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Tied up in knots? Find the right string and pull!

We've all had the experience of pulling the right string and watching a knotty tangle unravel all at once.

When you're standing at a fork in the road -- or wondering where to turn off a traffic circle -- asking the right question can be equivalent to puling the right thread.

Let's say you're trying decide whether to move from Boise to Boston, or vice versa. In my book, Making the Big Move, I suggest the key question is, "Can I still be me?" Will you still retain your identity after moving thousands of miles -- and the question becomes tougher if you also move to a new country.

When your decision involves money and careers, the key question often is, "How will this move affect my power?"

"Norelle" enjoyed a well-paying job with a profitable corporation. In a tight job market, she enjoyed generous raises and promotions. Norelle called me when she was tempted to apply for a lower-paying job in the non-profit sector, a job that she felt was much closer to her life purpose.

Norelle first framed her decision as, "Can I live on less money?" but she quickly realized the real question was, "How would this move affect my market power?" A few queries to her network support her suspicion: she would have a tough time returning to the private sector if the new job didn't work out. And she would not be developing new skills or qualities to become more marketable.

"Ivan," newly promoted and relocated, considered spending his new wealth on a large house. Buying a house, however, would send a signal of "I'm staying here!" However, as in many communities, few quality rentals were available. Ivan decided to buy a small house -- and "resale potential" became his first priority.

Once you have asked the key question, the answer magically appears. To use another metaphor, it's like picking the right key from a huge ring. The door opens right away. Psychologists call this process "framing" the question. Just as you rule out options by trying different keys, often you gain insights into your decision by exploring different frames.

When faced with a tough decision, try two or three different keys. If your fork in the road turns into a circle, walk away for awhile. Stimulate your creative processes. Talk to someone who can offer objectivity.

We all know that feeling of relief when a locked door to a room or house finally opens. We're in! We're free! That's also the "great decision" feeling. Stuck? Keep trying -- and consider that maybe you've just grabbed the wrong key ring.

Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. is an author, career coach, and speaker. She works with mid-career professionals who want to make a fast move to career freedom. Visit her site or call 505-534-4294.

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Career and life transition