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What's the toughest decision you've ever had to make?
How'd you make it?
If I had to guess, I would say that it probably caused you significant emotional pain before you decided.
Tough decisions are tough because there's no easy answer.
They can bind up your insides with their weight.
They can overwhelm you and make you unbelievably anxious.
That's why you need a simple formula.
A north star.
And I have precisely the thing for you.
It's never steered me wrong.
I just didn't realize I was using it at the time.
My Huge Dilemma in Grad School - How to Make a Decision that is Gut-Wrenching
When I was in grad school, I had a professor who I realized was acting unethically and unprofessionally.
I discovered she wasn't really planning for lessons and she just kept referring to her own groups and interests without disclosing her involvement.
She pretended like she just happened to stumble upon various videos and materials for us, but they were related to her own interests--some of which she had a monetary interest in, and others that were still part of her healing journey.
We were supposed to be learning how to be good social workers, and she was breaking the rules she was teaching us.
I talked with a few of my classmates about it, and they also found it unsettling. They agreed it wasn't right.
Well, no one wanted to step forward, so I ended up talking to her after class one day.
I tried to have a cordial conversation, but she immediately became defensive and started stammering and fidgeting.
She became very uncomfortable and denied what she was doing.
Then, she said she should run and talk with the program director just to explain what was really going on.
At that very moment.
I found that very odd, and I also decided to talk with a mentor the next day, someone who was high up in the social work program.
The program director took the professor's side but decided to look into it, and they basically challenged my credibility.
But the director also said that this warranted a discussion at one of our upcoming classes with the professor.
Several classmates said they would join me in sharing their concerns with the program director at the designated special session of our class.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
Not one classmate backed me up.
Some even changed what they had told me just 30 minutes prior.
I knew that they were lying, but I didn't want to embarrass them in front of the group.
I had a choice. I could give in to pressure and go with everyone else to protect my ego.
Or I could stand up for what I believed in.
I stood up for what I believed in.
I talked about the social work code of ethics we were supposed to be learning and how I felt that this was not adhering to those high standards.
It was extremely uncomfortable.
Throughout it all, the professor basically manipulated, bobbing and weaving to look good in front of the program director.
I looked like a tremendous jerk who seemed to have a personal vendetta against an innocent authority figure.
Or so I thought.
Later, in a separate meeting with me, the program director said she was proud of me and that she looked forward to seeing me graduate. She said she thought I did the right thing. And she volunteered to sit in on my final interview / case study project with the professor to make sure nothing went wrong.
It all worked out, the professor again acted very strangely during this clinical interview, and the facts soon came to light.
Still, I have questions for myself.
How and why did I make this decision to put myself at considerable risk in front of my classmates and the program director?
Why didn't I just take the easy road like everyone else?
How to Make Difficult Decisions
It comes back to values and heart.
For me, values are everything.
Add to that your heart, what your body is telling you, and you have a formula that is guaranteed to work.
Values are those pesky little words that don't seem to mean very much until they do.
They are your highest aspirations.
For me, one of my values is honesty / transparency.
I believe relationships are based on trust, and you can't have trust without honesty.
Another one of my values is freedom.
Freedom of thought. Freedom of action. The very ability to be a free thinker.
I want to be able to think and act for myself. I've always been this way.
So when I was struggling with what to do with this professor, I thought about what I valued most.
And then I listened to my heart.
And I decided I couldn't live with myself if I didn't take action.
Now I want to ask you a few questions:
What decision are you putting off?
What is so difficult about it?
What would happen if you used your values and your heart to guide you?
Here's your short exercise for this week to help you make better decisions while also doing what's right for your mental health:
- Take out a piece of paper and set a timer for 25 minutes (I'm a huge fan of the Pomodoro Method.)
- Write down your top 5 values. They don't need to be full statements. They can be single words. These values should come from the core of who you are and how you want to be when you're the best version of yourself.
- Once you've done that, consider a tough decision you're trying to make. Use the values you've written down to think through all angles of the situation.
- Finally, make a decision with HEART. What is the one decision that will allow you to sleep at night because you know you did the right thing for you?
It sounds simple, but it's far from it.
Still, following this process has never steered me wrong.
Yes, it has caused me some initial emotional pain, but pain can be a sign of growth.
It's not something that should always be avoided at all costs.
A big part of living a happy, fulfilling life is acting in congruence with your highest values.
Do that, and you can't fail.
Because you won't let yourself down.
You're going to have tough decisions to make for the rest of your life.
Why not use a decision-making approach that puts your heart at the center of it?