We make decisions all our lives and, indeed, every day. Most of these are straight-forward and don’t require a lot of thought. What shall I have for lunch? Shall I read a book or watch the TV this evening? Should I phone up my daughter for a chat?
Yes, you may need to think for a small moment, but these decisions are not a matter of any agony. Whichever way you decide.
But from time to time we are faced with much larger problems. We can procrastinate for a period, but eventually we need to decide. Such decisions tend to be ones that will affect our future lives in some substantial way.
They may be about housing. Should I downsize? If so, where should I go? What kind of commitment do I want to take on? Do I want a garden? And so forth.
Or they may be about life plans. Should I continue to work? If so, should it be full-time or part-time? Would I be happier volunteering a few days a week? If so, what kind of activity would I wish to engage in?
Or they may be about personal relationships. Should I try to mend fences with my oldest friend after a bad argument? Should I try to spend more time with my granddaughter, although it is very inconvenient to do so, as she lives a long way away?
And so forth. All very tricky.
What are the key considerations that will help us decide?
Sometimes, the answer is clear and staring us in the face. Here is one scenario that I just invented.
You are thinking of moving to the granny annexe that your son and daughter-in-law have built with your needs in mind. You need help with a new disability, they want to look after you, and you are a very close family in any case. And you adore your grandson.
The decision is very straight-forward. A problem happily solved.
But it isn’t always – perhaps not even usually – like that.
Often, there is some path that your head tells you is the right thing to do, but your heart feels it is wrong. For instance, let me amend the above scenario slightly.
You know that you need help, and you know your son and daughter-in-law want to look after you, but deep down, you don’t like their ways all that much. You don’t want to be thrust into their company on a daily basis. And your grandson is not being brought up in the way you like, so that he is not pleasant to be around.
It looks like you ought to accept their help, but you suspect that the move may result in a lot of arguments and aggravation.
What do you do?
I have never been one to tell friends or family how to lead their lives, because I feel such decisions are very personal and individual. I might help by asking a lot of pertinent questions, enabling them to clarify the issues.
But it would be very rare for me to advise them which way to fall.
I do often say, in the words of my husband who has said this for years, “Go with your emotions.” This is another way of saying “follow your heart.”
If you think about it long enough, you will find that most difficult decisions involve a conflict between what you think you ought to do and what you, deep down, want to do.
There is the sensible course, which everyone outside your orbit, would say “yes, of course, do that.”
And there is the course your heart tells you is right.
I say go with your heart every time.
But every case is different. It is rarely straight-forward.
You may be single and in your mid-60s and due for retirement. You are in good health, and everyone says, “Get out a bit, travel, see the world.” This sounds like sensible advice, but actually you love your work and enjoy the company of your colleagues and have no interest in travel.
Or perhaps it is the other way around. Everyone might say, “Times are hard, you should keep earning money while you’re able; don’t retire!” and this seems like the sensible course. But deep down, you are bored with your work and want to get out to see the world while you can.
Same scenario, different emotions. Only you can know which one is right.
And by all means, talk it over with someone who can ask the right questions. This can really help you to clarify where you want to be. Let it buzz around your head for a while.
But do try to follow your heart.
It may not be easy. You may have to step on some people’s toes. It may cost you more money or mean that you have little money left over for anything else.
But every time that I have ever followed my head, I have realised afterwards it was the wrong thing to do. And when I have followed my heart, things have worked out, and I have felt at peace.
And peace of mind is worth everything.
Are you in the middle of making some key decision about your life? Does what you think you ought to do differ from what you, deep down, want to do? Does ‘follow your heart’ make sense to you?