Stop Agonizing Over Tough Decisions to Save Your Sanity (and Maybe Even Your Pup!)

I came this close (holding thumb and index finger ¼” apart) to returning our pup, Honey, just three days after we adopted her from a shelter a year ago today. (And believe me, I am no novice when it comes to raising dogs from puppyhood. Honey is my fourth.)

So why did I feel that adopting this little pup was such a big mistake? Why were my daughters and I feeling such little joy on what should have been a deliriously happy occasion?

For one thing, she was nothing like our 14-year-old beloved dog Rosie, a mixed black lab, who had passed away just two months before. In fact, Honey was born on the very same day Rosie crossed that rainbow bridge, which seemed like some kind of kismet, until one of my daughters pointed out that we’d probably always feel sad on that day. Unlike my other pups that took to crate training instantly, Honey just wasn’t getting the concept, requiring constant vigilance and many, many rolls of paper towels. Add to this, one of my daughters was still mourning the loss of Rosie so deeply that she became depressed at the very sight of Honey, staying as far away as she could.

By day 3, my buyer’s remorse had kicked into high gear. I was wondering how on earth I could possibly rectify what I felt had become a huge mistake.

That evening, my other daughter sat me down at the dining room table. “Look, you’re miserable, my sister’s miserable, and Honey is bearing the brunt of all this anger and sadness. She’s just a puppy that doesn’t know anything. Either you return her before she’s bonded with us or decide to keep her. And if you do, you have to promise to be all in. And don’t try to make this a family decision. You’re the adult here.” She insisted that I make a decision within 24 hours for all of our sakes.

Ugh. I did not want own sole responsibility for this decision. I wanted to reach a consensus (something we apparently hadn’t had when we chose Honey). But my daughter was right. I alone would need to decide.

After lots of deep breaths and many tears, I declared Honey to be our “forever dog,” and I vowed to give this energetic, mischievous, piddling little pup all the patience and love I could muster. And with the sudden clarity that came with this unequivocal decision, my feelings about Honey were transformed from resentment and frustration to unconditional love.

I learned many lessons that day about making tough decisions, which can be applied to almost any kind of difficult decision that we’d prefer to put off for “another time.” Here’s a checklist that might help:

  • Understand there’s a decision to be made. Some people can kick that can down the road forever, being only vaguely aware that a decision can and must be made. If you’re feeling stressed about something you could or should be doing, stop to consider what decision, or series of decisions, can give you clarity about the road ahead. In my case, I hadn’t consciously considered returning Honey, especially given that I am an adoptive parent. Until my daughter insisted that I make a decision, it didn’t realize that I had a decision to make.
  • Examine all options before you decide. Sometimes it’s not as simple or obvious as yes or no. While it can be faster and perhaps easier to give yourself only two options, in reality, there are probably many other options somewhere in between. The only choices I could see were to return our pup to the shelter, or to care for her alone, possibly disrupting our lives for who-knows-how-long. My daughter reminded me that there were many resources I could tap for support, like doggy day care, dog-sitters, neighbors, local kids, trainers, puppy classes, and friends and family members. It occurred to me that I had another choice: Keep her and raise her with lots of support.
  •  Weigh the options, calmly. Here’s where it can be super-helpful to have a thought partner to help you sort out the options, along with the implications for all affected stakeholders. In my panic, I was jumping to the most dramatic conclusions. Life with Honey would surely mean that I would never be able to take another vacation or have a weekend getaway, or maybe even a night out. Life without Honey would mean the loss of a beloved canine companion, which has always made our house feel like a home. I must have gone through dozens of pros and cons as I wrestled with a decision.
  • Set a deadline. What really has to be decided, and by when? Can you make the “big” decision now and sort out the smaller decisions later? What’s the real cost if you delay the decision, apart from all that physic energy you’ll be wasting by procrastinating? My daughter had rightly pointed out that if I dithered by even a few more days, our new pup would become even more bonded with us than she already was from the moment we met. The longer we kept her, the harder it would be for us to send her back, even if we felt it was the right thing to do. I had all the information I needed to decide the big question. Smaller decisions could be made later.
  • Embrace your decision. Once you decide, jump in with both feet. How can you make this work? Whose help might you need? If you’re feeling ambivalent after making your decision, snap out of it. Remaining actively ambivalent after making a decision can be even more crazy-making than endless procrastination. If you’re second-guessing your decision, recall your reasoning; if you have a thought partner, ask them to remind you. Once I decided to be Honey’s forever pet-parent, I made a list of everyone and everything I needed to surround myself with to make the decision to keep Honey a good one, and I never looked back. And honestly, it’s one of the hardest and best decisions I’ve ever made!
  • Let people know what you’ve decided. This is especially important for those anxiously awaiting the outcome, which may have a big impact on their work or their lives. Communicate what you’ve decided and why, the implications for those most affected, and the role they may be asked to play. In my case, my daughters knew right away, as they would need to be a crucial part of my support system, as well as close friends and neighbors who had offered to help. I booked appointments with a new vet, my long-time dog whisperer, upcoming puppy training classes, and a local dog-sitter by 9 AM the next day.

Whatever decisions you or your organization may be in the throes of making, this checklist might help. Here’s how this might play out for my clients who are still on the fence about moving to a new work model.

  • Do they need to make a conscious decision? (Yes, they really do!)
  • What are their options? (There may be dozens of viable permutations, all of which must be laid out clearly and vetted with a group of representative stakeholders before creating a short list.)
  • What are the pros and cons of each choice, from whose perspectives? (How will each choice affect employees, departments, the entire organization, customers, etc.)
  • When do they need to decide? (They probably need to make the “big decision” about their new work model ASAP, and can sort out some of the details over time, but not too much time!)
  • Embrace the decision. (Instead of calling this a “temporary measure,” senior leaders need to position the decision as something that’s certain, subject to possible tweaks as changes are rolled out.)
  • How will the decision be conveyed? (Who will communicate it, along with the rationale, to those whose jobs and lives will be affected? What can be stated with certainty now, and what decisions will be made later, when, by whom, and with what input?)

If your organization is struggling to make a big decision, whether it’s a move to a new work model, evaluating possible strategic initiatives, or deciding which collaboration tools to roll out, Guided Insights can help.

Our facilitation skills training workshops give participants the tips, tools and practice needed to cultivate facilitation expertise internally for use in all kinds of settings — virtual, in-person, hybrid, real-time or asynchronous, or a combination.

If a neutral, expert facilitator is needed, we can help you design and facilitate conversations that guide organizations in making complex, difficult decisions and creating actionable plans to implement those decisions successfully.



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