How to Make Tough Decisions in Tough Times


No doubt, times are tough. It seems like every day brings new challenges and not just new additional challenges, but novel challenges that we really haven’t dealt with in the past.

With these challenges that we are facing, we also often find ourselves having to make tough decisions for which there is no precedent to fall back on for guidance. Therefore, it can feel like we are not just swimming in rough waters, against the current most of the time, but that we are also swimming in unknown waters—where we have no experience and no frame of reference to help us get our bearing.

In such times, how do we make the important, tough, decisions we need to make to keep our businesses—and even ourselves—afloat?

Researchers say the average person makes 35,000 somewhat conscious decisions a day. As such, there is no way that we can possibly have the time to think through most of these decisions in a strategic manner. Yet, for the more significant and consequential decisions we make, we have to be able to make the best decisions we can, with the most optimal results, and this takes more care and attention.

When you have to make tough decisions, below are five simple steps we can employ to help us make more effective decisions, quicker, and with less stress.

  1. We need to get as clear as possible on all the variables of the decision we need to make.  Sometimes, decisions can feel more difficult because we just don’t have all the information we need to make the best choice. Output can only be as good as the input. Therefore, the first step in making tough decisions should always be to clarify any uncertainties and gather any additional data we need to get really clear on the specifics of the question at hand. This may mean we need to request information from others, or we might need to do research. The bottom line really is we need to make sure we have all that we need to understand the full intricacies of the problem, as well as the variables that contribute to the decision we are faced with making at the moment.
  2. We need to consider the possible choices we have from which to choose. Almost every decision we need to make can have one or more potential options or answers that would solve the problem or answer the question. In this step, we should identify the possible choices we can select from when making the decision.
  3. Next, we must project potential outcomes of each choice. When we make snap decisions for tough dilemmas, it’s really implausible to think that we have fully considered the ramifications of our choice(s). If and when this is the case, it most likely means that we are unlikely to come up with the best option or answer.

Thus, once we have identified the possible choices for our decision, we need to consider the consequences for each choice. What is the likely outcome of each option? Who and how many people will be impacted? How will they be impacted? Is this impact positive or negative? Will other consequences or results stem from the decision or choice we make? Again, the key is to look forward—projecting out the potential scenarios that are likely to come from each option, for the decision we are considering.

4. We need to narrow our decision to two final choices and sit quietly, considering each one and listening to our “gut.” A lot of the time, people say they make tough decisions based on their “gut instinct.” And while this may seem like a trite or trivial way to make a decision, it really isn’t if we have put care and consideration into getting to this point by employing the other steps we’ve already discussed.

Furthermore, once we have become somewhat “expert”—or at least experienced—in our chosen field, a hunch or “gut instinct” is really based on that expertise and experience. It’s not really “just intuition” but it’s really a very educated guess.

There is a very big difference between just “having a feeling” for the right answer and instead, allowing our vast depth of awareness and experience in an area to  guide us to the best answer. The only thing that is really similar about the two is that it sometimes just takes getting quiet and thoughtful—blocking out all distractions—to be able to listen to that voice inside of us that knows the right choice to make, if only we’d just open ourselves to hearing it.

5. We need to make the decision and not look back. Making tough decisions is—tough. It’s not easy and it can be stressful. Yet, if we have done the work of the previous steps, then we are now at the point where the decision just needs to be made. And we need to trust ourselves to make it—now.

Basically, when it comes to making tough decisions, all we can do, is do the work to make sure we are making the best decision possible, then make the decision, and move forward. If we have done the work to prepare for the decision as outlined above, and we are acting according to our experience and expertise, while also staying true to our values and value systems… then that is all we can do. So we make the decision and then we move on to the next decision or action we need to make, without looking back.