Making Unpopular Decisions

If you’re committed to learning and growing, you’ll need to get used to making decisions that others disagree with. It’s inevitable that you’ll eventually face decisions that are opposed by some social resistance.

Maybe you’d love to pursue the path of entrepreneurship, but your family thinks it’s a bad idea.

Maybe you’d like to upgrade your diet, but your friends keep trying to talk you out of it.

Maybe you’d like to explore an open relationship, but your partner keeps nudging you away from that.

If you’re in a situation like this, you’re not alone. This is one of the most common types of feedback I’ve received in the past 16 years that I’ve been working in this field.

People see this kind of social resistance as a real block that’s holding them back. But it’s really just a basic test of whether you can make growth-oriented decisions and follow through. Having people whine about your choices is hardly the biggest challenge you’ll face. It may seem like a major hurdle, but it’s a minor speed bump relative to more interesting challenges you’ll face.

This block doesn’t usually go away on its own. If you let it stop you today, it will still be there in the future. It’s a problem to solve in your mindset today, not in a month or two.

The (somewhat obvious) truth is that if you want to pursue interesting goals and experiences, you’ll need to get used to making decisions that some people oppose. This needn’t make you cold and callous. You can consider others’ opinions. But it’s your life that you’re living, and you’re responsible for your results.

While other people may be affected by the external effects of your decisions, no one else has to live in your mind each day, dealing with the internal consequences of inaction and stagnation.

Here’s a mindset framing that I’ve found helpful in these situations:

If I don’t do this, I’m still going to be thinking about doing it next year… and the year after… and the year after that. I know it’s risky, and I still want to explore it. Even if it doesn’t pan out, it’s still worth doing to satisfy my curiosity about it. Then I could let it go, and at least I’ll be letting it go from a place of some knowing and personal exploration, not from ignorance.

No matter what happens, I’ll surely learn something if I engage in this. It doesn’t matter that much if I fail. I can recover from failure, and I’ll be a little smarter and wiser on the other side. And besides, one failure doesn’t rule out the entire possibility space in that direction. I can always try again in a different way. There may be a lengthy learning process to go through.

But what if this does lead to a better life? I have to find out if that’s the case. Even if this first step doesn’t work for me, it could also be a stepping stone to something better. I can’t see past this idea till I test it, so I have to test it to at least get it out of the way and clear this from my mind.

If you don’t take action to explore what keeps churning in your mind year after year, you’re sentencing your future self to more of the same.

When you’re tempted to explore something, you’re not really present to what’s arising in your life right now. Part of you would rather be doing something else, living somewhere else, or connecting with different people. That isn’t likely to change. You’ll continue to be tempted and distracted until you do something about it.

When I dive into a new exploration – actually when I make a committed decision, even before I get into the active exploration part – I feel an immediate increase in presence. Life feels more real and vivid. I feel more engaged with reality on a day to day basis. I feel more energy and excitement flowing through me. Have you had similar experiences?

I might also feel a bit scared or trepidatious. I think: What am I getting myself into here? Am I really doing this?ˆWith action this kind of emotion flows into some early results that encourage me to keep going.

When you face these situations, be deeply honest with yourself. If other people want you to let go of your idea, can you really do that? Can you let it go and forget about it? Can you continue living in the world that others would have you live in? Can you be fully present to that world?

Or will you continue dreaming, wondering, pondering, and asking what if?

What do you predict will happen?

If you don’t honor this voice enough, you’re not honoring who you really are. You’re stamping out the person you’re capable of becoming, and if you keep doing that, it will lead to a hollow life of massive regret. You’ll be sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else explore… always wondering what might have been. You’ll be a non-player character in the game of life.

You can’t just dream. You have to act on those dreams. Otherwise your dreams will eventually abandon you, and they’ll go to someone else, but they will leave behind just enough energy to haunt you for decades. Someone else will get to experience the results of action. You’ll get to experience the results of if only.

Realize that it won’t get any easier to postpone your dreams and ideas. You’re only sentencing yourself to another year of non-presence. But of course people don’t usually sentence themselves to a year at a time. They do it a day at a time, an hour at a time, a minute at a time.

Why not make a different decision this minute? You can do that. Yes, it takes courage, so be a person of courage.

Make your choice. Explore your idea. Let people squawk about it.