Whether it’s in the context of business, or life in general, we are all faced with having to make difficult decisions from time to time.

Many of us choose to punt when faced with having to make a tough choice, while others allow their emotions to get the best of them, leading to an irrational response.

Difficult decisions can be agonizing, but they don’t have to be.

I’ve learned that a simple mental algorithm can provide much-needed clarity to the decision-making process and equip you with the resources to live with the results, no matter what they are.

Step 1: Take an inventory of your resources

Decisions, at their core, are just another form of transaction. You’re choosing to spend a resource you have, be it your time, capital, or mental energy on a given outcome.

All resources are finite to some degree, including intangibles such as self-control, forgiveness, and grit. As such, it’s important to understand just what resources you have at your disposal before making a decision.

Whenever faced with a significant decision, I start out by taking an inventory of my resources, both material and intangible.

For example, when deciding on our software development roadmap, I must first have a firm grasp of how many developers I have at my disposal and their availability. More importantly, however, I have to possess an understanding of their enthusiasm, skill set, and intellectual curiosity as it relates to the task at hand.

The same thing goes for any negotiation. Before starting, you have to have a realistic understanding of the facts, any leverage that might exist, and a strong sense of realism before starting.

Only by knowing what you have at your disposal can you move forward with making a responsible decision.

Step 2: Weigh the upside against the downside

As humans, we tend to let our emotions, pride, and desires to cloud our ability to accurately weigh the pros and cons of any given situation.

We may take a hard line with a client because we feel we are “right,” despite having very little to gain from such a stance.

Alternatively, we may become so fearful of a minor failure that we neglect the tremendously positive opportunities in front of us.

That’s why it’s important to remember the adage, “don’t gamble with something you can’t afford to lose.”

While this may sound like folksy wisdom, it takes a lot of self-awareness to put it into practice.

We can often lose sight of the things we really can’t afford to lose, entering into risky situations for the chance to satisfy our ego or experience a momentary bliss.

Only through measured introspection can we accurately identify the significant things in life and weight the potential upside of any given decision against its corresponding risks.

Step 3: Do the work but know when to let go

In my recent article about the merits of Stoic philosophy, I made a point to discuss the importance of letting go of things that you cannot control.

While I stand by this belief, I realize that it is somewhat of an oversimplification. There are actually few situations in life where we have no control whatsoever. More often than not, we have some control over a given situation, but not complete control.

This is an important distinction when it comes to decision-making.

Taken literally, the Stoic mindset can seem to advocate taking a passive role in life, surrendering everything to the whims of the universe.

Conversely, for those who reject such thinking, there is a tendency to try to exert control over situations that have some degree of unpredictability, thus transforming into an exercise in futility.

The right path, I’ve found, is somewhere in the middle. It’s summed up best as “do the work but know when to let go.”

A great example of this can be found in our legal system. When preparing for litigation, you have to do everything in your power to prove your case. However, when it goes to a judge or jury, there’s nothing more you can do to exert control. You have to live with the verdict, one way or another.

The key is to do everything in your power to influence a scenario but also find the wisdom to recognize the point at which it is no longer in your control.

It’s the same for making difficult decisions. You have to put in the effort to find the facts, weigh the pros and cons, and pick a path. Then, once done, you have to recognize that the outcome of that decision is no longer in your control.

No amount of self-doubt or second-guessing with change the outcome. It merely is what it is.

Regret comes from making a rash move or committing to a path without all of the facts.

Accepting that fact and leaning on the structured algorithm used to make the decision is ultimately what enables you to live with the consequences, whether good or bad.

Decision making, especially in stressful situations, is rarely fun or easy. However, with practice and structure, it’s possible to transform it into something that is manageable.

Having the right guidance in life requires abiding by the Lord’s will and having his discernment in your life. These prayers for guidance in your decision-making will offer you the encouragement and focus you need.

Wisdom Prayer
Father God, your word says that if anyone lacks wisdom, they should ask, and you will give them generously. I am about to make a huge decision in my life, but I don’t know how to go about it, Father God. I come to you today to ask you for wisdom. Lead me in the way that I should go that I may be able to bring glory to your holy name. In the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

Overcoming Fear and Anxiety Prayer
Dear Lord, my heart is full of anxiety. I don’t know how to go about this issue. The decision I make today is going to affect my family and friends. I am scared of failing and shaming my loved ones. But your word says that you have not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and sound mind. Let your word come alive in me. Let me be filled with love and power so that I can make bold decisions. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Patience Prayer
Heavenly Father, remove anything in me that will cause me to make rash decisions. Give me the patience to handle big and small decisions in different areas of my life. Fill me with divine strength that I may always follow your leading. May I take the path you are showing me even if it seems long. Lord, slow me down when I rush and teach me how to make decisions calmly. In Jesus’ name, I pray and believe. Amen.

Your Will, Not Mine Prayer
Loving Father, only you know my end from the beginning. Nothing I do or say catches you by surprise. You know what is in my heart, good or bad. Everyone around me is choosing to do things their way, and it is very tempting for me to do so too. But Father God, I want your will to be done in my life. If it is not your will for me to take this path, then Father, give me divine strength to accept and to follow your lead. May every decision I make be pleasing to you. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray. Amen.

Discernment Prayer
Lord of heaven and earth, so many things await me once I take this step. But I cannot make this decision without you. You are the only one who knows how this decision will affect me. I come to you today asking you to help me make sound decisions. Lord, help me be a better judge in every situation that I face. Open my spiritual eyes so that I can see who and what I am dealing with in Jesus’ name, I believe, and pray. Amen.

Obedience Prayer
Holy Lord, your word says obedience is better than sacrifice. Father, help me to walk in obedience as I make decisions about my life, family, and career. Let those decisions align with your word. Show me the path you have set for me and how to walk in it. Where I have been walking in disobedience, Father, forgive me. Let your Holy Spirit guide me in everything that I do so that I may not go against your word. Humble my heart so that I may be flexible. It is in Jesus’ name, I believe and pray. Amen.

Peace of Mind Prayer
Lord Jesus, I am in despair. Everyone is looking at me to make the final decision. My heart is full of fear. But we walk by faith and not sight, that is why today I am asking you to remove every doubt that is in my heart and replace it with peace. I refuse to let my heart be troubled or afraid. I know that you are with me till the end of time. Today I choose to walk in the same peace that Jesus has. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

When Feeling Uncertain about Your Decision Prayer
Almighty God, you are the great I am, nothing is too difficult for you. Father, I am currently facing a difficult time, I need to make a major decision in my life, but I don’t know how to go about it. Uncertainty has clouded my mind, and I feel like I am drifting away. Lord, remove hesitation from my heart so that I can be able to make the right decisions. Fill me up so that I may follow your guidance without any fear or doubt in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Protection from Wrong Influences Prayer
Heavenly Father, you are my refuge and hiding place that is why I am here asking you to protect me against the lies of the enemy. Shield me from weapons that have forged against me to prevent me from making decisions that are within your will. Reveal to me the people that the enemy is using to lead me astray and help me to cut them off from my life. I cover my mind, body, and spirit with the blood of Jesus. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray. Amen.

Grace for Every Decision I Make Prayer
Gracious Father, I am dealing with a very complex situation right now. I need grace during this time so that I can do the right thing. Let your grace be upon me so that I may find favor with the right people. Father, do not let me be ashamed for those who oppose me are waiting for me to stumble and fall. Give me a clear vision of where to go and how to get there. Let your grace help me to rely on you fully for the glory of your holy name. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray. Amen.

Past Disappointments Prayer
O Lord, there are decisions I have made in the past that have left me hurt, broken, and insecure. Now I have to make another decision, but the past keeps flooding my heart, and it is making me second guess myself. Lord, take control of my mind. Help me to focus on your leading and not my past failures. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray. Amen.

Read the Next Set of Prayers for Guidance and Direction

Most Inspiring Bible Verses on Direction

Psalm 32:8
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Isaiah 30:21
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

Isaiah 58:11
And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

Proverbs 3:6
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

How to use the Holy Spirit for Guidance and Direction

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How to deal with decision making at tough crossroads of life

Sometimes spending more time is not the answer.

Sometimes spending more time is not the answer.

I perused the restaurant menu for several minutes, struggling with indecision, each item tempting me in a different way.

Maybe I should order them all . . .

Is this a silly decision not deserving deliberation? Maybe. But I bet you’ve been there. If not about food, then about something else.

We spend an inordinate amount of time, and a tremendous amount of energy, making choices between equally attractive options in everyday situations. The problem is, that while they may be equally attractive, they are also differently attractive, with tradeoffs that require compromise. Even when deciding between kale salad (healthy and light), salmon (a heavier protein), and ravioli (tasty, but high carbs).

If these mundane decisions drag on our time and energy, think about the bigger ones we need to make, in organizations, all the time. Which products should we pursue and which should we kill? Who should I hire or fire? Should I initiate that difficult conversation?

These questions are followed by an infinite number of other questions. If I am going to have that difficult conversation, when should I do it? And how should I start? Should I call them or see them in person or email them? Should I do it publicly or in private? How much information should I share? And on and on . . .

So how can we handle decisions of all kinds more efficiently? I have three methods that I use, two of which I talk about in my book, Four Seconds, the third which I discovered last week.

The first method is to use habits as a way to reduce routine decision fatigue. The idea is that if you build a habit —for example: always eat salad for lunch — then you avoid the decision entirely and you can save your decision-making energy for other things.

That works for predictable and routine decisions. But what about unpredictable ones?

The second method is to use if/then thinking to routinize unpredictable choices. For example, let’s say someone constantly interrupts me and I’m not sure how to respond. My if/then rule might be: if the person interrupts me two times in a conversation, then I will say something.

These two techniques — habits and if/then — can help streamline many typical, routine choices we face in our lives.

What we haven’t solved for are the larger more strategic decisions that aren’t habitual and can’t be predicted.

I discovered a simple solution to making challenging choices more efficiently at an offsite last week with the CEO and senior leadership team of a high tech company. They were facing a number of unique, one-off decisions, the outcomes of which couldn’t be accurately predicted.

These were decisions like how to respond to a competitive threat, which products to invest more deeply in, how to better integrate an acquisition, where to reduce a budget, how to organize reporting relationships, and so on.

These are precisely the kinds of decisions which can linger for weeks, months, or even years, stalling the progress of entire organizations. These decisions are impossible to habitualize and can’t be resolved with if/then rules. Most importantly, they are decisions for which there is no clear, right answer.

Leadership teams tend to perseverate over this sort of decision for a long time, collecting more data, excessively weighing pros and cons, soliciting additional opinions, delaying while they wait — hope — for a clear answer to emerge.

But what if we could use the fact that there is no clear answer to make a faster decision?

I was thinking about this in the offsite meeting while we were discussing, yet again, the same decision we had debated in the past about what to do with a certain business, when the CEO spoke up.

“It’s 3:15pm,” He said. “We need to make a decision in the next 15 minutes.”

“Hold on,” the CFO responded, “this is a complex decision. Maybe we should continue the conversation at dinner, or at the next offsite.”

“No,” The CEO was resolute, “We will make a decision within the next 15 minutes.”

And you know what? We did.

Which is how I came to my third decision-making method: use a timer.

If the issues on the table have been reasonably vetted, the choices are equally attractive, and there is still no clear answer, then admit that there is no clearly identifiable right way to go and just decide.

It helps if you can make the decision smaller, with minimal investment, to test it. But if you can’t, then just make the decision. The time you save by not deliberating pointlessly will pay massive dividends in productivity.

Hold on, you may protest. If I do spend more time on it, an answer will emerge. Sure, maybe. But, 1) you’ve wasted precious time waiting for that clarity and, 2) the clarity of that one decision seduces you to linger, counter-productively and in fruitless hope for clarity, on too many other decisions.

Just make a decision and move forward.

Try it now. Pick a decision you have been postponing, give yourself three minutes, and just make it. If you are overwhelmed with too many decisions, take a piece of paper and write a list of the decisions. Give yourself a set amount of time and then, one by one, make the best decision you can make in the moment. Making the decision — any decision — will reduce your anxiety and let you move forward. The best antidote to feeling overwhelmed is forward momentum.

As for my lunch, I ordered the kale salad. Was it the best choice? I don’t know. But at least I’m not still sitting around trying to order.

“Making good decisions is a critical skill at every level.” —Peter Drucker

“It turns out, making a tough decision is a game of inches.”

These sage words of truth came from Dr. Daniel (Danny) Friedland, and they got my attention. He was referring to the inches that separate the neocortex, your “thinking brain,” from the amygdala, located in a survival-oriented region of your brain. (That’s the more primitive part that controls things like fight or flight.)

Unfortunately, this life-saving part of the brain can also lead you to make reflexive and regrettable decisions in business and in life when you’re under pressure because it doesn’t have the capacity to think things through.

That’s where Dr. Friedland comes in. As a medical doctor, he’s spent a lifetime studying how the brain works, and as the CEO of SuperSmartHealth, he’s turned his passion for leadership and brain function into a rabid following that includes a “who’s who” list of business leaders who want their teams and their kids to make better decisions.

We’ve all made bad decisions. Think for a minute about the crazy, life-threatening decisions you made as a 17-year-old. If you’re like me, you sometimes feel lucky to be alive.

Now think of the worst decision you’ve made in business. According to Dr. Friedland, these decisions have a lot in common with your stupid teenage ones, and most can be avoided with the right practices and processes. The “secret” is making sure it is your neocortex, and not your primitive brain, that is guiding the decision process.

Although Dr. Friedland was pointing at a diagram of the brain when he made his “game of inches” comment, it was actually my heart that was most affected by his presentation.

He had just finished a conversation with a room full of kids and their CEO parents. As he talked with the kids (including mine) and adults in the room, it was easy to see that both groups were dealing with important decisions. While the kids were struggling with, among other things, the peer pressure around drugs, alcohol and fitting in, many parents were wrestling with gut-wrenching people, personal and career issues.

Everyone was trying to do the right thing, and many were simply stuck.

Dr. Friedland has a heart for kids and adults with big decisions to make. He has just written a book on the topic with his 14-year-old son, Zach. He says it’s the most important thing he’s ever done.

The Big Decision is a parable followed by a process that Dr. Friedland designed to help leaders—kids and parents alike—understand how the brain can make better business and life decisions under pressure.

In the book, he uses his son’s story about playing in the championship football game or attending his favorite aunt’s wedding to outline a process that breaks down decision making into four simple steps.

Although it seems relatively simple, he designed the process based on the science of how the brain works to allow people to get the most out of their gray matter. Here is a high-level look at the process:

1. First, Frame The Question

Before jumping to solutions, take the time to thoroughly consider the challenge you are trying to overcome. Here are some of the framing questions he suggests you ask:

  • What are my choices?
  • What are the possible outcomes—short and long term?
  • What are my most important values and goals?
  • How will this decision affect those most important to me?

2. Find Your Answers

Now, it is critical to calm your mind. Here you want to create the optimal conditions for your brain to work so the answers can “find you.” Some ways to make this happen:

  • Practice deep breathing exercises, like those recommended in meditation practices because they actually help set up the brain for success
  • Take a light jog or go for a walk
  • Take a warm shower or relaxing bath
  • Ask yourself a question just before you go to sleep and notice what may arise in your dreams or just before you wake up (your brain works while you sleep)

3. Evaluate Your Answers And/Or Decisions

“When your values are clear, making decisions becomes easier.” —Roy E. Disney

By this point in the thinking process, your initial answers may now have you leaning toward a decision. Here are some questions to help you make sure it is the right one:

  • Does it feel “right” more than just feel “good”
  • Is this good for others and me?
  • Do the rewards outweigh the risks?
  • Is this the best decision over the long term?

(Remember, it is just as valuable for you CFOs to ask these questions as it is your 15-year-old.)

4. Apply Your Decision

Now it’s time to find the courage and willpower to take action on your decision.

Here are some tips from Dr. Friedland to make this happen:

  • Rehearse in your mind what to say beforehand (practice breathing if you feel stressed)
  • Make sure you are well-rested, hydrated and nourished before taking action
  • Set a date and time to take action

5. After The Fact

To ensure you stay on track with what you ultimately want to achieve, after you take action, circle back to step one and again frame your questions, such as:

  • Did I make the right decision?
  • Did I achieve what I hoped I would?
  • Is there anything else I need to do?

Remember that whenever you try to innovate, there is fear. Fear causes your teams to make really bad decisions at the very moment their decisions matter the most.

I’ve written in the past about my favorite three questions to ask when trying to make a critical decision under pressure, but there is no arguing with Dr. Friedland’s expertise when it comes to how the brain functions.

He created his decision-making process with brain functions in mind. So there is hope for all us. Given time, patience and practice, we can all help our brains make better decisions—even when we’re 17.

Follow me on Twitter @theideamonkey or read my Forbes blog here.

I’m the founder and CEO of Maddock Douglas, an insights-driven growth consultancy that helps leading corporations invent and launch new products, services and business

I’m the founder and CEO of Maddock Douglas, an insights-driven growth consultancy that helps leading corporations invent and launch new products, services and business models. I call myself an Idea Monkey because I love to solve problems with disruptive ideas. This passion has led me to launch six successful businesses, including Maddock Douglas in 1991. I am the author of four books about innovation: “Free the Idea Monkey. to focus on what matters most!”; “Brand New: Solving the Innovation Paradox”; “Flirting With the Uninterested: Innovating in a ‘Sold, Not Bought’ Category” and “Plan D: Lessons From the World’s Most Successful Disruptors.” Follow me on Twitter @theideamonkey

How to deal with decision making at tough crossroads of life

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Leadership is mentally and emotionally demanding. Not only will you need to temper your emotions to keep your team inspired, you’ll also be the point person for almost every hard decision your business makes.

You’re the one who has to make the call, and the one who has to deal with the consequences. It’s no wonder that depression affects entrepreneurs more than the average population.

Sooner or later, you’ll be forced to make a tough call; it might mean firing an employee you’re personally close with, or making a risky strategic change for the business or ending a long-term partnership.

Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to make these decisions easier, both in terms of finding a better option and resisting the stress and burdens that come along with it.

Try using these tactics the next time you’re forced to make a hard decision.

1. Reduce decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is a documented phenomenon that sets in when you make too many successive decisions. Even small decisions, like picking what to wear or ordering a meal, can accumulate the stress of decision-making and make approaching bigger decisions more stressful.

You can reduce decision fatigue by spending less time on small-scale decisions. Build habits that are repeatable, and let other people (like your assistants or coworkers) decide things that don’t have much impact on you or your business.

2. Take yourself out of the equation.

According to the New York Times, one of the best ways to make decisions is to remove yourself from the picture altogether. Imagine that this isn’t your company: Instead, pretend that it belongs to a friend, and you’re advising him or her on what to do.

Describe the situation, out loud, as if the people and organizations involved were total strangers. If your friend came to you with this story, what would you advise? Oftentimes, it’s easier to see the answer when we’re removed from the situation, because the stakes are lower — but the answer is just as good.

3. Create a firm deadline.

A big problem many entrepreneurs have with decision-making is being decisive in a timely manner; in other words, they procrastinate. This calls to mind Parkinson’s Law: Essentially, the amount of time it takes to do a task swells to fill the amount of time allotted for it.

If you give yourself a month to make a decision, you’re going to take a month. If you give yourself a day, you’re going to take a day. Obviously, you don’t want to rush decisions with major consequences, but you’ll also want to set a strict timetable so you don’t procrastinate too long, wasting time and mental resources in the process.

4. Limit the factors you use to make your decision.

The paradox of choice is a perplexing case of human psychology. The more options you have to consider, the harder it is to make a choice- — and the less satisfied you are with that choice once you make it.

You can compensate for this by limiting the number of options you have to choose from, and the number of variables you consider when choosing between them. For example, you could narrow your choice down to two vendors, and decide to make your decision based on cost only, or only on the quality of the working relationship.

5. Quantify your options.

As a business owner, quantifiable decisions are easy to make. For example, if your marketing strategy makes more money than it costs, it’s worth keeping. So, if you want to make your net hard decision a little easier, try reducing everything to quantifiable variables.

This may take some extra effort up-front, but the best answer will be obvious when you’re done. For example, if you’re stuck between hiring two candidates, start rating them on different factors, like experience, value and culture fit. Ultimately, the candidate who racks up the most points is your winner.

6. Focus on long-term thinking.

It’s tempting to think about the short-term repercussions of your decisions as a worst-case scenario, but try thinking about the long term instead. If the current decision you’re making is the wrong one, how will this affect your life in three years? What about five years? Most bad decisions can be recovered from in the span of a year or two — even the big ones — so don’t beat yourself up over the worst-case possibilities. This is also a way to distance yourself from the equation.

Procrastinating isn’t a good idea. Delegating is possible in some situations, but generally not advisable. If you want to be a successful leader, you need to learn how to handle tough decisions rather than avoid them.

In short, learning to make effective decisions may take some practice, but decisiveness is like any other skill: the more time you invest in it, the better you’ll become.