“I should have listened to myself.”
I can’t count the number of times I have said these words to myself in retrospecting on past “mistakes” in my life. Of course, there are no mistakes in life, so there really shouldn’t be any regret. Yet regret is something that we as humans can’t easily escape. And fear of future remorse paralyzes us in the present when we are faced with difficult decisions.
As we navigate multiple global crises, we are being faced with seemingly insurmountable collective uncertainty. As humankind, we are navigating one of the most challenging times in history. In today’s reality, we are both collectively and individually having to make decisions we are not accustomed or equipped to make. Decisions where the stakes are terrifyingly high.
On an individual level, we are having to make decisions about our health, families, travel, jobs, homes — our survival. And we are being faced with these choices all at once and on short notice. These decisions are especially challenging because so much is variable, and there isn’t much we can pin down or count on. Even the things that do seem relatively constant are new as most of us haven’t navigated a situation like this in our lifetimes.
When no decision is easy, and fear of making the wrong choice can paralyze us, how can we lean into our inner knowing to guide us through ambiguity? How can we listen to ourselves and step out of the fear of future regret?
Fear Based Decisions
What makes listening to ourselves hard? When the choices are simple and there is less at risk, listening within is usually fairly easy. However, when the stakes are higher, and our options have convoluted and interdependent considerations, things get a bit trickier.
Endless possibilities can whirl through our minds. “Should I choose option A? But option B is easier. Option C seems the safest though!” <insert brain exploding emoji here> We create pros and cons lists, flip coins, ask our friends and family for input. I’ve even created complex weighted sum spreadsheets before. But the more we do this, the more confused we can get. Because in the most turbulent of situations, there usually isn’t a clear winner. And no amount of coin flipping or spreadsheet wizardry changes that fact.
Ultimately, when left unchecked, this inner swirling leads to fear based decisions. When we can’t identify a clear logical winner, we choose the option that either feels least scary, or the one that appeases our biggest fear.
The problem is that a fear based choice isn’t always the best for our well-being. And although it may seem like the easiest way forward in the short term, it doesn’t always lead to the best long term outcomes.
The Answer Lies Within
Though seeking data and information externally is useful in informing our decision making process, the final answer always lies within. Once we’ve done our research and gathered external input, we have to make the final call. No one else can do that for us.
Fear and panic can cloud our ability to listen to ourselves. If we are able to quiet our fear, the answer is usually clear. When seeking answers within, it’s important to temporarily quiet the outer noise.
When we can make decisions from a place of calm, these usually end up being decisions we can trust.
And, trust based decisions yield positive outcomes that are likely to persist long after the initial fear passes.
Trust Based Decision Making
In my life, trust based decisions have brought me the most confidence in the short term, while also delivering the strongest outcomes in the long term. As I’ve navigated turbulent times in my own life, I have realized however, that making trust based decisions isn’t always easy. Over time, I’ve formed a framework that I frequently lean on, and I’d like to share it in hopes that it may help others. My ability to make trust based decisions always depends on how well I can hear my inner voice. The process I use to tap into this consists of three steps:
Step 1: Identifying my inner voice
Step 2: Listening to my inner voice
Step 3: Trusting my inner voice
Step 1: Identifying our inner voice
What is our “inner voice” and how do we identify it? At any given moment, we each have many threads of internal chatter running concurrently, and this is one thing that makes listening to ourselves particularly challenging. How do we know which parts of our internal chatter to pay attention to, while being able to ignore the noise? Separating out our internal dialogue into three layers can help with isolating the fear from the knowing.
The mind houses our most frenetic, fastest shifting internal dialogue. This is the space in which we weigh pros and cons. Our mind-voice is thought based and is the most logical.
The mind is extremely useful in helping us frame the problem at hand. What are we trying to solve? What is the decision that needs to be made? What are our options? And what are the factors we should consider? The mind helps us navigate life in this way.
Sometimes the answer is clear. If we are considering whether we can safely walk into fast, oncoming traffic, the clear, mind-based answer is NO. This is a very logical decision and the answer is straightforward. In most cases, we would not be torn in making this decision.
But sometimes the answer isn’t as clear, and the decision is harder because we may be pulled between various options our mind is presenting. When this happens, it can be helpful to go a bit deeper.
In comparison to the mind, our heart-voice is feeling based. The dialogue in the heart space is primarily focused around how things will make us feel. The chatter in our heart does shift, but less frenetically than the mind. It feels more stable and slower moving.
The heart helps us understand the emotional states various options will evoke. How will option A make us feel versus option B? Which will make us feel happier? Will any of the options make us sad?
The key to truly hearing the heart is quieting the mind. If our mind is still running a million miles a minute, it will immediately jump in and confuse our ability to hear our feelings. For example, if determining whether a relationship is right for us, we may undoubtedly feel love for a partner, but our ability to “hear” this may be hindered by our mind’s interference.
Quieting the mind can allow us to separate our mental logic from the feelings in our heart. And organizing the chatter in this way can make things easier to navigate.
Sometimes, allowing ourselves to feel into our heart can effectively augment the thoughts in our mind, and our decision can become clear at this point. But other times, fear can still get in the way and cloud our emotions. And this is when going even deeper can be helpful.
The voice in our gut is the most constant and stable. Of all our internal chatter, our gut-based voice is most intuitive, consistent, and calm. This voice is knowing-based. If we can quiet our mind and quiet our heart, isolating our various layers of internal chatter, we can then create the space necessary to hear our gut — or our intuition.
What we truly and intuitively sense at our core isn’t just a thought or a feeling — it is a knowing. It’s always there, and we can count on its stability.
It doesn’t feel frenetic, and it is never fear based. The knowing in our gut can always guide our decision making process when the choices are too complex for the mind and the heart to parse.
The mind, the heart, and the gut are all important and none of them should be discounted. We need all three in harmony. But during challenging circumstances, our inner voices can panic and start chattering all at once, internally debating and making it impossible to clearly move forward. When this type of confusion or fear arises, organizing our inner dialogue can help us identify our inner voice.
Step 2: Listening to our inner voice
Once we identify our inner voice, the next step is to listen to it. Because our inner voice is knowing-based, it usually won’t be yelling out the answer with blaring sirens. That’s rather the mind’s technique.
Our intuition speaks to us subtly, and usually the way we know what it’s trying to say is via the peace we feel inside. Something simply feels right — and we just know the way forward.
Step 3: Trusting our inner voice
The final step is to fully trust our inner voice. Many times we silence our inner knowing out of fear. We rationalize our way out of facing and accepting our knowing because our mind or feelings can get in the way. But having the courage to believe our inner voice is foundational to making trust based decisions.
Listening to ourselves can be challenging, especially in difficult times, but like exercising a muscle, it is possible for us to strengthen this capability. When we can quiet the external chaos and focus our attention within, we can bypass the fear that paralyzes us. In listening within ourselves and organizing our inner chatter, we can clearly tap into our inner knowing and trust our decisions, moving forward confidently and calmly no matter how turbulent the outside world is.
Wishing you all health, safety, and peace at this time and always.