How to Make Major Life Decisions: A 3-Step Framework

How do you make a difficult decision?

Not a decision like: “Chipotle or Subway for lunch today?”

(That’s easy: Chipotle)

A decision like: “Do I quit my job and move to Barcelona?”

Here’s the truth:

The best way to make a major life decision is to go with your gut.

Nobody likes to hear that because it just seems so unscientific.

Correction, I actually think that plenty of people like to hear that. However, far fewer people like to say that.

It feels right, but it sounds wrong. This approach seems to be lacking the two things that we think make for sound decision making:

  • A coherent framework
  • Supporting data

Your Gut is Not Your Gut

In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek does a fantastic job explaining that the limbic brain is the portion of the brain that supplies those “gut” feelings.

Unfortunately, the limbic brain does not also control language. That’s the neocortex.

This separation is the reason that often we just know the right decision in our “gut”, but we can’t seem to explain why it’s the right decision.

Our limbic brain knows what to do, but our neocortex has a hard time explaining it.

So while we might feel our emotions in our gut – I know I do – those gut feelings originate in our limbic brain.

It’s important to note, then, that there is a real, even scientific, intelligence to those gut feelings.

A Framework For Gut Decision Making

So if your gut is indeed a good place to go for decision-making wisdom, how do we get in touch with our gut?

Is there a process for identifying what our gut is telling us?

Yes. Yes, there is.

There’s a framework that I’ve been using with my clients that will supply you with the data that you need to make a good gut decision.

Note though that the data you’ll receive will be descriptive not prescriptive.

Meaning that the data doesn’t make the decision right, it flows out (or is a result) of the right decision.

The process then is about merely uncovering what you already know to be true in your gut.

I first encountered this framework at Coaches Training Institute and have since adapted it a bit.

Here’s what the framework looks like:

Each slice of the pie in the image above is a perspective from which you can view the topic at hand.

Essentially, you are going to try on the decision from several different perspectives. It doesn’t have to be eight different perspectives, but shoot for at least three – ideally, five or more.

You’ll then make your decision from the perspective that most resonates with you. That’s your resonant perspective.

Here’s a 3 Step Framework for making gut-based decisions:

  1. Try on multiple perspectives.
  2. Choose the perspective that most resonates with you.
  3. Take action on your decision from that perspective.

Trying on Different Perspectives

Ok. So you’re ready to get in touch with your gut and try on various perspectives.

Let’s take the decision of quitting your job and moving to Barcelona as our case study. Here are some example perspectives:

  1. Current Perspective: Torn about making such a “radical” change. I can’t decide.
  2. Barcelona Perspective: Quit my job tomorrow and get ready to move to Barcelona.
  3. Stay-Here perspective: Stay at my job and never travel to Barcelona, even for vacation.
  4. In-Between Perspective: Go part-time at my job and and use the extra free time to do some extended travel in Barcelona.
  5. Methodical Perspective: Research and apply for Travel Visa. After approval, discuss with my friends, talk to my boss, then make decision.
  6. Off-the-wall perspective: What would my dog advise me to do in this situation?

As you identify perspectives, list them out. Don’t be afraid to be creative or off-the-wall with a few of your perspectives.

Remember, you’re not solving a math equation, you’re looking for resonance, or a “gut reaction”.

Once, you’ve identified some perspectives, try them each on by doing the following:

  • Stand absolutely in that perspective. When you are in a given perspective, suspend disbelief and try on the conviction that the given perspective is absolutely the way things are.

  • Describe how you feel in that perspective. Do you feel alive? Anxious? At peace? Also, use physical descriptions, like warm or cold or tingly.

  • Find the value in that perspective. Every perspective has some value in it, even perspectives that we’d like to move away from. Name at least one valuable thing from each perspective, even if you despise the given perspective.

  • If you have a stated life purpose, determine how that decision feels in light of your purpose. How does this decision align with your purpose? Does it support it? Does it detract from it?

  • Determine which perspective resonates most with you. After having stood in each perspective, choose your resonant perspective, or the perspective that feels best in your gut.

  • Take action from that chosen perspective. Now that you’re in touch with your gut, decide to take some form of concrete action from that place.

    It could be: quit my job tomorrow. Or it could be: research other people’s experiences moving to Barcelona.

The Real Topic

During the course of this exercise, you may find that the “decision” that you were agonizing over was NOT the real issue after all.

For instance, you may realize that you’ve been daydreaming about moving to Barcelona, but the real issue at hand is a lack of adventure in your life.

The remedy might be moving to Barcelona. Or maybe it’s something else.

And that’s ok – as long as you have the courage to take concrete action to honor that gut feeling.

The point is not to get the decision “right”, as if there is a scripted set of circumstances that are predetermined for you to live out.

Instead, the point is to honor your gut and take one more step towards a life that is deeply fulfilling for you and of great service to others.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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36 thoughts on “How to Make Major Life Decisions: A 3-Step Framework

  1. Gut is totally the way to go. For me, it is also helpful to think through the perspectives and options — and build confidence with a pro and cons list while noting the times that resonate the most. Leading me back again to gut. Ultimately decisions are not just about gut but also about fear, confidence and courage.

  2. Great. Thank you. I am in the middle of a big decision about career, and this is very timely and helpful. I think the perspective process is a good one. It gives credibility to all of the options, and allows some sense of which feels right. Sometimes, we don’t even ‘try on’ various scenarios. Useful.

  3. This article reminded me of Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear,” in which he urges readers to listen to their “intuition,” and theorizes that what we call intuition is a place in the brain that is home to many vital observations that our conscious minds have not yet processed.

  4. Ryan–Does this work if you want to move to China and learn Mandarin while being married? (money not a factor) Thanks, Brian

  5. I really want to thank you for this post. Like, a million times over. My partner is very good at making rational decisions, but not at making intuitive decisions, which I think could be another way to define “gut decision” as you do here. He’s been working to improve his intuitive decision making skills, but I think this approach could be an awesome way to honor his feelings (which are hard for him to identify sometimes) while giving him a way of tracking his emotional reaction to different possible outcomes.

    thank you thank you thank you.

    PS: This might be very helpful for people with anxiety disorders like OCD.

    • Glad that it was helpful Laura! I can relate to your partner in that I know what it’s like to be “stuck in my head”. Also, very interesting thought on those w anxiety. I definitely leave this exercise with a much greater feeling of peace and assuredness.

  6. Ryan,
    This was so helpful for Noelle and I. Thanks for all you put into these posts to make them useful for all your readers!

  7. Mm resonant perspective, I like it! I guess I’ve sorta been doing that unconsciously for a while as I tend to think through decisions a lot before jumping in. At times I over think things which can get rather frustrating, but I’ve been doing better at that lately. Sometimes you just have to pump yourself up, start running, and jump right in! (which I eventually did last year jumping into the ice water of Lake Tahoe. It was freezing cold but exhilarating) -Sydney

    • Hahaha! Would have loved to have seen that! Totally agree with jumping in. Analogy: it’s a lot easier to steer a moving ship – so get moving and adjust accordingly. Good to see you here!

  8. Very timely about deciding to quit one’s job and move to Paris, sorry, Barcelona. It’s funny, the Methodical Perspective, boring as it sounds, resonated with me reading the post and in hindsight, that’s what we actually followed. Well, that was after we spent a week trying to figure out what our dogs would say…

  9. I read this post last week and thought that it was a good way to deal with decisions, but as I was not facing any major decisions continued on to the next post. This week however, I find myself faced with an unexpected major decision and was quick to remember this post! I believe I will be spending time in the immediate future trying on different perspectives. Thank you for planting the seed!

  10. I’m so glad I stumbled on this article. It is interesting too because I have been trying to figure out how to decide if I should give up on my business (“quit my job”) and move out of state.

  11. A little late to the party but wanted to say thanks for this article. Really struggling with a major life decision and looking for any resources and this helped.

  12. Well written.. Glad that I read this. Now I need pen and paper. Knowingly or unknowingly, you now became a part of my major decision making process. Thank you.

  13. Awesome piece of wisdom about checking out different viewpoints. I know it works as I am using it already in other areas of consulting. Thanks for sharing, it directly helped me on an issue.