tough relationship decisionsSometimes even the smallest decisions can fill us with doubt.

When it’s a big relationship decision we feel anxious, insecure, and sometimes miserable. This article is designed to reduce that emotional strain.

I will propose four simple steps to reduce the stress of decisions while increasing the odds that you make the right decision.

Step one for resolving tough relationship decisions:

Accept the fact that you cannot see the future and therefore cannot make perfect decisions. Accept the fact that you could make the “wrong” decision, and do your best to come to terms with that fact.

Much of the emotional strain that comes during decision-making is really internal resistance. We don’t like the feeling of being out of control. Unfortunately, the future is out of your control. The moment you accept that, your resistance fades, and your emotional tension fades along with it.

No one can perceive, let alone control, all the variables that will determine how things turn out in the future. As a result, you are left with the job of focusing in on the variables that matter the most to you. You are not left with the job of controlling how things actually turn out down the road.

Step two for resolving tough relationship decisions:

Take full ownership of the decision. Don’t wait for others to give an approval. Don’t wait for a consensus from the people you consult with about the decision. For complex decisions, a consensus may never come about.

I believe there is a lot of value in the idea of modeling your behavior after people who have already achieved the kind of success you want in a specific area of life.

For example, if you want to get rich, you can speed up your learning by talking to people who have become rich. Learn the path they took to achieve the goal you aspire to. If you want to run an entire marathon, it helps to ask people who have succeeded what methods they used to achieve that goal.

Modeling your behavior after others is much faster than trial and error. However, when it comes to relationship decisions, you must take ownership.

I say that because you will almost certainly get contradictory advice from people who care about you.

This will add to your worry and emotional strain. That is, unless you treat their advice as nothing more than data. Data to be thrown into a pool of evidence you carefully consider while holding full responsibility for the decision you ultimately make.

When I say, “hold full responsibility” I do not mean you beat yourself up or blame yourself when things go wrong. In fact, I mean exactly the opposite. You hold yourself responsible for making the decision, not the outcome of your decision.

Remember, no one can control outcomes. We can only control the decision-making process itself. Realizing this can relieve a lot of stress. When your stress goes down, your creative intuition is easier to access.

Step three for resolving tough relationship decisions:

Get clear about what you do and do not know. Make a list if you have to. When trying to make decisions, your stress will go down if you focus on what you know, rather than focusing on the things you wish you knew.

Most people make the mistake of putting the majority of their attention and emotional energy into wishing they knew certain things that are unknowable. “Will he turn out to be a terrible lover and abandon me at the altar with no warning?” Focusing on a question like this will not help you to make a decision about a relationship.

However, if you focus on what you know, (for example, that he is a responsible man who puts relationships first in his life) you will experience less anxiety and you will make decisions based on the information that is available to you now.

Sometimes the best decision yields a bad outcome, and sometimes a terrible decision results in a very lucky set of outcomes. This is because we cannot see all the variables involved, let alone predict how they will all come together to determine future events. When you make a decision, you are merely deciding which way to throw your own energy and power.

So focus on deciding how you would like to focus your energy and power.

Step four for resolving tough relationship decisions:

The final step is to set a date and time when you will make your final decision, and stick to it! This step accomplishes two very important things.

First, it prevents the agony of never-ending decisions that you drag out for months, or even years. Living in a constant state of indecision is psychologically stressful and not the best way to live your life.

When you decide in advance on a deadline for your final decision, your mind will respond automatically by gradually shutting down the never-ending stream of new things to consider. Your mind will begin to focus in on the variables you actually know something about. This happens automatically because you run out of time for focusing on little tiny aspects of the situation that don’t really matter much.

The second reason you need to set a deadline is to prevent yourself from missing important information. You do not want to make a rash decision impulsively before considering all the important variables. When you contemplate a good time to make the decision, you will take into consideration whether there is any additional information you can still reasonably expect to obtain.

If there is nothing else you can reasonably expect to discover, make a decision an hour from now, and then sleep on it for twenty-four hours. If the decision still feels like the right one twenty-four hours later, then make it your final decision at that point.

If there are people you still need to talk to, or questions you need to ask, make a reasonable plan to follow through on those things. Once you have that information you should sleep on it for at least twenty-four hours before making a final decision. The reason I emphasize the idea of “sleeping on it” is because psychological research has literally found that our intuition guides us to make better decisions after our brains have time to sift through new data or new experiences unconsciously.

Here’s a summary of the system I propose for reducing the stress of making important relationship choices:

  1. Focus on making a good decision rather than trying to control the future.
  2. Take full ownership of the decision-making process. No one else knows what is most important to you.
  3. Make a list of the variables you actually know something about. Focus your decision on those variables rather than thinking about the unknown variables.
  4. Set a date and time for your final decision and stick to it.

tough relationship decisionsOnce you’ve made your decision, remember to return the focus of your mind to the present moment. The only way you can fully embrace life is in the “here and now.” Give yourself permission to enjoy life and appreciate the small things, because you will never reach a point in life when there are no more decisions to be made and no more questions about the future.

Always on your side,

James Bauer

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