Learning to Make Life Decisions

The best part about being in university is the amazing opportunities we are given to explore our interests, career options, and the world around us. But by embracing these new experiences, we are often faced with an overwhelming number of decisions.

It can often feel like your whole future is riding on one decision or another: What do I declare my major as? What co-op jobs do I apply for? Should I sign up to study abroad? What if I have to add a semester to my degree? 

2 paths in forest

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

It’s simultaneously exciting and terrifying to be faced with such big questions. I know I frequently freak out when thinking about the future, fretting if I’ve made a wrong step somewhere along the way that will compromise my future happiness. I am also extremely indecisive. It’s probably one of my greatest weaknesses. Deciding what to order in restaurant already makes me sweat, so you can imagine what making major life decisions feels like.

I’ve recently had to start making some decisions that will certainly effect my future. I’m currently on exchange at the University of Leeds in England and I had the revelation that one semester here just wasn’t enough for me. I felt like I needed to seize the opportunity to study abroad for just a little but longer so I could get the most out of the experience. So, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to extend my exchange to a full year.

I am so grateful to have the privilege to do this, but it was by no means an easy decision to make. I had to consider what I would gain from the extension and what I would lose. I have to add a semester to my degree and give up on my philosophy minor, but I also get to live in a new country for an additional five months, travel, and meet new people. At first the decision felt impulsive and ill thought out, this certainly wasn’t part of my life plan and it can be a bit scary to stray from the path you imagined yourself on. However, the more I thought about, the more I realized that this was the right decision for me.

Though I certainly don’t have the power to foresee how a decision will change your life (believe me, if I had psychic powers, I would more than happily share them with everyone), these are some of my tips to help with the decision making process. They may not work for all the crossroads you’ll face in your life, but I certainly found them helpful when contemplating my stay in England.

1. Make a pros and cons list.

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but honestly it works every time. I personally don’t write down my lists on my phone or even on a piece of paper, although if you’re a visual person that can be extremely helpful. Instead, I make a mental list. Even just thinking about the different sides of a decision can create some clarity and spur new ideas and thoughts that you may not have considered before.

2. Talk to someone about it.

Be it a friend, parent, family member, or academic advisor. Consulting someone older or someone who has gone through a similar decision making process can give you a different perspective on the topic. Remember though, the final decision is your’s to make. Make sure when using this tip to talk to someone who is keen to listen and capable of making mature and responsible decisions. So maybe don’t consult your nine-year old sister on what graduate programs to apply for.

3. Talk yourself through your decision making process.

It is extremely helpful to hear your thoughts spoken out loud. It may sound a little out there, but looking at yourself in the mirror and saying out loud what you’re feeling and what you’re concerned with can be extremely validating and encouraging.

If you’re not totally on board with talking to yourself (I get it, it’s a bit weird but it works wonders), try writing down your thoughts on a piece of paper or in a journal. Put down every idea, doubt, and fear that comes to mind. Just let your thoughts flow for as long as you need and read it back afterwards to get a different perspective on things.

4. Be honest with yourself.

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself tough questions. These were the questions that I had the toughest time answering: Why are you leaning towards one decision over the other? Are you doing it for the right reasons? Is there something holding you back? Will this benefit you in the long term? Will this make you happy? Of course, there are also logistical questions that need to be asked regarding money, time, and deadlines.

5. Give yourself a break.

I often find I think myself into a metaphorical corner. I become all consumed by this one decision or worry that I have and I cannot think of anything else. Then my thoughts just go haywire and I hit a mental wall when it comes to making a rational, well thought out decision.

The more you stress and overthink something, the less clarity you have on the situation. When I find that my thoughts become overwhelming, I like to go for a walk and listen to some music, or do some yoga, or journal for a bit. Try a change of scenery and put your focus on your body or on a hobby. Maybe you could go sketch in the park or go for a swim at the community centre. It’s important to take your mind off the decision at hand even just for a little while so you have the opportunity to approach it with a fresh and ready mind.

I hope that these tips will be of some help to you and for whatever decision you’re facing. Life can be so overwhelming and I just want to remind you that you are not alone and that it’s okay to feel conflicted, confused, and even scared. Remember to believe in yourself and your capabilities when faced with a life decision. It’s not easy and any decision will have consequences, but trust that you are capable of coming to the best possible solution.

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