I have spent many hours of my adult life sitting with people struggling to make difficult decisions.

Mostly I have listened, occasionally I have asked a question I hoped might be helpful. Never, I hope, have I tried to make the decision on behalf of the person facing a challenging choice. Good choices are only ever be made by the person who is responsible for the decision and who has to live most fully with the consequences of the choice once it is made.

If I have learned anything about hard decisions, it is that they are hard. Many situations in life do not come with clear-cut options where one option is obviously preferable to the alternatives. To turn left is not ideal; going right poses many challenges. Staying put is simply not possible.

Decisions are difficult for the very reason that the best way forward is not immediately obvious. Life is bewildering, complex and often profoundly confusing. Many of our most vital decisions are made in a fog of uncertainty, doubt, and pain. We grope our way forward, putting one foot in front of the other, seeking to follow whatever glimmer of light we may be able to perceive.

What can I do when the fog is most dense and I simply cannot discern which of a number of less than perfect choices is the best?

There are eight things I have learned that may help with difficult decisions (three today, five tomorrow):

1. Ditch the word “perfect.”

There are no perfect decisions. Every complex life-choice involves some degree of compromise. I must let go of the illusion that there is ever one perfect way forward. The pressure on decision-making diminishes when I accept that I will never get it perfectly right. I will do the best I can and then I will seek to live peacefully with whatever results unfold, especially those that are less than ideal.

I am never free to dictate outcomes. My only real choice is how I respond to whatever outcomes follow from whatever decision I have made. I will always be better prepared for difficult decisions in the future, if I determine in the present that I will live with the consequences of any decision as best as I am able.

2. Go deeper.

There is a place within every human being that is the carrier of wisdom. There is a voice of truth, a kind of inner prompting, a gentle urging that stirs deep within my being. But it is not a voice that is easily or readily accessible.

We have been trained away from wisdom. We live too readily in the surface details and fail to heed the deeper stirring of insight and knowing. To return to our natural inner truth, takes practice.

Wisdom tends to whisper. It speaks in gentle soft tones. It seldom shouts. It is not loud or demanding.  The tone of a better decision is heard only by deep, patient, open, responsive listening. When I demand, push, or give in to urgency I make it difficult to hear the voice of wisdom.

The path to wisdom begins with stopping. To stop is to acknowledge that, at this moment, I do not know.

I move forward in wisdom by standing still, relaxing, coming back into my body, and sitting more lightly to the clamouring voices that harp in my head.

So, I seek to listen; I look carefully; I pay attention. And, as long as I can, I wait and hold the uncertainty of indecision without collapsing the tension by rushing ahead.

3. Resist reactivity.

When I see myself rising up in high indignation against one of the options presenting itself as a possible course of action, I need to stop, step aside for a moment and pay attention to my reactivity. What is the origin of this intensity? What is it about this possible choice that causes me to feel so agitated? What is the source of my fear?

I feel this reactivity in my body. It is a knot in my stomach, a tenseness in my shoulders, a rigidity in my jaw. When I see these signs, I recognize that I have lost my ground. I am no longer standing in that steady strong place where knowing resides and where my best decisions can be made.

Reactivity is always a sign that I have become unconscious in some area of my life. There is something I am not willing to see, some uncomfortable reality I prefer not to acknowledge, perhaps even to myself. Reactivity reminds me that, much of my life is governed by my desire to avoid facing difficult truths about myself.

#3 leads directly to #4 which we will look at tomorrow.