The Three-Question Method to Solve Your Dilemmas
Life consists of an eternal string of choices and it’s both the beauty and the burden of it. In Western cultures, we grow up with the idea of free will and from a very young age, we are raised to make choices — smaller, bigger and life-altering ones.
Even If we are blessed with parents who show us the way, we still come to points when we need to make decisions about our behaviour, our personality, our days, plans and ambitions. Depending on our circumstances, we might need to learn the hard way, and our bad decisions teach us how to watch out for consequences first before we act next time.
Sometimes we face options and alternatives, other times we struggle with dilemmas — where it seems impossible to choose the right path.
A dilemma is a mandatory choice between two equally challenging situations, where none of the alternatives calls out to us — rationally or emotionally — and it feels that we need to choose between a rock and a hard place.
A typical, rational decision-making process involves listing the pros and cons, trying to figure out the possible outcomes and their effects on our future. It also can involve lengthy discussion with others and ourselves, asking for advice from those who can help and gathering more data to support each alternative.
We fiercely believe that we make our decisions rationally yet studies show that 95% of our decisions are made emotionally and we only add the rational layer afterwards, to avoid cognitive dissonance.
When thinking about making an emotional decision, we shudder at the thought, knowing how random our feelings and aversions can be. It might even feel that tossing a coin would be a better way, at least we could chalk it up to luck. (By the way, when it comes to decisions, tossing a coin could be a great indicator — as while the coin is in the air we already know which choice we would rather want.)
The problem with dilemmas lies in its very nature that they are emotionally overwhelming and we usually don’t see a significant difference between them or their outcome. The negative consequences or the lack of positives can be daunting and it usually results in postponing the decision to the point when we are forced to make one or life makes it instead of us.
Think about having a really terrible job that is crushing your soul every day, depleting you, leaving you miserable. Deep down you know you need to make a move but the money you earn is giving you financial stability and comfort. On the other side of the balance, there is a promise that it would be better to do what you really want, but it’s tainted by the uncertain vision of potentially becoming unemployed, with no money, even more miserable. The decision can be put off for years, making it harder and harder to do what should be done. The limbo you are in stops you from enjoying your job, trying to improve in it or trying to find ways to change the situation. And the non-decision cripples you, the dilemma deepens.
Of course, for some it wouldn’t be such a difficult choice — they would just take a leap of faith and think later. But if it cripples you, when it is your decision to make, you need to still make a move — instead of letting life make it for you.
When you have to face an impossible situation, it doesn’t have to cripple you and set you up for a wrong, belated decision. The following three questions can help you find the internal answer that you are looking for.
What would the old me suggest?
When you think of life as a result of your decisions, it is imperative that when at some point, you will look back on it, you could live without regrets. Living to old age and being able to tell that we had a happy, satisfying life is the dream of many of us. We think that old age is associated with experience, wisdom and the knowledge of all possible outcomes.
Imagine what the 90-year-old version of you would say, do or recommend. What would be important for them? What kind of factors would they raise your attention to?
The answer you give will tap into your long term thinking, letting go of the mundane, vanity elements. After all, to live until 90, you will need to make long term decisions based on your core values and not on superficial illusions.
What would I tell my best friend in this situation?
Even the most self-aware of us can get into self-loathing and negative self-talk. Facing a dilemma can bring the worst out of us, and the longer we postpone the decision, the more we might scold ourself for it.
We fail to be our own best friend who is unconditionally looking out for us in an honest and no-bullshit way. In situations when you can’t ask your best friend to help you, imagine what you would tell them if they had this exact same situation. How would you help them, how would you guide them and comfort them?
This answer will provide you with a perspective that comes from someone with unconditional acceptance. Be your own best friends and help yourself.
What would I want for my kids if they had the same problem?
Having kids or even just imagining what it might feel like if you were a parent is a great way to put things into perspective when there is a difficult choice.
We want the best for our kids without questions — even if sometimes we fail to show them. Imagining the same difficult situation for your kids will bring out the most emotional and most protective aspect of your personality.
We might accidentally cause harm to our kids but no one else can without facing our rage and fury. A terrible job where the boss is mean with your baby girl? A difficult relationship where your precious little boy is being toyed with by an evil she-devil? Come on, the answer is there! No harm can come to them, they deserve the best, they will have the best!
The situations get immediately a lot simpler when you remove yourself from it and look at it from a parent’s view.
The area of dilemmas also speaks volumes of us. Some struggle with work-related or financial decisions, some freeze when it comes to family relationships or romantic relationships. It’s an interesting self-awareness exercise to note why one certain area can take our decisiveness away because as a bonus, this can help us direct our attention to it and resolve the internal conflict.
The way we are affected by our dilemmas are very unique and linked to our fears and hopes. The difficulty is that the dilemmas are representing our internal struggles, our insecurities, our fears — so no external advice can really push us in the right direction.
Ask yourself these three questions to guide you and discover your answers.
- What would the old me suggest?
- What would I say to my best friend?
- What would I do if it happened to my child?
They will give you a whole different perspective, and instead of the pros and cons, you can find what feels right inside. And this will help you be happy about your choice which is the most you can ask for in a dilemma.