Being at a crossroad can feel overwhelming. We might hesitate because of the gravity of the decision before us. Not knowing which way to go, we plant our feet in indecision and hesitation. Perhaps we stop ourselves, because we know what we should do, despite not wanting to do it. In any of these cases, the weight of a decision and processing how to move forward can be daunting. As a result, we feel a substantial sense of loss, and are no closer to creating a solution. We may not know what to do next because we are uncertain of our goal to begin with. The following are three practical steps to engage in when deciding what comes next.
1. Determine the result you want.
Figuring out the desired result – your end game – is the first step in deciding how to move forward. When there is no clear direction with regard to the end, it is usually because the beginning is muddled. Determining your desired outcome or expectation is easily done by examining your goals. If you hope to save for a trip, you must first decide where you are going.
Similarly, if you hope to work towards building financial independence, you must figure out what that freedom means to you. If you plan on pursuing a certain career, you should probably pursue a related internship. And if you hope to read more, you need to first create an outline (“by the end of this year”) so that you can develop a minimum number of pages to read per day.
All of these sound intuitive, but can be overwhelming at the outset. If you have trouble deciding what comes next, it may be because you have not decided what you want. You might have studied for several years, or been in a relationship even longer, before realizing that you did not want to continue. Sometimes because of sunk cost bias, we will forgo the opportunity we truly desire because we believe we have already committed too much to another alternative.
Getting clear about what you ultimately want, may mean you have to re-focus, and sacrifice time already invested in another endeavor. In layman’s parlance – charge it to the game. It’s okay to lose time spent on something you do not want. Of course, it is the time that you cannot recover, but it is better to spend time wisely going forward, on a goal that aligns with your vision for your life.
Alignment will also mean that you have to make decisions about competing interests. Often, you will have a choice between an excellent opportunity, and a great one – and being clear about your vision for your life, is what allows you to know which one is which. The decisions we make are often inconsistent with our goals because we have not clearly defined exactly what our goals are. Being decisive requires you to know what you want at the outset. While you should carefully consider and explore options before you, decisiveness is key to being able to articulate what comes next.
2. Prioritize your tasks.
Prioritization orders tasks, objectives, and goals, and determines how and when we want to pursue them. Prioritization is critical in the pursuit of our aims and has the effect of even influencing our doggedness of pursuit, or grit, when we have committed ourselves to an endeavor. Perseverance follows priority because your search will reflect what you desire, and how much importance you have placed on it. Creating a priority to pursue until you reach the desired goal is an important aspect of goal-setting.
Being able to create a priority requires us to be intimately aware of the place something should occupy in our lives. Not being conscious of our desires or the place we want something to fill in our lives has the effect of us establishing several priorities, and overlooking what matters most. In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown offers an important insight about prioritization. “The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.”
During the 20th century, the word (de)evolved into signifying a group of objectives or several initiatives. As such, we saw the perpetuation of a lack of focus just by making a noun plural–and this continues to have the effect of distracting people from pursuing what they want. Setting the priority for a larger goal requires you to understand yourself, your wants, and your circumstances, and making the best decision about how to go forward based on how your life looks. This decision is unique to each individual. It requires you to pay attention to how things are manifesting in your life, so that you may recognize opportunities and make manifest what you want see.
3. Design a plan.
The reason creating a plan is the last step in this process, is because you have first to make sure that your goals align with the objectives you have prioritized in your life. Too often, individuals will build on a goal, one that many people close to them are in agreement with (and co-sign on). The goal that they pursue, however, may not align with who they are and what they want from their lives. Some people mistakenly create a plan first, and their plan is reflective of the uncertainty in their lives. This is why you often find people who drop out of law school after a semester, or those who change careers after doing something else for several years.
Since they did not take the time at the outset to decide what they wanted from their lives, these people lived with bad decisions for longer than necessary. They found their lives in disarray and found themselves starting over. That being said, it is okay to start over. Once you figure out what you should be doing, your pursuits should reflect your desires. Determining what you want from your life, ordering everything around that, and then creating a plan, will allow you to determine what comes next.