Over the course of our lives, we make a lot of decisions. We choose who we marry, where to live, what career path to take, when to change jobs, and even what we choose to have for dinner. We make these big and small decisions several times throughout the day. And even though we have a lot of practice with decision making, sometimes it’s hard to know when to make a change or when to accept things the way that they are.
If you’ve listened to my podcast before, you’ll know that I end each one with the same phrase, “Accept what is, love what is.” But how do we decide when to accept our circumstances vs. make a change? Let’s look at three examples to explore this.
Let’s say you’re dating someone whom you love very much and see a future with. But, you’re just not ready to get married to this person because you argue frequently. Should you accept this person for who they are or should you try couples therapy and see if you can improve your communication?
Another example is deciding when to retire. You enjoy your job but it is especially exhausting to work every day as you near retirement. If you keep working, you’ll continue being tired, but you’ll be able to save more money. So you must decide between: working for another year or so, which will be exhausting but will help you save up more or retiring now and slowing down for a bit, with one less year’s salary in your savings.
Let’s look at a third example. You’re diagnosed with cancer and the hospital near your home has presented you with a limited number of treatment options. Do you choose to work with this hospital which is close to home, or do you look into other options, maybe even internationally, to see what else is out there? I.e., do we accept our circumstances, or do we attempt to change them?
We’ll explore how to answer this question, no matter the circumstances, in this blog.
I believe there are five steps we can go through to help us know if we should accept or change our path.
The first thing that we need to do is gather information. We can do this by looking at the consequences of each potential decision, and place ourselves in either outcome to see if there is a favorable choice. Gathering information around our choices can help us gain a deeper understanding of which path is ultimately the best one for us, at this moment.
The next thing we should do is make a list of the pros and cons of both of the paths before us. If we choose to accept our circumstances, what are the potential good and bad outcomes? Or if we choose to change, what are the potential good and bad outcomes?
Once we have a better understanding of the pros and cons of either option, the third thing we can do is ask other people what they think. I urge you to move through this step with a bit of caution because some people, simply put, give bad advice! So we want to be careful that we ask someone who we trust, and remember that ultimately this is YOUR decision to make.
My job is centered around helping people make decisions. I do this by not telling them what to do, even though I have a lot of experience in understanding how things might turn out. I help my clients make decisions by listening to them. I listen to the pros and cons of the paths before them, and all of the pieces that go into making their decision. From there I direct the information that I’ve learned through my listening, back on them. In the end though, it’s ultimately up to my client to make the decision, just like it’s up to you to decide what’s best.
Once we’ve gathered our information, taken the time to weigh the pros and cons of each path, and asked for a second opinion, it’s time to sit with everything in stillness. I call this fourth step, retreat time. The purpose of this step is to simply listen to what our hearts are telling us. Retreat gives us the opportunity to quiet our minds, and listen to our inner selves. When we take the time to sit still, I believe that we will find the best path for us. Sometimes this looks like sitting still for an hour, or going away for a weekend, or going on retreat for a month. If we use this time to quiet the mind and reflect, we will find what we’re supposed to do next.
And now we’re on our last and final step, making a decision. It’s human nature to waffle when we make a decision. It’s really hard to decide on something without second-guessing. But, in this particular step, we can feel confident about our choice because we’ve already put in the work in the four previous steps.
We can lead beautiful, fulfilling lives, even when there are tough decisions to be made. These decisions can be made easier if we spend time gathering as much information as possible and staying true to ourselves. There may be times where the decision has to be made for us, like if our partner wants a divorce even though we don’t. So we’re left with one option, to accept our circumstances. And it may seem like we don’t have any power in this situation, but we can still choose how we react to the news and how we live our lives after the fact.
Reinhold Nieubuhr said this about finding the right path, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” If we can fully accept circumstances that we have no control over and understand ourselves well enough to know what the right path is, we have the power to make decisions that will better ourselves, and ultimately help us lead beautiful lives.