Have you noticed how every so often life throws decisions at us? Recently I’ve had a number of these to make, some professional, others more personal. Some have been small, others huge … with all sorts of implications. Ability to cope with decision-making, so psychological research tells us, can depend on a number of factors. One of these relates to whether or not we knew the decision was looming or whether it comes out of left field. Other factors concern the nature of the decision(s), how many of them there are, and what else is going on at the time.
Sometimes I know instinctively what the best thing, or the right thing, is to do, and feel confident about it. Is this a gut feeling or a mental thing? I’m never really sure and it doesn’t really matter. On other occasions I have to dig a bit deeper and be patient with myself. At times like that I find a range of things can be helpful. I find nature very beneficial. Sitting by the sea, mulling things over, it never fails to help. Often, though, I just go for a walk along the beach – or on the downs – and decide not to think consciously about ‘The Dilemma’ at all. It’s surprising how often a solution or decision presents itself either at the time or later.
I am also a great believer in talking things through with people I trust. I am lucky to have a number of good friends, with whom I can be completely honest, and who will be honest with me. They know that launching in with “Right, what you’ve got to do is …” before I’ve explained everything, doesn’t work with me. Sometimes I do actively want advice, but sometimes I find it beneficial to think aloud, discuss the options and to then toddle off and make up my own mind. I do, however, know that if they thought I was making an enormous mistake, they would say so. And often have.
When I taught A-level Psychology, one of the sections of the course that students enjoyed was the one on life events. When we read the research and discussed the findings, they were always surprised that ‘good’ things that happen in life can be as stressful as ‘bad’ ones. One of the reasons is that, regardless of whether something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it heralds change. And the thing about decisions is that they tend to involve change too. Change. It’s a biggie, isn’t it?
Over the last few years I’ve got into mindfulness and meditation. It’s taken me decades to be able to do it. Getting out of your mind and into your body, wow! It’s like taking off your head for a while and having a lie down. Then you can put it back on. Unfortunately, I don’t have any miracle solutions for how to make big decisions. I have made enormous changes in my life in the last two years. When I left teaching, I decided to enrol for my MA and start writing full-time. I also decided to sell my house and move to the coast. When our mother died last summer, my brother and I had to empty to the house and help sell it. Thank goodness you only have to do that once in your life. It has been a long period of having to make some very difficult decisions, sometimes one after the other, but often with many converging. Recently I’ve had more pleasant ones to make: where to live; which house to put an offer on. These have been, as the research shows, stressful and draining. Other decisions linger, such as how to support myself whilst I’m writing my books and trying to get that illusive publishing contract.
Next week I will move into my new permanent house. I will be able to move all of my belongings from Coulsdon and have them in one place. The house there still hasn’t been sold, but it’s going through, s l o w l y. I hope that this intense period of upheaval and decision-making is coming to an end. Meanwhile, I shall continue to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and trying to live in the present moment. And having faith that life has a timing of its own.
Vicky Newham © 2013