By Jessica Reynolds Chicago Tribune.
Whether it's what to eat for breakfast, a doughnut or egg whites, or even what kind of car to buy, nearly all of our decisions will have some effect on our lives.
It's the major decisions, though, involving careers, choosing a spouse, whether to have children, that will inevitably write our legacies.
And while it's probably acceptable to buy a new shirt without seeking outside counsel, is it wise to completely change your life without letting loved ones weigh in?
"Because our relationships form such a critical fabric of our lives, it's not only impossible to make a big decision without thinking of others, but it can be downright unhealthy," said Holly Parker, a lecturer of psychology at Harvard University. "What ultimately matters is how much we allow others to impact our decision and why."
Some of the most common decisions people solicit advice from loved ones about include whether to relocate, change careers, end or begin relationships, have children or get married, said Anita McLean, a clinical psychologist based in Princeton, N.J. Relocation is one of the biggest, she said, and the decision is especially problematic when someone is married with children.
McLean says it's a good idea to reassess your values and needs before asking loved ones for advice. Once you decide what matters most to you, you will be able to speak more honestly and confidently with those whom your decision will directly affect.
We would all like to think we confront life's toughest choices with sound logic, but usually it's our emotions at the helm.
"One of the things we know is that human beings are horrible in terms of relying on their emotions to make decisions, and yet almost all of our decisions are based on the emotions we feel about a situation," said Todd Kashdan, professor of psychology at George Mason University and co-author of the new book, "The Upside of Your Dark Side: While Being Your Whole Self, Not Just Your 'Good' Self, Drives Success and Fulfillment" (Hudson Street Press), which explores the oft-overlooked benefits of negative feelings.
Because emotions are transient, people confronted with new opportunities are likely to fixate on the "craving for newness" instead of considering how they might feel six months to a year from now, Kashdan said. Thinking about the long term is where family and friends are helpful.
Remember, though, that it's a given that your loved ones will have their own agendas and biases. Address that reality upfront and ask them to objectively provide advice based on how well they know you.
"Say, 'Listen, both of these things are important to me. I need you to be able, the best you can, to remove your emotions from the decision and (offer) what you can that's the best for me,'" Kashdan advised.
Also remember to be empathetic. If you end up making a decision that differs from what your partner or family would have preferred, help them understand where you're coming from, said Maureen Ryan, a sexual health and wellness coach in Amherst, N.Y. They might be more likely to get on board.
People have a right to be selfish, to an extent, when making lifestyle changes in search of happiness, but in situations where other people are wholly dependent on you, such as spouses, children or elderly parents, it's not always appropriate to make yourself the priority, Ryan said.
"When people are responsible for other people," Ryan said, "they need to consider their choice very carefully."
It might help to remind yourself that you can't have everything at once in life. You must be patient, she said. Maybe you can't have your dream job, house or lifestyle tomorrow, "but over the years and decades, you can get what you want," Ryan said.
Parker suggested an exercise for practicing empathy: Ask yourself whether you would want your partner to make the decision unilaterally if the roles were reversed.
Remember that couples are interdependent. Collaborate with your partner, and include him or her in any major decisions. Even if your decision ultimately strays from your partner's wishes, the odds of the relationship continuing are much higher if that person at least feels his or her voice was heard.
Regardless of whether you seize or forgo an opportunity, your decision may not be exempt from negative feelings. If you do what will make you happiest, guilt could set in. If you don't, you may feel resentment toward those who kept you in place.
"Oftentimes, after you've found the courage and strength to do what you felt needed to be done, there are people who are not on board with that decision," Ryan said.
But guilt isn't necessarily bad, Kashdan explained. In fact, it can be beneficial because it serves as a cue that you've either done something that's undesirable for yourself or another person and you recognize that you want to repair that and do better next time.
"Feeling guilty doesn't always mean you're doing something wrong," Parker said. "Sometimes we feel guilty when we're setting limits and taking appropriate care of ourselves."
McLean agrees that we shouldn't interpret guilt as evidence that we made the wrong decision. She recommends allotting at least a year after a major life change before doing anything drastic to reverse course. That's how long it usually takes to become comfortable with the choice.
Kashdan said resentment, like guilt, is an emotion hard-wired into our brain and can act as a mental alarm system of sorts. Both feelings can prompt us to ask ourselves: Is this relationship as helpful and useful as I thought?
You will either realize that, yes, the relationship is important to you and the person is irreplaceable, or you will recognize that there's a pattern of this person controlling you and not giving you the freedom to make decisions autonomously. In the case of the latter, realize it's time to be assertive and change the power dynamic, Kashdan said.
But don't operate under the belief that there's no going back. If down the road you realize you made the wrong choice, admit that to your loved ones and don't be afraid to change again.
McLean insisted, "Repair is always possible."
The scariest part of making a monumental life change is that the decision ultimately falls on you. Before discussing the situation with loved ones, you need to think it through on your own.
Jihan Madyun, a licensed clinical social worker and executive coach at The Fulfillment Project, which provides life coaching and consulting services, offered these tips:
Go with your gut. Don't be afraid to follow your intuition. Your first instinct is usually the best one when it comes to big decisions.
Weigh pros versus cons. Go to a quiet place, and freely write the ups and downs of each choice, and anticipate the repercussions of each. Consider which decision would be most advantageous for you and your family in the long run.
Find your courage. This is necessary to create the life you deserve and want. Know that life is not a popularity contest, and you will not always please everyone. Make decisions you can live with at the end of the day.