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How to get out of a dilemma - Relax: it’s not about you anyway. (The 10 commandments of career chang

Have you ever grappled with a dilemma and had the sense that there is no right answer? Perhaps you’re grappling with one now. The pros and cons seem to balance out and no matter how much you think about it or how many people you ask for advice, the answer eludes you and you can’t get that sense of certainty to guide you towards a particular option?...

Similarly, do you remember a time when you were 100% clear about a decision? Perhaps you were completely psyched. You knew which direction you were going in and, even if you anticipated obstacles or were anxious about certain elements, there was no way you weren’t going to go ahead with your decision? What a great feeling!

The difference between two states comes down to one big thing: the way our attention is directed or your focus (and yes, meditation is a great practice). We think that there is a perfect computation of all the variables that will lead to the perfect answer but there isn’t.

Allow me to explain: when a decision point comes into our awareness, our brain has created a perception of contrast i.e. a sense that consequences will differ based on whether we choose A or B. This contrast can get inappropriately magnified in many situations e.g. whether to buy gadget A or B or shoes of colour A or B, and arguably the majority of decisions we make.

Once this happens, it’s easy to slip into a lower level of brain function attaching strong, survival related emotions to the decision. In fact, research shows that we are terrible at predicting the consequences of our choices and particularly what will make us happy. So the anxiety and confusion around the decision is very much artificial and linked to the magnification of the emotional consequences the decision will have.

The quickest way out of this is to redirect your attention towards (higher) metacognitive abilities, evaluating options in a detached manner and knowing that in the grand scheme of things it’s not the consequence but what you’ve learned as a result of the process that matters most. So, it’s important to redirect your attention away from the perceived external consequences as being the decisive factor in making a choice.

In psychology, this is akin to moving the source of your emotional experience from external events to internal capacities (moving the locus of control of your life from outside yourself to inside). It’s also what could be described as self-trust. A lack of self-trust results in a disconnection from your ability to make decisions (and influence outcomes) and ensuing confusion and anxiety.

I’ve seen this time and again in my own life and with the people I’ve had the opportunity to coach. In career decisions, the confusion may appear as a dilemma over whether to leave or stay in the job. However, working through the deeper experience and redirecting the person’s focus towards their innate ability to know what is required and take action unlocks the process and leads to great outcomes.

It’s always an exciting transformation and it happens in the present moment. I’ve seen it help someone move from a prolonged period of wondering whether to leave the job to rapidly getting a promotion into a role they love; and for another, being able to take steps that open doors elsewhere and lead them to their dream job.

An important step in the process is shifting focus from survival fears around the dilemma to the bigger picture and how your actions are a contribution to the greater whole. So relax: it’s not about you anyway! Grounding in a sense of being part of a greater whole and making a decision from there is the most efficient and effective way I know of making a solid decision. That’s because we are all part of an intelligent, complex ecosystem and when your decisions are in alignment with its flow, things are so much easier and pleasant for you and others!

Have a great week.


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