Managing Self Planning Problem solving

Making tough decisions: One woman’s story and seven questions to guide you through

Written by Allison Wolf

Have you ever struggled to make a very difficult decision?

I have been thinking about what can help to guide us through high-stakes decision making. The short twelve-minute documentary by filmmaker Matan Rochlitz posted by the New York Times this week about one woman’s tough decision gave me a heightened perspective on the subject and touched me deeply. The film tells the true story of one woman’s life changing decision, her suffering at what that choice required, and ultimately many years later a message from her past that brings redemption.

You can watch this short video here.

It is not to be missed.

So much is wrapped into this experience. Ultimately it is a tale about making the hard choices. Sometimes to save ourselves we have to leave others behind who we cannot rescue.

Most of us will never have to make the kind of choice Clairette faced but all of us will at one point in our lives be faced with our own tough decisions to make.

Next time you face a tough choice think use these seven questions from therapist and author Beth Burgess to guide you:

1. If I don’t do this now, will I regret it?

It is too easy to let immediate concerns and fears block us. This question will help you to make important decisions to grasp the opportunities before you as it casts the question out of this present moment into it’s potential implications for your larger life.

2.  What am I afraid of?

This question helps to surface the fears that could hold you back. Fear makes a lousy compass.

3.  What does my heart say?

Burgess writes: “Your gut instincts are often the right ones, and you should never make a decision that doesn’t resonate with you deep inside. Put aside convention, unwanted advice and judgments from others, and ask yourself if this is something that you really want, something that speaks to you as only a heartfelt desire does.”

4. What am I really doing this for?

Like question one, this draws your focus to the big picture. How does this choice connect with your goals? The writer Neil Gaiman once wrote of a simple question he uses to guide his decision making. He imagines his goals as a distant mountain he is travelling to. When faced with a big choice he asks “is this bringing me closer to the mountain?”

Think about the decision facing you, how does it help advance you?

5. Who am I really doing this for?

It is all to easy to get caught up in others needs and plans for us and to mistake putting others needs ahead of ours as virtue.

No two minds are the same, and no one person’s advice will hold the correct answer for us.

Use this question to sort out what this decision means for you and how the needs and agendas of others factor in. It is important to take others into consideration but not to sacrifice what is important or best for us to satisfy someone else.

6. Will I like myself after this decision?

Beth Burgess uses this question to direct our attention to how our choice will impact our self esteem. For example if the decision is to pass on an opportunity, we might feel a blow to our confidence and self esteem. There I go again avoiding a challenge because I don’t feel good enough.

7.  Can I cope with the fall-out?

The big decisions we face all come with fall-out both positive and negative. This question gets our attention on what is likely to follow after the decision so that we can imagine how we will feel and respond.

For more of Burgess’ insights on these questions read her post on Life Hack here.

Clairette had to make her choice in a split second. Had she more time to contemplate each of these questions my guess is that she would have arrived at the same decision – I choose life.

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.

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