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4 Tips (and 52 Questions) For Making Difficult Life Decisions

I recently made the decision to return to the United States as a result of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Tokyo. Those who know me know that this was one of the most difficult decisions of my life to date. I loved living in Tokyo. Living where my mother had grown up allowed me to connect with my heritage and the Japanese culture in a new way. Moreover, renting an apartment and paying for my own expenses gave me a newfound sense of confidence and independence that I relished.

I understand that these are not normal circumstances. The truth is that I vacillated between staying in Tokyo and returning to the US for a long time. In fact, my original plan was to stay in Tokyo. However, the rising number of cases in the city was a crucial factor that drove me to make the decision to return to the US. Here are several other factors that allowed me to make this difficult decision.

4 Tips for Making Difficult Life Decisions

1. Maintain Open, Honest Communication

I can’t stress how clutch this was. Being open with my family about how I was feeling about staying in Tokyo at the beginning of the year as this situation continued to escalate was a significant factor. 

I was also honest with my employer. I initiated the conversation with everyone involved. Being honest and transparent with my intentions ensured that everyone involved was on the same page and eliminated the potential for misunderstandings. This transparency also allowed me to understand what was expected of me. This is what allowed me to keep my contract open, an option I am keeping should I wish to return to the country when it is deemed safe to do so.

Maintaining good communication and being transparent may not be a possibility for everyone, but doing so can help alleviate the potential for misunderstandings and ensure that you are not burning any potential bridges with companies or individuals. 

In addition to avoiding misunderstandings, being transparent and open with each other helps employees build a stronger relationship with their employer. While transparency may not be the easiest thing to prioritize, there is no denying the positive effect it can have on your workplace experience.

2. Assess Your Finances

Trust me, I totally understand that you may not want to look at your finances and stick your head in the sand. Look at how much money you spend on a monthly basis for necessities, such as student loan payments, utility bills, and food. Budgeting is extremely important, especially if you are living on your own.

Like it or not, your budget will dictate a lot of your choices. In my case, I had to take a multitude of factors into consideration. I had to objectively look at my finances, which led me to the painful conclusion that no matter how much I loved living in Tokyo, I couldn’t justify staying in such an expensive city in the current climate of uncertainty. 

Related: How To Budget Your First Real Salary

3. Assess Your Mental Health 

This was by far the most difficult aspect of my decision. I have made no secret about the fact that moving abroad has been great for my mental health. Moving back to the US felt like a step backward in many ways. However, these circumstances were not-and still are not-typical. 

In the end, I made the decision that I thought was the best for me by assessing the state of my mental health objectively. I reflected on how I had felt in the past few months and how I was feeling at the time. 

Assessing your past and current state of mind is crucial in making the best decision for yourself. For me, journaling was key. It was a great way to ascertain how I had felt in the past, and how I was currently feeling.

4. Project Into The Future

Of course, none of us can predict the future, especially in the current circumstances, but it’s important to try to predict where you see yourself in a few years. Have you been wanting to make a change? Is there something you are dissatisfied with? 

Leaving the familiarity of an established routine can be scary, but sometimes staying in the situation you’re in can do more harm than good. 

Projecting into the future can allow you to create opportunities for the changes you are hoping to make. Focusing on those opportunities instead of the things you miss or the things you might leave behind is a better use of your time than wallowing in the past.

Making big decisions is a part of all of our lives, regardless of age. Some of these decisions are harder than others, and they can take time. Sometimes it is okay to take time in order to reach a solution that satisfies yourself and others around you if they are affected. 

There are instances, however, where you won’t have the luxury of time to reach a satisfactory conclusion. However, you and the others around you have made big decisions before, and have made the best out of the situation, regardless of the results or consequences. Yes, times are uncertain, but it is in times of uncertainty that we learn just how resilient we are.

Related: Starting Everything With the End in Mind

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52 Questions For Making Difficult Life Decisions

This list originally appeared as a free resource in our Resource Library in June 2015. You can save it in a printable version here.

  1. How does this line up with where I want to be next year?
  2. Does this fulfill me physically?
  3. Will this fulfill me emotionally?
  4. Does this fulfill me spiritually?
  5. Are there any potential drawbacks that keep me from going one way or another?
  6. Will this impact my finances negatively?
  7. Am I afraid it won’t work out the way I want it to?
  8. What do I have to lose?
  9. If it doesn’t work out, what’s my backup plan?
  10. Will this harm anyone else?
  11. Are other people impacted by my decision? In what way?
  12. How does this line up with where I want to be five years from now?
  13. Am I jeopardizing my health or physical safety?
  14. What do I have to gain?
  15. Am I ready to make this decision today?
  16. What have other people in my position done?
  17. Can I live with the consequences if I take this action?
  18. Am I happy with where I am right now?
  19. What makes me the most happy about my life right now?
  20. Am I unhappy with where I am right now?
  21. What makes me the most unhappy about my life right now?
  22. What would I change about my current situation if I could?
  23. Do I need to make a detailed plan for what I will do to make this happen?
  24. What resources, tools, or research do I need to do to make this decision?
  25. What information would make this decision easier to make?
  26. If I looked back on my life 50 years from now, how would I feel about this decision?
  27. Does this go against any of my core principles or beliefs?
  28. Will I be disappointed in myself if I do or do not do this?
  29. Have I written down the pros and cons of each side of this decision?
  30. Have I talked with my mentor about this?
  31. How will this benefit me?
  32. How will this hinder me?
  33. What are the drawbacks of each side?
  34. Will I be making any sacrifices?
  35. Am I prepared to make this change right now?
  36. How does this impact my goals for the week?
  37. How will this impact my goals for the month or year?
  38. Is this better or worse than my current situation?
  39. Is the grass really greener on the other side?
  40. Am I prepared for the commitment this might take?
  41. Will I be able to to do it on my own?Or will I need help?
  42. Am I willing to accept help from others if I cannot do it on my own?
  43. Will this make me a happier person?
  44. Have I changed my way of thinking so my actions will fall in line?
  45. Do I have the support I need to make this change (financial, emotional, etc)?
  46. Am I ready to make this decision?
  47. Am I scared of this change? What aspects of it frighten me?
  48. Can I come back to where I am now if I make this decision?
  49. How will I react if I think I’ve made the wrong decision?
  50. What is holding me back from making this decision?
  51. How would this decision affect other parts of my life?
  52. Will I regret not taking this chance when I had it?

It is not always easy to find the solution to your problem when you are making difficult life decisions. But with some careful thought and attention to detail, you can at least give it your best shot.

Related: 5 Questions That Will Help You Figure Out Your Next Steps

About the Author

Alisa Tanaka

Alisa Tanaka graduated with a Communications degree from Lewis & Clark College in 2012. She hopes to develop a career that allows her to make a measurable impact on the world while doing something that she loves. Her interests include psychology, linguistics, and mental health. She can also be found reading, watching documentaries, and writing her blog.