Students often struggle with making meaningful decisions. If they lack a simple framework to help them make decisions, everyday life can become increasingly frustrating and students may find themselves making hasty choices that cause other problems and limit their options in the future. This simple 4-question framework—which works great verbally, on paper, or on a whiteboard—will guide educators, counselors, and parents through a conversation that can help students make clear decisions.
- CHOICES: With this issue, what are your real options? In other words, “What are your choices right now, if you only focus on the things you can control?” This question can help students limit the discussion to what they actually have power to control, and steer them away from fixating on things outside of their control (e.g. “I wish we had the money to…” or “If they would just…then I could…”). Helping students focus on what they have power to do by themselves, in response to a challenge, can reduce their anxiety related to feeling helpless and enable them to take ownership of their ability to impact the situation. Often, if students are challenged to get curious and probe possibilities, they can come up with numerous choices.
- IMPACTS: What would each potential decision accomplish? Another way to ask this question is: “Let’s imagine what could most likely happen if you made each possible decision, including potential short-term and long-term consequences.” This question works especially well with room to visualize on a whiteboard—inviting students to play out narratives of best/worst-case scenarios if they were to make each potential decision, and compare the outcomes of each.
- TRAJECTORY: If each decision became a pattern in your life, what kind of a PERSON would you start to become? This question invites students to connect the choices they make today with the person they are becoming. Other ways this can be worded to help students grasp this concept include: “Imagine if this decision became the model you’d repeat in every area of your life. What kind of a reputation would you gradually earn? (Brave? Honest? Afraid of what others think? Impatient? Persevering?) What kind of people tend to be drawn to this pattern of decision-making? (Dangerous? Smart? Kind? Disciplined?) What kind of opportunities would this decision pattern create (or prevent) for you?” Encourage students to write all the character traits, opportunities, connections, and other patterns that would build over time, if each potential decision became the way they made all decisions.
- INTEGRITY: Based on what you see, which decision would your future self want you to choose today, as an act of kindness to them? Other ways to ask them this question is: “Which decision would your future self feel most proud of you for making? Which decision’s story would you want to remember as a decision you made because it was rooted in your core personal values?” In some ways, this question is the most crucial of all, because it frames decision-making as an act of self-compassion to both their present and future selves.
Caring adults can encourage the students to share and compare their answers—then take time to reflect on what they learned about themselves, and what is most important to them in this process. Based on these answers, students should be able to make an honest choice that is in alignment with their core values—reflective of who they are, and who they want to become. By consistently having these conversations, students will grow into adults who are able to make decisions on their own with confidence, mindfulness, and integrity.
The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Among its five divisions, TLC offers School-based Staffing Solutions, Mobile Coaching and Counseling, and Heather’s Hope: A Center for Victims of Crime. These major programs are united under TLC’s mission to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting.
About the Author
MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging.