Heads or tails? Have you ever agonized over a decision and wound up wishing you could just flip a coin for a quick yes-or-no answer? Or do you catch yourself twiddling your thumbs and hoping no one will notice you're stalling?
Education, career and marriage choices can affect the course of your whole life. Character and spiritual choices can have an even more far-reaching impact.
Here are some commonsense strategies that can help you overcome an overwhelming choice.
1. Seek Wisdom
This includes prayer, study of the subject in the Scriptures and seeking wise counsel during the process.
Those who believe in God and the power of prayer know why this step is first. Sometimes there isn't time to do anything else.
The Bible encourages seeking wise counsel. For spiritual decisions, seek a wise, biblically sound minister. For financial advice, seek someone trained and experienced in the field, and avoid anyone who has a conflict of interest—who has something to sell.
Some decisions don't require as much additional counsel because there are already clear answers in the Bible. If someone is asking you to cosign on a loan, Proverbs 6:1-5 gives a warning. If your sales manager wants you to shade the truth to make more sales, the Bible emphatically tells us not to lie (Exodus 20:16; Revelation 21:8)—though exactly what to say or not say to the sales manager probably requires additional wisdom.
2. Clearly state the problem/opportunity
Usually this means looking at the problem from all sides, gathering as many relevant facts as possible, then boiling it all down to try to isolate the key issue.
Part of stating the problem is to consider: How important is it? A critical decision deserves a major investment in research and time, while a day-to-day decision, not so much.
What blind spots might you have in clearly seeing the situation? For important decisions, get advice from someone you trust but who may not look at it the same way.
3. What would the ideal outcome look like?
Consider it in the context of your mission, values and goals.
In the real world, it can seem pointless to consider the ideal solution. Reality dictates decision making as the art of the possible. But for important decisions—whom you will marry, where you will go to church, where you will work, where you will live—why not make the time to imagine the best possible outcome? One that meshes with your mission in life, your godly values and your personal goals? (See "Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It")—Aim high!
4. Brainstorm for options.
Your research and thought to this point have probably identified several options. But often with difficult decisions it's good to apply your mind and enlist your family, friends and experts in finding a few more. Or in those seemingly impossible scenarios, you may need to create some options where none existed before.
However, studies show we can be stressed out by too many choices, so there's no need to invent extra options just for good measure.
About options: In a crisis we may not have many or may not see many. But a proactive approach to life—planning, setting goals, developing skills—generally gives us more options.
Choosing to develop a variety of useful skills can really increase your chances of success.
5. Wisely weigh the options.
How do you compare your choices? Only 16 percent of Americans base moral choices on the Bible, according to a 2005 survey by the Barna Group. Those who do, however, have an easier time comparing.
Some options are easy to eliminate if they break God's laws or are obviously unlikely to produce the desired outcome. After rejecting these, hopefully some options are still available. (If not, you might have to reexamine those unlikely ones or brainstorm some more.)
Weigh the pros and cons of each option. For a decision about which college to attend, for instance, you might make a table comparing your college options based on such factors as:
• Strength of academic program in your field.
• Faculty/student ratio or class sizes.
• Cost/financial aid packages.
• Distance from home, etc.
Often the complexities and number of factors involved can lead to analysis paralysis. Consulting wise counselors can give you fresh insights or reinforce your feelings at this stage.
For many of us, this is the hardest part. Not deciding is itself a decision, and generally not the best one.
If two choices appear equally good and your trusted advisers are split, it may require going with your intuition or even a coin toss.
One of the biggest problems with decisions—especially moral choices—is timing. What's the ideal time to make a decision about a potential problem? Before the problem arises.
Such preparation allows you "to identify your potential temptations, weaknesses, vices, 'fatal attractions,' blind spots, cravings, addictions, etc., and you are able to proactively devise a plan of action that you will not, for any reason, deviate from when faced with any temptation, or other attractive alternatives or options" (Ken Lindner, Crunch Time: Eight Steps to Making the Right Life Decisions at the Right Times, 1999, p. 166).
Develop a plan of action and a list of deadlines and get started. No matter how much time we spent deciding, we can get cold feet. To be effective, we have to get past this.
However, if it does become clear that we're off course, we can make course corrections. If we've made the wrong decision, we can go through the process again, factoring in the new insights we've learned.
Whatever decisions you face, may they be good and effective ones that will take you along the path God has for you. For more biblical background about our God-given mission in life and how to achieve our goals, read, download or request the free booklets The Road to Eternal Life, What Is Your Destiny? and Making Life Work.
If you have decision-making stories and advice you'd like to share, or if you have questions about biblically related decisions you face, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. VT
Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It
If your goal in life is just to make money, it may be fairly easy to measure your progress. But when all is said and done in your life, is money the answer? Not if the question is, What mission does God have for my life?
Jesus Christ said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). The only real hope for humanity, and the true meaning of life, is God's Kingdom. God has a plan to bring you into His Kingdom and family, and He invites you to join Him in His mission of bringing many sons and daughters to glory (Hebrews 2:10; 2 Corinthians 6:18).
Having God's mission and a real purpose for your life can make all the difference in difficult times. Viktor Frankl, who survived the Nazi Holocaust, spent his life studying Man's Search for Meaning (as one of his books is called). He concluded, quoting Nietzsche, "He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how."
Catching God's vision gives us a launching pad for making right decisions—decisions that are meaningful and ultimately satisfying. Read more about this in our free booklet What Is Your Destiny?