Author: Sydney Woods, LAC, NCC, CRC

How do we make decisions? Some might be quick and easy choices like what am I going to have for dinner? Others may require more time and energy, like how do I pursue this career change? Working with clients (and myself) on the many big and small decisions we all make each day has helped me come up with a formula for one possible method to utilize when making any decision. There are of course many other ways to examine decision-making and the important thing is that we are each intentional in finding a method that works for us as individuals.

To illustrate the steps I’ve come up with, I’ll give you a short background story. As most of my clients know, I frequently bring my dog, Tilly, to therapy sessions with me. She is a white fluffy Maltipoo who, quite honestly, just wants to sleep and eat her days away. She’s 14 now, so I mostly let her call the shots. A little over a year ago, she got really sick with an intestinal issue (I’ll spare you the details as I can’t explain them super coherently, and the details I do understand were pretty gross). Essentially, she needed to have a hyper-specific, super risky, and very expensive surgery or I was told she continually decline and would likely die in a span of a few months. So, obviously, I had a big choice to make. Do I go for the surgery, which she may not survive, or may not even be helpful, or do I let her go?

I reached out to loved ones for their perspectives and support, which was incredibly helpful, but it was still a decision that I needed to make on my own. Tilly has been my dog her entire life, and I felt like it was my responsibility. So I started creating my decision-making process:

Step 1: Research/Gathering Information

In this case the research included looking into questions like: Which vets could perform this surgery? What was the likelihood she would survive the surgery? What if I only gave her medication? How rapid could I expect her decline to be? What would the timeframe look like if I needed to put her down?

This took a lot of time and effort and required reaching out to several experts who knew much more about veterinary issues than I did. It also required me asking myself the tough questions and confronting some painful emotions.

Step 2: Defining my specific values in making a decision

I obviously loved my dog, but was I willing to put my own comfort of having her around above her quality of life? What was my relationship to finances at this time? I knew the surgery would be very expensive, was I willing to sacrifice some of my financial security for a surgery that may not even save my dog?

Step 3: Identifying who else has stake in the situation

The two obvious players were myself and Tilly. But other people had their own investment in the situation as well. My husband, who adopted Tilly as his dog as well had some stake in what happened to her. How would our other dog react? What would my family want? How would my therapy clients react, as they had grown close to her as well?

Step 4: Coming up with Options

Brainstorming! I threw out any and all ideas related to the situation without immediately evaluating them. Were there other surgeries or experimental treatments available? Could I take on a second job to cover the vet bills? Could I put her down sooner rather than later and save her some physical pain? Could I take time away from my job to care for her after the surgery? Could I clone her? (This last one is just a joke to lighten the mood)

Step 5: Applying Values/Evaluation of Options

The key here was looking at my personal values system and using it to eliminate or bolster some of the options presented during the brainstorming process. This helped me put my options in a somewhat coherent order in terms of how realistic and manageable the options were.

Step 6: Implementation of the Plan

In this specific scenario, this looked like me finding a specialist vet and moving forward with a consultation and eventually the surgery. Thankfully, Tilly survived the surgery and the recovery (which was very touch-and-go) and is still around to help me conduct therapy sessions with my clients. The implementation of this plan included a pretty hefty financial sacrifice, some time away from work, and a lot of stress.

Step 7: Compassion for Ourselves

Really, I would encourage clients to be intentionally self-compassionate through the entire decision making process. Making choices can be really challenging, and we are all just doing the best we can. I remember crying after dropping Tilly off for surgery. The vet told me to say “goodbye” to her in case she didn’t make it out. I felt so much anxiety and was so worried I had made the wrong choice. Reminding myself that I made the best decision I could at the time, with the information I had, really helped me sit with my feelings and let go of the things I couldn’t control.

Of course, it is easy for me to say now that I feel that I might the right decision for myself and for Tilly because things turned out how I had hoped. But, I like to think that even if it had gone differently, I would still feel proud of myself for the thought and consideration I took into the decision making process.

I hope this is a useful tool for anyone out there struggling to make a decision. Whether it’s something as trivial as should I have a banana or strawberries for a snack?, or something with potentially higher stakes, like should I stay with my partner?, I hope this example helps provide some clarity and one possible way to navigate the tough choices life throws at us.

Need some support as you make decisions? Schedule a consult call with Sydney here.

About Sydney:

Sydney’s goals as a therapist are to be able to provide a safe space for clients where they dig into who they are, and give them the tools to be able to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin.

She enjoys working with adults who struggle with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, psychotic disorders, and interpersonal challenges. Sydney also loves working with clients who are excited to understand themselves and their emotions at a deeper level and gain insight about how they interface with the people in their lives.