By Coke Newell, Contributor

decision to make
Two years ago my youngest daughter was trying to choose a university. She was clear on her course of study, and had been admitted to both her top schools of choice. But since both were great choices, she couldn’t decide which to attend.

I had a business trip to the city in which one of her “finalist” universities was located, so I invited her to come along and visit the school while I was in meetings. She spent hours that day talking to professors and visiting facilities, and when we got back together that evening, she told me, “I loved it.”

Believing it only fair that she measure both schools on equal footing, however, my wife and I encouraged her, at our expense, to visit the second school as well. After a similar day visiting the faculty and facilities of that second school, she called us on the phone. With both experiences fresh in her mind, she told us with a touch of awe in her voice how this second program was in fact “the program of her dreams”—perfect in every way. So imagine our surprise when she told us that now she wasn’t sure which school to pick.

American religious leader Thomas S. Monson has said, “The door of history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives. The choices we make determine our destiny.”

While some decisions—wheat flakes or rice puffs? red shoes or white?—will have only marginal impact on either our day or our future, others can change the course of our lives. Such decisions are the ones with which we could really use some help, even divine help, should such be available to us.

Hundreds of millions of people testify that such help has in fact been their experience—oftentimes receiving light, direction, knowledge and clarity far beyond their normal capacity of reasoning or discernment.

But certain mini-steps precede being able to make the large leaps required in the “exercise” of our faith:

  1. Breathe deep and ponder: Is this a matter you could resolve clearly if you just took an afternoon to study it out? Have you dealt successfully with something similar before?
  2. Balance and Alignment: How does it ‘stand up’ to things you already know to be right? Or wrong?
  3. Focus: Sometimes there is no wrong answer—just a good answer and a better answer. See if you can zero in on the precise details and thus find clarity.
  4. Stretching: Can you “play it forward” and see where a given decision leads? If / then reasoning and probability projection is a common technique in high-level decision making.
  5. Reaching: Reach out to others of wisdom or experience you have already come to trust, and seek their input.
  6. Get in the zone, then get out of the way: Commit time to prayer or meditation as befits your beliefs, and don’t be lukewarm about it. American philosopher and author Henry David Thoreau wrote that “Humility, like darkness, reveals the heavenly lights.” We must truly open ourselves to potential answers that come from beyond our limited experience.
  7. Finally, use a ‘heart monitor’: “In meditation, go deep in the heart,” states the Tao Te Ching. The Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament instructs: “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet,” which latter term in the original Aramaic may be better rendered “secret chamber” of one’s soul.

Many authors oriented toward faith have noted that “Revelation is scattered” throughout our world of personal, private tutoring by a God who cares. What emerges as the cumulative wisdom of the above exercise faithfully performed may be trusted as your best answer.

As for my daughter, the accumulated power of both her previous experience and her present efforts led to a clarity that simply wasn’t there before the exercise. After studying it out, talking with many, pondering deeply and projecting forward where each would take her, she went deep in her heart, and then to her knees. And the answer came.