How to make the hardest decision in your life
I pressed send on the email. Immediately I felt sick. Tears stung my eyes & I felt like a colossal failure.
I had a dozen more messages like that to send. Including an email to every customer I had that I was terminating their work with me.
My stomach dropped at the thought of it.
I still had to tell my coaches that they no longer had work from me. These were people I considered friends and who had given so much to the business. To my business.
And I had let them down.
This was by far the hardest decision I have ever made in my career. But it was also the best.
Here are the key lessons I learned from that decision and how you can apply them too.
Investigate the pain
Deep down, I had known the truth of the situation for a while. The business was stuck at its current level and always would be unless something dramatically changed.
I could see a clear future emerging and it was just like the previous 2 years…
We would have good and bad months, but on average, we’d stay exactly the same. Which was stagnant.
Things were fine, but I’m not interested in mediocrity. Average results for my clients, average compensation for my coaches, and average freedom for me. These are not my objectives.
Every 3 months or so, I would pick at the wound and investigate the pain that I was stuffing away under the surface. The truth always came to the surface:
I was incredibly dissatisfied with my business, and was falling out of love with it. But month on month, and year on year, I hid from the pain. As such, my life stayed the same.
Every time I considered starting from scratch, I would imagine losing all the stability I had worked so long for. That thought terrified me.
Yet the pain lingered under the surface as a constant source of dissatisfaction.
The first truth from this episode that I wish I had learned earlier, is that we need to investigate our pain if we’re ever going to create the life we want to live.
Yes, that day was possibly the most painful in my life. Yes, I still feel like a shitty person for putting the decision off for so long and for the effect that had on everyone around me. But actually making that decision was the biggest step I’ve ever taken toward my goals.
I look back on it now with a different lens: growth demands sacrifice….
… and the longer you delay the appropriate sacrifice the greater it becomes.
The sacrifice you have to make sucks. But it’s essential.
You have to sacrifice the undeveloped part of your psyche. You need to rip it to shreds and watch it burn.
Take on as much responsibility as possible
My stagnation came from selfishness. Liberation came from responsibility.
It’s no coincidence I made this decision around the time I was getting married; a time when my responsibilities were about to double.
As Jordan Peterson has said, we grow the most when we shoulder the heaviest burden.
A change happened in me when I was no longer solely looking to preserve myself. My responsibilities were going to include - formally - my wife.
With that comes the conversation around family. And family comes with the question “what kind of example would I want to be to my kids?”
What’s more, when I really investigated the issue, I began to take responsibility for the long term success of my team, too. Not just their present. Or, being completely candid, what they would think of me and how that would feel.
I realised I was letting them down too by continuing in this manner.
Taking on board responsibility was realising that I was responsible for the security of far more people than myself.
That realisation was very uncomfortable, but it was a revelation of truth that changed my future for the better.
I made many mistakes in the months which followed. All of them were the result of rash decisions from a place of scarcity.
From poor communication to shortcuts, I screwed up plenty of times. But there was a common theme to each of the bad moves.
I was in a fight/flight state every time I made a poor decision. Experts call this state “sympathetic” because it activates the sympathetic part of your nervous system.
Your sympathetic part of your nervous system is kind of like the “oh shit, I need to change something” part of your physiology.
Being in this sympathetic state makes short term decision making more likely. We tend to act from a place of fear (a lack) when we are in this state.
Wise decision making on the other hand is about long term judgement applied consistently.
To do this, we need to adjust our physiology to find a more parasympathetic state. Your parasympathetic state is your body’s “everything is fine” way of acting.
This rest/digest condition enhances your ability to think about second or third order consequences.
To get your physiology ready to make wise decisions, sort your sleep hygiene, limit your screen use and caffeine intake, and use breath work and cold exposure to your benefit.
Future-cast your mind
Future casting got me over the line in my tough decision making. It stopped the procrastination and made me realise I needed to take action right that minute.
Future casting is an exercise of imagination where you imagine how you’ll feel about this decision in the future.
So I asked myself exactly that: what would my life be like if I kept on playing safe?
It would be full of regret. I would be resentful. My life would be average, and unfulfilling.
There’s a principle from Stoicism which illuminates this process called premeditatio malorum. We can use this to inoculate ourselves against future emotional states, and also help us make important decisions now.
The following prompt is now something I return to as frequently as possible:
“Imagine you’re on your deathbed - hopefully many years from now. How will you wish you acted right now? What decisions would you tell yourself to make?”
One thing is certain about your life: it’s going to end. You only get one shot at it - why waste it?