THE BLOG

How To Find Clarity In The Face Of Life's Big Questions

01/05/2015 04:55 EST | Updated 03/07/2015 05:59 EST

A new year is upon us, and this often means reassessing where you stand in life, measuring your status against your peers, and then setting unattainable goals for the future. It's time for a different approach.

2015-01-05-focus407244_1920.jpg

This post was originally published by Charlotte Ottaway in The Reply.

Millennials are facing a number of critical decisions every day. Should you save for retirement or pay down your debt? Travel the world or work nine to five? Build financial stability or chase your dreams?

It's exhausting, this constant pressure that exists in the "real world." We're making decisions today that outline the rest of our lives. The choices we make now help us discover who we are, what we want in life, where we live and what people we want to spend our time with.

How do you know which path is best?

The truth is, you don't. There is no simple right or wrong answer. But you can figure out what path is best for you, and once you make this decision, the right experiences and opportunities will follow.

2015-01-05-zandvoort100552_1920.jpg

The decision itself is often the hardest part. Once you make your choice, you free yourself from the mental messes and ambiguous trails of the unknown. You set your track, make your plans and start tracking your progress. You figure out exactly what it is you're chasing, and determine a strategic approach to catching it.

Now that the busy holiday season is behind us, take some time for yourself to figure out what it is you really want in the year(s) ahead, and what plans you need to put in place to get there.

Escape the Pressures of the Status Quo

In order to find the clarity you need to make important decisions, you must first escape the expectations society holds on your life. This is perhaps the most difficult step, but also the most valuable one.

According to research by Freakonomics authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, the majority of the decisions we make each day are based on a "herd mentality," meaning we are always more likely to take the beaten path.

"Look around the world and you'll find overwhelming evidence of the herd mentality at work. It influences virtually every aspect of our behaviour -- what we buy, where we eat, how we vote," the authors write in Think Like a Freak.

2015-01-05-africanbushelephant283867_1280.jpg

In order to truly make decisions for yourself, you have to step away from the herd.

Of course, we don't like to acknowledge the influence of the status quo on our lives. "[N]one of us want to admit that we are pack animals," the authors write. "But in a complicated world, running with the herd can make sense. Who has the time to think through every decision and all the facts behind it?"

If you really want to make the decision that is right for you, then you're going to have to make the time. Think less about the ideal outcome, as indicated by society, and instead focus on the result you are most interested in.

Ignore Influences of Friends and Family

When making important decisions, we tend to turn to the people we love for answers. We trust their feedback and guidance, and sometimes we go as far as putting all of the decision power in their hands. I'm not saying this is the wrong approach, but sometimes it can make our minds even more muddled than they were to begin with.

In order to establish a clear idea of what it is you want, you have to take ownership. After all, you are the person who has to live with the choices you make. At the end of the day, you need to be the one to make them.

It's natural to want to talk something out with others -- but try talking it out with yourself instead. Speak out loud if you have to. Go over your list of pros and cons. Give in to temptations as they arise, and really listen to what your gut is telling you. Do all of this without inviting others to influence your decision-making process. Rely solely on your own instincts to make the right choice. This may not be your approach for every decision moving forward, but try it out this time around and see where it takes you.

Let Go of Pointless Resolutions and Unattainable Goals

Personally, I like to set targets each year. I outline my personal, professional and financial goals at the beginning of the year, write them down and even share them on my blog for the world to see. I refer back to them now and then to refresh my memory, and then 11 months later I look at my list to see how I did. But how helpful is this method? Setting goals is a pointless pursuit unless you outline a plan for how you will reach them.

Sometimes we let ourselves become so distracted by specific goals and resolutions, we lose sight of the reasons we set these targets in the first place. But the "why?" is the most important part of the equation. It helps us see where our values stand, and what we really want in life.

What if instead of writing out our goals we focused on making a list of our values? Doing so would help to identify where our priorities stand and what achievements are truly important to us. This practice also forces you to be honest with yourself. And real, pure honesty leads to clarity. We suddenly become more aware of what we truly want from our careers, our relationships and the world around us. This helps us gain new perspective, and suddenly the direction we are looking to follow starts to take on a more defined shape.

How do you find clarity when making important decisions? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

7 Innovative Decision Making Styles