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Struggling to Make A Big Decision? Use This Six-Step Method

How to know more than you do right now.

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“What should I do?” a friend recently asked me.

Here’s what he knew: He needed a change. His job wasn’t satisfying, and he imagined many different paths in front of him.

But he couldn’t decide which one was worth pursuing. So for a long time, he’d chosen none of them.

We all do some version of this — struggle to make a decision, and therefore make no decision at all. It is the worst of all possible outcomes.

If you’ve ever felt this way — or if you’re feeling this way now — then here’s a little mental trick I came up with to help.

You must think of your goal as six steps away.

But you must accept that you’ll never see more than one step ahead.

How’s that work?

Let’s go through the steps.

The Six Steps

Step 1: This is where you are now.

You know a few things: You are ready to leave this step, and you see many potential Step 2s in front of you — but none of them feel like the perfect step. Because here’s the frustrating thing: You cannot see more than one step ahead, which means you cannot see where any of these steps will lead. Take this new job and… where does it go? Learn this new skill and… what do you do with it?

You cannot know. That feels scary. But it should also feel liberating — because there literally is no right answer. So pick one, and…

Step 2: Good news: You’ve chosen a direction! Now here’s the bad news:

It will not feel perfect. You might suck at something new, or you might create something subpar. No problem! That's because after a while, the fog will lift and, once again, you’ll see some potential next steps ahead. It's time for a decision. One of them is your Step 3.

Which one do you pick? Well, more good news: Now you know more than you did back at Step 1. You’ve learned more about what you like and dislike. You know what you’re good and bad at. You have a better sense of what you truly want. So now you can adjust — either going deeper in the same direction, or taking these new skills and insights and applying them elsewhere.

Step 3: Repeat.

Step 4: Repeat.

Step 5: Repeat.

Step 6: You made it! You've achieved something great that you could not have envisioned from the start!

But wait… something strange is happening.

Here you are, six steps from where you started, and maybe you have a new career or life or you’ve built a thriving business. It is wonderful, but it is also, very strangely, not the end. You’re not ready to coast for the rest of your life, and life won't let you anyway. There’s always some new challenge to navigate, or some new opportunity ahead.

That's because, as it turns out, there is no end. Step 6 isn’t the end at all. It is actually, weirdly, just another version of Step 1. There is more to learn. More space to grow. More journey to travel.

But now you're unafraid to step.

The Steps in Action

As I was writing this, I happened to hear from a reader named Bruce Johnson, who totally embodied the six-step method. He told me that he’s been an entrepreneur since college, when he sold Frisbees, flying discs, and albums. Here's what happened next…

“After taking some interesting jobs, my Ultimate Frisbee connection led me to visiting a woman I just met at my teammates’ wedding and a job. I was great at the job and it eventually led to me and my partner opening up a chain of running stores in Michigan. They continue to expand today. I left after 25 years and have another entrepreneurial business — Creative Magnets.”

Consider what Bruce did here.

He started at Step 1, where he worked some random jobs.

He went on to Step 2, taking a job with this woman he met at the wedding. He couldn’t have known where it would lead, but he kept himself open to opportunity. And so…

Step 3 was eventually revealed. He took what he learned at that job and opened a chain of stores in Michigan.

And onward he kept going, taking each new step as it came. He grew that business, exited it, started something new, and who knows what comes next!

That is how things build. It’s not according to plan, because there is no plan. Nobody has a plan.

Instead, it happens one step at a time. All we can know is the value of moving forward.

If you’re stuck trying to pick a path, my suggestion is simply this: Pick one. Take that step. Because once you do, you will know more than you do now. And that’s all you really need.

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Cover credit: Getty Images / Nhat Tn Nguyen Tan / EyeEm