I’m a Psychologist, and This Is What I Do Before Making a Life-Changing Decision

Photo: Getty Images/damircudic

Clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, PsyD, is a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Health and co-host of the Mind in View podcast.

Like everyone else, I’ve made many a big, life-changing decision. For instance, I’m the mom of three kids—including twins, whom I recently welcomed—and I changed jobs several months ago, which was a decision that required moving my entire family to a new state. No matter how decisive you may be, making these larger choices can be tough given the implications they can have on your life (and sometimes your love ones' lives, too), but I’ve figured out a pattern that works for me to make the process a little easier on myself.

First, I’ve found it’s helpful to simply realize that you’ve gotten to a critical point where you have to make a life-changing decision. For me, there are little signals that can surface that tip me off to this being the case. Maybe I’ve been dissatisfied with some area of my life, or there’s an opportunity that I can’t stop thinking about.

Whatever it is that's on your mind, it’s important to observe those patterns that take up headspace and lead you to a potential decision to make. Does the topic at hand keep coming up for you in such a way that it’s hard to shake? If so, take it as a sign that it might require more thought and a subsequent decision to be made.

If you allow yourself to get too overwhelmed by only the potential negative effects of a given a big decision, it can keep you from taking any risks—and risks can be rewarding.

I’m a big fan of looking at the pros and cons of every decision, and trying to be as non-judgmental about my thought process as possible. It’s easy to sometimes hold back on making certain decisions as a result of getting caught up in the changes and negatives that can come with it. But considering the positives is crucial to do, too. If you allow yourself to get too overwhelmed by only the potential negative effects of a given a big decision, it can keep you from taking any risks—and risks can be rewarding.

In addition introspecting about how I really feel and considering both the pros and the cons, when a given decision involves my family, I also talk with my partner about it to get his take, which I value. Before I have that conversation, though, I make sure I understand what it is I want, so that I can communicate it and we can have the most effective possible conversation.

Sometimes we can use talking things over with a partner or family member as a crutch where we look to other people to give us the answers; while their stance and feedback is important, so is understanding how you actually feel and what you actually want. You have to trust your gut—within reason.

It’s normal to feel a mix of good and scared about the prospect of making a life-changing decision, but you want to ultimately ensure that you feel at least 51 percent confident that you’re making the right move. That assurance will help if those moments of self-doubt ever creep in. I always remind myself when it comes to making a big decision that sometimes it’s just a leap of faith. I know that I could hate the results and it could be awful for a while, but that’s okay. Most big decisions are things we can change in the future—and it’s important to keep reminding yourself of that as you go through the process.

As told to Korin Miller

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