How to Make Big Decisions When Life Surprises You Big

By: Raquelle Stiefler

When it comes to decision-making, I generally tend to be the agonizing type, so the paradox of me writing a post on decision making techniques will not be lost on people that know me well. That said, we are paradoxical creatures, often wrestling with aspects of ourselves that have challenged us most, ironically leading to a certain expertise.  

Recently I was faced with a decision of enormous personal implication, and I’d like to share my process, which can be applied to any significant decision and will hopefully be of some value to anyone facing a similar situation.

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Spoiler alert…you probably already know the answer.  There is plenty of evidence suggesting that decisions are made emotionally versus logically, even when the facts may point in the opposite direction.

We’ve all surely heard about or read Blink by Malcom Gladwell, the ubiquitous treatise on minimal mental processing in order to draw brilliant and successful conclusions.  Many studies have shown that emotion based decision-making leads to more favorable objective, and subjective, outcomes than deliberative approaches, such as the ones referenced here and here

And if you are feeling REALLY stuck and can’t seem to ‘hear’ any clear answer from within, then there probably isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  They are simply two different paths on your journey.

In my case, seeing the blue lines appear on a pregnancy test one afternoon in mid September of 2016 sent a wave of dizzying awe, and shock, through my heart. Though I could have been sufficiently convinced by my initial happy feeling, this was too big a surprise, with too many moving parts and life changing ramifications, for me to simply ‘trust my gut’ without some further digging – I needed verification that my gut was indeed to be trusted.

After all, my summer had been a magical one, filled with travel (Iceland! Portugal! Spain! California!), and my New York City, delayed-adulthood existence came with the luxury of virtually no responsibility to anyone other than myself.  To complicate matters, I was also currently single, and owned my own retail business, which meant unpredictable hours with fluctuating income.  When I wasn’t having fun flying around the world, I was working on growing my career and trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Though men and women have started families in much more difficult circumstances than mine, this was certainly complicated and more than a little scary.


Whether the decision that needs to be made is a surprise, or whether it’s a situation you’ve set into motion yourself, it’s a good idea to take note of your initial emotions and thoughts.  Write a quick journal entry about how you feel, what your fears and excitements are, and then set that aside.  You’ll be glad you did.

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Next step is to set your clock.  What is an appropriate length of time you are willing to give yourself, given the magnitude of the choice?  An hour?  A weekend?  A month?  Your time is precious because your life is precious.  There is a definite tipping point where time ceases to become your friend, and instead becomes a torture device, serving no purpose other than to keep you from moving forward.  So be disciplined and respect your valuable time enough to choose your window-and stick to it.


Too much advice, like too much time, can become more of a black hole then a help. But in careful measure, the conversations you have with those you trust can be very powerful and help give you the confidence you need, answer questions you may not even have thought to ask, or lead you in a new direction that may be even better than the one you were considering. 

However, you must spend adequate time first in your own mind, living with your unadulterated thoughts and instincts, before reaching out to others.  When you do reach out, consider carefully whose advice you are seeking.  Strike a balance between asking people who simply know you very well, and people who have experienced similar situations to the one you are considering.  

And most importantly, remember that everyone comes to you with their own set of experiences, opinions, fears, and desires – so take everything with a grain of salt, even while you take it seriously.

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In my case, I reconnected with a therapist for a short, powerful burst of sessions.  If you’re starting a business, invest in a business coach or consultant.  If you’re considering dropping everything and moving to a new city to be with a loved one, schedule a few light-hearted but important couples therapy sessions to identify concerns before they turn into major issues.

A professional can be more objective about you and your situation than those that are close to you, and a little time and money spent now will be well worth it down the road.


With any leap-of-faith, support is paramount.  You can’t, and shouldn’t try, to do it  alone. Create a picture for yourself of what your team would look like.  Who can you count on for emotional, financial, technical, legal, and other forms of support?

Identify who’s missing as well, so that you’ll know where to focus your search to complete your squad.

Nobody has a ready-made, perfect network, but you probably know vastly more people than you think you do- and knowing in advance both what you need and who you might reach out to when the time comes is both soothing and empowering.


  • 10%/10%/80%

This technique spots your fears/hesitations and creates a path to the solution, preventing you from spending all your energy stuck in fear.   

Here is a very simple example: Let’s say you’re considering leaving your well paid, secure job in order to start your own business. Or in my case, fearing a future where I’d never again be able to leave the house without paying exorbitantly for a baby sitter.  Create a chat and list your fears in column #1, possible solutions in column #2, and action steps for each solution in column #3.


In column #1, make a list of what you love/enjoy about your life the way it is right now. Circle the things that would change if you were to make this new, big decision. In column #2, create a list of what would appear in your life that doesn’t exist now, were you to make this change.  

Then ask yourself, are the differences/sacrifices worth it?


As Zoe Weil writes in Most Good, Least Harm, “Living your epitaph may be the most important ingredient for inner peace and serenity.  When you actively align your choices with your life’s purpose and goals, you live more honestly, more courageously, and with greater integrity, and these virtues bring with them a powerful kind of freedom.”

Write a list of 25 things that YOU admire and respect in a person your age. Financial security? Not smoking? Constantly learning? Volunteering? How do you want to see yourself? How do you want others to describe you?

Now look at the list.  Identify where you are living your epitaph and where you might be falling short. Will the life change you are contemplating get you closer to hitting the mark on all 25 items, or at least more than you are now?  


This one is the most difficult because it requires the most introspection.  List your motivations and ask, are they motivations you can live with?  Are they motivations that at 2 o’clock in the morning, when nobody is in the room but you, will bring you peace? Or are you creating monsters you’ll have to fight in the dark?

Are you making a decision because it aligns with your life’s purpose?  Because it makes your heart sing?  Because it’s something you believe in wholeheartedly?

Or are you trying to please someone else?  Gain prestige?  Escape or prove something?

This won’t be black and white – certainly we all have somewhat complicated motivations and tend to do things for multiple reasons.  But it’s crucial to develop an understanding and constantly check yourself – so that you can look back with confidence and not regret.


In 2002, author of “Stumbling Upon Happiness”, Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor, conducted research suggesting we tend to be happier once we’ve finally made a big decision-commitment is more satisfying than keeping our options open -particularly decisions that are irrevocable or at least very difficult to undo.

At the time he was living with his girlfriend of 10 years-his research inspired him to take the leap and propose marriage.  He has been quoted since, professing  “I love my wife more than I loved my girlfriend”.

I believe that indecision is an illusion-an excuse.  We make a decision in every moment.  Every day that I remained pregnant, I was making the decision to be pregnant.  Every day that you stay in a relationship that doesn’t make you happy, you are choosing to be in that relationship. Every day that you go to work, you are choosing to have that particular job and not another.

Taking responsibility for where we are at a particular moment, and having the courage to admit to where we are, or wholeheartedly commit to making a change, helps us own our decisions, stay responsible, and become more powerful leaders of our own lives.

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If you’re anything like me, the writing, reading, talking and researching is necessary and helpful, but at some point it becomes imperative to get back in touch with your own mind and body in order to synthesize the information and emerge with your own, true answer.

Meditation is a great tool to consciously re-focus inward with the clear intention of finding the answer.  A guided meditation such as this one can be super useful.  If it’s not your style, searching for meditations on Youtube will uncover a million and one alternatives.  And even though it can feel a bit silly, I ask out loud for the answer to come, after meditation and before going to sleep.  The kinds of dreams you might have if you do that can be pretty interesting…


Counter-intuitive as it may seem, if you make the decision for the right reasons (i.e. informed, true intentions, and honest with yourself), then the results of your decision do not determine whether you’ve made the ‘right’ decision.  Once you’ve committed fully to your decision, you must give up control over some of the consequences and simply take them in stride, whether they are better or more difficult than you hoped.

I know my decision will lead to some incredibly beautiful moments, but I also know I’ve chosen a path that is not easy.  No big decision worth making is going to be – but own yours, and ENJOY it.  You worked hard to get here!

Raquelle has spent the last 14 years in New York City as a designer in the fashion and interiors, a project manager, and small business owner.  Besides finding ways to blend of all that together into her next career, she is also busy preparing to be a mother for the first time.  Let the adventure begin!  Find her on instagram or

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