Trust30 Day 21 - Making decisions

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Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

We live in a society of advice columns, experts and make-over shows. Without even knowing it, you can begin to believe someone knows better than you how to live your life. Someone might know a particular something better – like how to bake a three-layer molten coconut chocolate cake or how to build a website – but nobody else on the planet knows how to live your life better than you. (Although one or two people may think they do.) For today, trying asking yourself often, especially before you make a choice, “What do I know about this?” - Jen Louden


Who would know better than me how to live my life? Many people are taught that the best way to make it through life is to fit in and not stand out from the crowd. I was never taught this. Around my house, the advice was always “you need to be a leader” or “don’t let them push you into doing what everyone else is doing.” This advice was repeated many times while I was growing up and it led me to seek out my own path in life. For the most part, the strategy has worked out well.

The point all of these posts based on Emerson’s Self-Reliance is to encourage us to be more, well, self-reliant (insightful, I know). We are encouraged to trust in ourselves and our capabilities. I like the idea, though I would say that it is important to not become so self-reliant that we completely isolate ourselves from the community of people around us.

In practice, how could a person follow the advice in today’s prompt? How could you become more willing to make your own decisions? A step-by-step process might go something like this:

  1. You realize that you have a decision coming up that you are going to have to make. It’s a big one, so you are scared about making the wrong choice.
  2. If your first reaction is to think, “Oh, sh--. I’ve got to call R. and see what he thinks,” that could be a sign that you are too dependent on others for help with decisions. When you reach for your phone, stop! Put it down. Give yourself a day to think about it before making the call.
  3. Get out a piece of paper and a pen. Write the decision down in question form, e.g., “Why should I take that job offer in another city?”
  4. Write down some possible answers, plus pros and cons or whatever else comes to your mind. The act of writing is good for helping you clarify your thoughts and you will be able to revisit your initial reaction at a later time.
  5. If you find it difficult to wait until the next day to ask for help, do something to take your mind off your decision. Go get some exercise. Exercise, even something as low-intensity as walking, gets the blood flowing to your brain and gives your subconscious a chance to sort things out.
  6. After a day has passed, and you have sorted out your own thoughts, then it’s time to ask others what they think. They may end up trying to persuade you to do what they think is right, but at least you came into the discussion more prepared.
  7. By the time you get to this point, you should have a good sense of what your decision is. Trust yourself—you’re right.

In these types of decisions, you could also ask yourself, “What don’t I know about this?” Once you determine what you don’t know, then you know what else you need to know before you can make your decision, you know?  

The whole process of fostering self-reliance is about building trust in yourself and your capabilities, and trust is not built in a single act. It is built up over time. Start making small decisions for yourself to give yourself confidence for bigger decisions. After you get used to making smaller decisions, you will have more confidence in your own abilities in the future.

When faced with a life decision, where do you seek advice? Friends, parents, spouses, Google? How do you decide when to shun the advice of others and make a decision based on what is inside you?