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A New Way To Make a Decision

DSC09415Stuck in a problem? Not sure what you should do?

It’s so easy for us to get focused on a decision that we lose perspective of its place in our life. I mean, we know that decisions like getting together, breaking up, having a kid, living child-free, getting married or divorced are all HUGE, life-changing decisions. What I mean is that we get caught up in that one question and stare really, really hard at it. But there’s a reason the saying is “losing the forest for the tree.” If you’re trying to decide whether or not to cut down a tree, spending time hugging the tree itself isn’t going to tell you about the impact on the forest. Only gaining perspective on the forest will tell you whether it’s a sustainable harvest.

The other obstacle in Western thinking is how linear we are. First this, then that happens, our minds tell us. And our minds are wrong a lot. Seeing causation when there isn’t any is kind of a foundation of our culture. (“I put butter on my burn and it healed, therefore butter heals burns!”)

So take a break from your pro-con list and if-then thinking. Instead of having a staring contest with your problem or trying to divine possible consequences, take a step back and just look at where it fits in your life at this moment.

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The first layer is, of course, the problem, itself. The main thing to remember about this layer is stick with the facts. The emotional stuff will be teased out in other layers.

Previous events and patterns: This layer reminds you to ask yourself if you’ve been here before. It also is a time to think of old baggage this is stirring up. Are you noticing that because of past things, you’re making assumptions about the situation? There’s no need to solve anything, but just mindfully acknowledge the past’s influences.

Hopes and fears: Step back further from the problem. What do you really want in relationships, to use our current example. If you were a friend giving advice to yourself, what would you remind yourself about what you want, or what you believe you shouldn’t put up with? Are you noticing a giant fear of being alone, and suspect it’s influencing you to stay where you shouldn’t, for example?

Goals and values: Think ahead. Way ahead. If you have children, what do you want them learn? What do you want on your (metaphorical) tombstone? What is important to you?


Making decisions is never easy, but be patient with yourself. Sometimes there’s actually not a right or wrong answer, and I think looking at the big picture can be a good reminder of that. So be gentle with yourself and do the thing you do if you were braver, stronger, more patient. Because if you can conceive of it, you can probably do it.

A New Way To Make a Decision

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2015). A New Way To Make a Decision. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Sep 2015
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