Let’s Talk About… Difficult Choices

By Jeremy Godwin

Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple ideas that you can use to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing every day, based on quality research.

This is Episode 89 and this week I’m talking about difficult choices. In this episode I’ll cover what difficult choices are, why approaching them thoughtfully matters, and how to manage difficult choices in a healthy way. So, let’s talk about mental health!

Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.

Find links to other available podcasting services here. Now also available on Amazon Music.

Watch Episode 27 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV — in this latest episode I’m talking about why saying no is important for better mental health (and how to do it in a kind way).

Watch it below or visit the channel on YouTube:

This podcast episode was originally released on 25 July, 2021.

Hello and welcome to Episode 89, and thanks so much for joining me!

This week is all about making difficult choices. It’s a topic that was requested by a listener and it’s one that most, if not all, of us can relate to; because the fact is that sometimes in life we have to make tough decisions. Doing so can be uncomfortable and even painful, depending on the nature of the situation, and it can affect not only yourself but other people around you, like friends, family, co-workers, etc. — and you might find that raises a lot of feelings like guilt or fear. Well, I can’t promise you a magic way to make these types of challenging decisions feel better, but I can definitely talk you through how to approach them in a thoughtful and considered way.

Before I begin with today’s content, in this week’s episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV I’m talking about saying no for better mental health — which is a related topic to this episode of the podcast because the decision to say no can be difficult and challenging sometimes. Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV is available now on both YouTube and IGTV on Instagram, and you’ll also find every video published at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au under the ‘YouTube’ tab. And to make it even easier to find, the link is also in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on.

So, with that covered, on with this week’s episode about difficult choices… 

Introduction

So, not to freak you out here or anything, but the choices you make shape the rest of your life — but you already knew that. The thing is that when we’re faced with difficult choices, we can often find ourselves resisting or just running as far as we can… but avoidance is never a particularly good strategy because life is change, regardless of whether or not we choose to get involved in the change, so one way or the other you’re going to get swept along in the current. 

There are plenty of songs that have been written about choices as well as movies — I mean, Sophie’s Choice with Meryl Streep immediately springs to mind (if you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend that you think carefully about watching it because it deals with some dark subject matter… but, you know, of course Meryl is brilliant in it as always) and the other film is Sliding Doors that springs to mind, and that’s a romantic comedy from 1998 starring Gwyneth Paltrow. That one is actually a pretty good example of how a single decision can completely change the path of your life, and that is a theme that I will come back to later.

The kind of choices I’m mainly talking about today are the tough and challenging ones, so let’s talk through some definitions and start with…

What are difficult choices? 

These are the kinds of decisions that are uncomfortable and hard to make, where you are either forced into making a choice when you would probably rather not (due to a situation or the general circumstances) or where you might have easier options available but you know the harder choice is more appropriate.

Let me give you a couple of personal examples here to illustrate what I mean, and I’ll start with that ‘easy’ versus ‘hard’ type of choice. When I left my job back in 2019 and decided to start this podcast and throw everything that I had at it, that was a hard choice; it terrified the hell out of me to be honest! The easy and safe choice would have been to go and get another 9 to 5 job — but ‘easy’ and ‘safe’ isn’t always right. The fact is that, for me, that choice would have very likely led me down a path where I felt disillusioned and miserable, because I needed to do something that felt more aligned with my passions. So even though growing this podcast and building my work as a coach and counsellor has taken a massive amount of effort (and still does!), in this case the tough decision was actually the better decision.

Further to that, the other type of difficult decision is the one that affects either just you or others, or even both, and that can come with pain and suffering for you and for others, even if it’s the right decision in the long run. For example, when we had to put our cat, Pushka, to sleep last year, as you know (anyone who’s listened to this show before; I’ve mentioned multiple times) it was the toughest choice I have ever had to make in my life — but it was the right one. That doesn’t take away any of the pain that I felt, and still feel, surrounding that decision, but that’s the reality of life: sometimes it’s rainbows and unicorns, and other times it’s repeated kicks in your personal area until your eyes begin to water. If we try to avoid the pain, we often end up creating more pain and suffering — for example, when we chose to leave Melbourne back in 2015 and move to the country, it was incredibly difficult to make that choice, and to leave everything behind and everyone, and in fact after we moved I spent several days curled up in bed wondering what the hell I had just done. Cut to 2021, and now I know that all of the challenges were worth it, even the ones during the first year or two when we had to make repeated difficult choices as we tried to lay down roots here. It was tough, it was painful, it was terrifying, and at one point we were prepared to move back to Melbourne (or at least within an hour or two of it), but we stuck with it and now this is our home. 

So my point here is that not all choices in life are going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t right or they aren’t necessary. Sometimes, you’re going to have to do things that make you feel uncomfortable. The piece here is about making those decisions thoughtfully. Which leads me to the next part of this episode…

Why does approaching difficult choices thoughtfully matter for your mental health?

And this is where I go back to the thing I said earlier in the episode: one decision can change your entire life. Now, some of you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by me saying that or worried that it means you have to get your choices right or you’ll be in a world of trouble, but the truth of the matter is a lot less black or white than that. Every person is going to be different and every situation is going to be different; what you do in one situation is not necessarily the same approach that you would take in another situation. I know, confusing right?! The point I’m making here is that approaching all decisions in a thoughtful and considered way is how you ensure that you’re making the best possible decisions (and I’ll explore that in more detail shortly).

There’s a great quote by Flora Whittemore that goes;

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”

Flora Whittemore

And for me I think that really illustrates the way in which it is the choices we make — big and small, difficult and easy — which serve to shape our future. Think about habits, which is a topic I explored back in Episode 29: those little things that you begin to do daily or weekly will slowly become embedded into your life as a way of being, and over time they add up to have a huge impact (whether that’s negative or positive). When I relapsed into emotional eating last year during a time of great stress and anxiety, it happened gradually over a few months based on the small unhealthy coping mechanisms that I was choosing every day. I’ve had similar difficult choices to face with this podcast and my work; it’s the small choices I make each day that add up to the whole, and because of that it’s important to approach those choices in a thoughtful and considered way rather than just running in head-first  like a bull in a china shop (a quick side note here: if you’ve heard of that saying before, have you ever wondered if it was created because a bull actually got loose in a shop full of chinaware once, or did someone just have a really vivid imagination? Or am I the only one who thinks about this random stuff?! Anyway I return you now to our regular programming, at least until the next time I say or think something that gets me off onto a tangent…!).

The big thing I want to focus on here is the fear that often goes with difficult choices, because we might be worried about making the ‘wrong’ choice. Guess what? There is no right or wrong decision. With everything in life, if you base your choices and actions on a foundation of doing no harm, being kind and giving more than you take (and those three things apply to how you treat yourself as well as how you treat others), then even so-called ‘mistakes’ are simply learning opportunities. I hate to break it to you, but you will never know what you’re doing 100% of the time because there are so many variables both within you and in the wider world around you, so you can never fully know what’s going to happen. I watch a lot of home improvement shows to gain inspiration for when we finally renovate (hopefully over the next couple of years) — my current obsession is an Irish show called Room to Improve — and I can guarantee you that the moment anybody says that they think their renovation will come in on time and on budget, that’s when they’ll find out half of the floor joists are missing or there’s fungus growing inside the walls. My point? So much stuff is out of your control, so all you can do is approach your challenges in a thoughtful way and be prepared to accept the things that are outside of your control (and I talked about acceptance back in Episode 36). 

So how do you do all of that? How do you manage difficult choices in a healthy way? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of today’s episode!

How to manage difficult choices in a healthy way

OK, so let’s begin with the biggest one of all and that is to…

Take your time — most decisions aren’t life-or-death and that means you can take your time with them; you might need a few minutes, a few hours or even a few days. Take the time you need and don’t rush into something that you haven’t thought through however don’t spend so long thinking about it that you never actually make the decision; I’ll revisit that point in a minute. Before we talk about that there are a few things to consider, starting with…

Think through the situation — this might sound really obvious but if you are faced with a difficult choice then it requires you to think it through so you can identify the best approach based on what you know now (or, if you don’t feel you have enough information yet, then ask questions and gather more data so that you can make an informed decision). Which leads to the next point…

Weigh up all of the options — in any given situation there will always be lots of different paths you can take; at the absolute minimum there is the black-or-white choice of act or don’t act, and usually there are lots of choices in between. Consider all of the possible options and think through the pros and cons of each, as well as the way they will likely affect the situation. However, one thing to consider carefully here is actually my next point…

Don’t let yourself fall into analysis paralysis — and what that means is where you get so hung up on analysing all the different options to try to find the perfect one, because if you do that you’ll never make any progress. Sooner or later a decision has to be made, or you may find it’s made for you (and if that happens it’s very likely to be one that you might not have chosen!). So that ‘analysis paralysis’ point is like a lovely custom-made segue into my next point, which is…

Take action — because you can do all of the thinking that you need to, but at some point action needs to be taken. You’re never going to know what is the right choice, but you can definitely identify the best possible choice out of the options that you currently have and knowing what you know. Like I said before, a decision has to be made. Speaking of, my next point is…

If you’re struggling to make a choice, make a choice — and what I mean by that is to stop thinking and take action, no matter how small. One small step can make the world of difference. Which leads to my next point… 

Focus on what you need to do today — similar to my previous point about small steps, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the size of the situation or decision then simply focus on what you need to do to get through the next 24 hours. That means breaking things down into bite-size chunks and focusing on one step at a time, instead of trying to do everything at once. Why? Because slow and steady progress tends to be more sustainable in the long term, since it’s more thought-out than trying to do everything at once (which, by the way, is basically impossible). Now to expand on that a bit further, my next point is…

Think about the big-picture — and this might seem like it completely goes against my previous point about just focusing on what you need to do today, but hear me out because they can exist side-by-side: the thing here is that we can take things one step at a time while still considering what is in the best long-term interests of those involved. For example, I talked before about the challenges I faced leaving Melbourne however I knew that it was the right decision in the long-term because, at the time, I was dealing with financial difficulties stemming from my anxiety and depression and I needed to lower my cost of living, so that became the driver. It was tough and I was having to spend money that I didn’t really have to sort out the move, but it worked out to be the best long-term choice and so by considering the big picture and staying focused on that, it made a difficult situation a little less challenging. The decisions you make, even the tough ones, are part of the long term, so think long-term. Moving on, my next point is…

Stay focused on the task or situation at hand — it can be really easy to let yourself be distracted, especially when things are difficult or you’re feeling totally out of your comfort zone, but stay focused because the sooner you deal with the situation and make the choices you need to make, the sooner you can move forward. My next point is… 

Follow your instinct — if your heart isn’t in it, that usually means it’s not the best decision for you. If something feels wrong, that usually means there is something wrong. Sure, anxiety can skew your feelings so it’s important to be aware of that, but if your gut is telling you something I would recommend listening to it. There is actually a fair bit of research around gut instinct and I’ll be exploring the topic in an episode in a few months’ time. So moving on, my next point is…

Do not let fear be the driving factor — decisions made in fear (or decisions that are not made because of fear) all tend to cause way more mess in the long run. It’s better to face things as they are and do what needs to be done than to let fear control you, because fear takes away your power. You are the one that is in control of what you do, say and feel, so make your choices accordingly. My next point is… 

If you need advice, seek it from someone you respect — sometimes we need a bit of guidance or advice from another person, and that’s totally fine and frankly I think it’s healthy, because it’s a way of gathering more information or different perspectives that you might not have considered in order to make a much more informed decision. However there are two things to consider here: (1) you are the one that ultimately has to make the decision, so gather advice by all means but don’t expect others to make the choice for you; and (2) ask for advice from people you actually respect. Let me be blunt: don’t take advice from people who don’t have their shit together or who aren’t the type of person you want to be. Many people have many, many opinions (something I discussed back in Episode 21) but frankly I only want to hear from people who are kind and non-judgemental, so bear that in mind if and when you seek advice (and I think it’s even more important to consider when it’s a difficult situation that you’re having to decide on because, of course, that means there’s probably a lot more at stake). Speaking of advice, my next suggestion is… 

Seek advice from someone impartial to the situation — the people you know and care about are, hopefully, wonderful and supportive, but they’re hardly going to be impartial are they? The closer the relationship, the harder it is for us to leave our emotions at the door and in challenging situations that’s kind-of the last thing you need, because you have to be able to think through the big picture in a rational way. So if you’re really struggling with the situation or the choice that you have to make, seek advice from someone completely impartial like a mentor or professional (such as your doctor) or speak with a therapist or counsellor. They can give you perspectives that you might not have considered and they can also help you to organise your thoughts.

OK so now I want to cover off on a few general things to consider either during or after dealing with difficult situations, starting with…

Be patient — and the piece here is that just because you’ve made a choice one way or the other that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all done and dusted! Most things take time, effort and perseverance, so be patient as things unfold — you can’t rush most outcomes because they will take as long as they take. I recommend focusing on one day at a time and being mindful that it will likely take you some time to work through everything. Which leads me to my next point…

Be kind to yourself — difficult choices usually come as a result of difficult situations, and those are often painful. Take plenty of time for quality self-care (which I talked about back in Episode 6) and monitor your habits so you’re not leaning on unhealthy coping mechanisms (and I talked about habits in Episode 29). Whatever happens, be kind to yourself because tough choices are very often tough emotionally. Speaking of, my next point is… 

Be kind to others who may be affected by your decisions — a lot of the choices we make have a direct effect on those closest to us, like our partner, kids, family and friends, so bear this in mind and choose to be kind and supportive as they work through whatever they need to work through. Next…

Do things to make life easier for yourself — when your life is in a bit of chaos or you’re juggling lots of challenging situations, do whatever you can to make life as easy as possible for yourself so that you can minimise the amount of noise. Ask for help from friends and family, order in if you can’t find the energy to cook, have your groceries delivered… there are lots of different things that can make life easier. Even something as simple as filling up your petrol tank on the way home (if you drive) rather than having to do it in the morning on your way to work can give you back a few minutes of breathing space mentally. Speaking of, my next point is…

Be gentle with yourself if everything goes to mud — sometimes things are going to go your way and other times… well, other times they might go to shit. It is what it is and there’s no point getting angry or upset with yourself if things don’t work out (which is something I talked about back in Episode 84 about failure). Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward. Which leads to…

Do not play the ‘what if?’ game — once something is done, it’s done… and all you can do is learn from it. No amount of going over it and trying to think what might have happened if this or that had gone a certain way is ever going to change it, so all you’re doing is torturing yourself and keeping yourself away from making your peace with the situation so that you can move forward. If you find yourself struggling to accept things as they are, I highly recommend checking out Episode 36 on acceptance for more detailed advice. Next…

Work through regrets and let them go — this goes hand-in-hand with the acceptance thing I mentioned before, and regrets serve no useful purpose; all they do is keep you stuck in the past (I talked at length about regrets back in Episode 22). Take the time to work through them so that you can process them and learn what you need to learn, and then let them go — your eyes face forward for a reason, and the past cannot be undone no matter how many times you might ruminate over it. Speaking of learning, my final point is…

Reflect and learn — regardless of the outcome of your difficult choice (be it good, bad or indifferent), every situation in life is an opportunity to learn, so once the dust has settled spend a little time reflecting (in an objective and non-judgemental way) and consider how you handled the situation so that you can learn from it; I talked about reflection back in Episode 12. This — reflection — is how you grow (and since growth was the focus of Episode 37, you may find that helpful as well). 

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to difficult choices and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: Sometimes in life we have to do things (or not do things) that feel difficult, challenging, uncomfortable and even painful. Tough choices can feel overwhelming and we might want to avoid doing what needs to be done, or we might take action and then be consumed by guilt or fear… but if you’re making a choice that is rooted in kindness then all you can do is focus on acceptance and moving forward. That doesn’t mean that you just jump into things without consideration, because a huge part of managing difficult choices in a healthy way involves making thoughtful decisions, but it means that sometimes you just have to summon all of your strength and courage and choose to do what needs to be done.

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by an unknown author, and it is:

“You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there.”

Unknown

Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about positivity. I have a lot to say on the subject of positivity and as you probably know by now, I’m fairly positive and optimistic but in a realistic way, and that means not expecting that life is always going to be a ‘live! laugh! love!’ sign. There are lots of different ways to incorporate more positivity into your thoughts and actions, and it’s important to be aware of the difference between realistic positivity and toxic positivity (which I’ll explain more next week). So in the next episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health I’ll be talking about what positivity is (and what it isn’t), why realistic positivity is a part of good mental health, and how to embrace positivity in a healthy way.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday 1st of August. And join me for Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube, with new episodes released every Wednesday. 

Head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for links and all past episodes and, while you’re there, join the mailing list for my weekly newsletter. You can also find the website links in the description of this episode on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on.

Follow Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest at @ltamentalhealth, where I post extra content daily.

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.

Jeremy 🙂

Did you like what you just read? Then please share this with someone who might appreciate it, like a friend, family member, or coworkerbecause word of mouth helps other people to find Let’s Talk About Mental Health! Thank you 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2021 Jeremy Godwin.

3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About… Difficult Choices

  1. This was a really hard one to listen to. For the past 5 years I’ve been fighting with a decision I want to make, but at the cost of my daughter happness and I’m still unsure what to do. Long story short, I live somewhere I don’t want to be, I moved because of my health and its the biggest mistake I’ve made. I desperately want to go back home as I call it, I hate where I’m living and my life as been on hold for 5years. My daughter loves her school and friends, that is my dilemma, do I sacrifice my happiness or my daughters. This is killing me literally

    Like

    1. Being hard to listen to means it’s challenging you, which is a good thing. So here’s my take on it: totally understand about your daughter, but kids adapt really well and if you hate where you live (and hate is a MASSIVELY strong word) then what’s better for your daughter: staying in the place/school where she is, or relocating (which she will adjust to with time and support) and having a parent who is happier and not miserable all the time. You have to make the best long-term decision for both of you, and if you are going to move then the sooner you make that happen the better because it will hopefully make it easier for your daughter to adjust (I don’t know how old she is, but the younger they are the more easily they tend to deal with huge change like that). Seriously – ‘hate’ means you need to do something (which is why that episode was hard to listen to, because I think you know you have to do something ASAP but you don’t want to upset your daughter… she will be OK. Just explain the why to her and include her in the process). Good luck and let me know how you get on! Jeremy 🙂

      Like

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