After years of studying how people make relatively small decisions in common situations, I have become fascinated with how people make the biggest decisions in life.
I began the “Biggest Life Decisions” Project by speaking with strangers on a tour bus in Israel, then systematically collected thousands of stories about people’s most important decisions, and then building the website www.TenBiggestDecisions.com where visitors can explore the findings and contribute to the project.
The graphic to the right shows the list of the most common big life decisions mentioned by those I have interviewed. The decisions fall into 9 categories and 58 sub-categories.
You can read about my investigation of Life’ Biggest Decisions at my blog at Psychology Today. Here is a list of the current and forthcoming articles:
- What are Life’s Biggest Decisions?
- When do Life’s Biggest Decisions Happen?
- How to Make a Good “Big” Decision?
- Which Big Life Decisions Lead to Long-term Happiness?
- How Good Are You at Predicting Your Big Life Decisions?
- What are Life’s Biggest Regrets?
There are so many cool findings from this project. You can explore the data yourself here. My favourite figure is the one presented below. It plots all 58 decision subcategories along two dimensions:
- Decision Frequency (horizontal axis): How often did the respondent’s mention this type of decision?
- Decision Importance: (vertical axis): How highly ranked on the respondent’s list was this decision?
The “biggest” decisions are those closest to the upper-right of this figure: they are both very common and very important. As you might have guessed, the two decisions that emerge as life biggest are getting married and having a child.
There are some fairly common big life decisions that most people face at one point or another. These include starting a new job, pursuing a degree at university, buying a home, and relocating. These are all activities that open new paths in life.
There are also some big life decisions that are uncommon but monumental if they do happen. These include ending a life – be it a loved one or unborn child – and engaging in self-harm. These destructive decisions are more about closing paths.