When you have a decision to make, it is not always easy to weigh the pros and cons and know what “the best thing” is.
You sometimes wonder what you are supposed to do and can’t easily figure out which option you should go for.
When I am making a decision and I notice myself being really indecisive, I always go back to these two questions and frameworks, which I learned about years ago. Since they have been useful for me, I simply wanted to share them.
Why do these two questions help?
The questions are open-ended and put a specific spin on the decision-making process, which makes it easier to decide. Very importantly, you will be confident of that choice.
1. What is the the Bigger Life?
The idea is that a bigger life is a happier and more interesting life.
Even just by defining what this means to you, you will have a good perspective on what you should do.
I heard about this on this podcast episode with Gretchen Rubin almost ten years ago and I still use this today.
Let’s say you are considering moving country.
For some, the bigger life is moving, exploring a different place and getting to know it well. Being immersed in a new culture, meeting new friends, learning different ways to do things. Experiencing independence and proving that you can make it even abroad, with no support system close by (until you find yourself a new one). If you move, it will mean a challenge and a breath of fresh air.
On the other side, others might see the bigger life as the one in which they don’t move. They don’t want to miss out on what they have, and leaving their current life would not bring them joy. They would much rather be able to participate in the important moments in friends and family’s lives. Someone wants to be able to just pop by at their sibling’s home for a drink or a cuppa and cake without notice (or a plane to catch). They want to be able to continue volunteering for a cause they are passionate about. Their job is really interesting and fun and they don’t want to look for a new one
There is no right or wrong answer. Your opinion and views might change over time, but this framework has been incredibly helpful. I find I usually have some kind of gut feeling or immediate response as to which option is “the bigger life” and why. I was recently deciding whether to move house. As soon as I used this framework and wrote down my bigger life it was absolutely clear what I should do.
2. Who do you want to be?
This question comes from the TED talk How to make hard choices by Ruth Chang.
Chan points out that hard choices are tough because there is no better option overall and reminds us that small choices can be hard, too.
No option is better than the other:
- Alternatives are not equally good options or you could flip a coin, but it doesn’t seem right
- If you improve one of the conditions slightly, that improved option should be better. However, it might not be enough, so it means one is not better than the other
The peculiar thing about making hard decisions is that values can’t be quantified, it’s not as scientific as maths. Chan mentions the concept of “on par”. This is usually the case in hard choices, when there is no objectively better option.
The key driver now becomes our agency.
When options are on par we get to decide where we stand as a person. We define who we are with our choices.
“Here’s where I stand!” This response is not dictated to us, rather it’s supported by reasons created by usRuth Chang
Through hard choices we have the power to become the people who we are and want to be – we find reasons within ourselves to prefer one option versus the other.
Personally, I think about this when making big decisions, but I will try and remember to apply it more often to smaller choices too.
Other interesting ideas
- The fact that small choices can be hard made me think of Chris Hadfield’s book and his realisation that (most of) our everyday choices that shape who we are. I share more details here
- As James Clear says, every action is a vote to our identity and that is why building habits, even tiny ones, matters.
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