For a number of years my life was like the video game “Frogger,” trying to hop across the road through New York traffic, during rush hour, no crosswalks anywhere. I more often than not ended up flattened. I didn’t even know what I was searching for on the other side of the road, only that the side I was on wasn’t where I wanted to be. I kept jumping onto cars, instead of over them, thinking this car or that one was going to take me across the road. I hitched rides on the teacher truck, the artist bus, the mom minivan, the volunteer dump truck, the project manager ambulance, the business analyst station wagon, and the research assistant bike. Each one had it’s good points – the excitement of a brand new vehicle with its shiny, paint job, new car smell, dependable tires, powerful engine, audio system, and the carpool with new people. I tried with all my little, Frogger heart to stay on my ride, but none of these transports ever quite crossed the road for me, and I invariably slid off, jumped off, or fell off (pot holes, speed bumps, and stop lights). Dissatisfied, searching, annoyed, tired, and a bit lost, I seriously couldn’t figure out what to do with my life, but I kept jumping at chances like I was taught to do – say yes to opportunities, evaluate, list the criteria, list the pros and cons, complete a cost benefit analysis, blah, blah, blah.
The one thing that I hadn’t really paid attention to in regards to major decisions was how I actually felt about them; you know, instinct, intuition, guts. Instead, I said yes to so many things that weren’t right for me and invited so many people into my life that were not the right people for me. I became involved with jobs, projects, and others’ agendas that didn’t mesh well with me and eventually began to make me physically sick from the stress; as in dropping so much weight my shorts literally slipped off my hips in front of a stage full of peeps. Don’t worry – I caught them before they fell too far. Of course, several people saw the glorious view of my nylon-covered butt and pointedly told me to eat.
That weight-losing, stress-inducing, volunteer gig really hit me hard. I said yes to every single project – summer play set design/build/coordination/mothering, summer art camps creator/organizer/coordinator/teacher, and board president agenda mesherer. Emails, texts, phone calls: talking/negotiating/nagging/begging people was so not my favorite thing to do. Plus, working 5 – 8 hours a day for free while being a full-time mom was exhausting. When I quit everything all in one fell, NO MORE swoop, they called it pulling an Ashley. I couldn’t even summon enough energy to give a good damn. I was just so relieved that the crushing weight in that volunteer dump truck, filled with ten tons of rock, gravel, and mud that had stressed me out was gone!
Of course, being the perfectionist that I am, I decided to repeat the stress-me-out-pattern just to make sure I had it right, hiring on for a job, which had about ten jobs rolled into one. I became completely stressed out, underpaid, resentful, blaming, and well – lost. I lost myself, lost sight of my own goals, joys, wants, needs, and desires. I said yes to more and more and even pushed for more and more until it got to the point that I actually dreaded (sick stomach) my phone ringing or that dang text message beep (stomach drop), or that email ping (run away or heave the computer out the window, depending on the day). I sincerely think scrubbing out toilets with my toothbrush sounded more appealing than my job near the end. Don’t get me wrong, my employer was a really nice person, but the job was an ambulance careening from one emergency to the next with sirens blaring and lights constantly on. I jumped out of that ambulance and got my toes run over pretty badly because I chose poorly.
Finally, with flattened toes, I limped my way into the fed up zone, ready to figure out a smarter, better way to approach decisions. I was ready to get out of the stream of never-ending jobs (teacher, administrative assistant, lab supervisor, business analyst, project manager, and artist) that didn’t quite fulfill me or left me frenetic & frazzled. I was ready to stop jumping on the yes-ride of jobs, projects, and volunteer positions, based on a list of pros & cons that marginally addressed my needs – social interaction, income, and brain stimulation. Spending my life trying to logically force my way into a decision wasn’t working, but the body pains and obvious cues sure made themselves felt (stress, heart palpitations, sleeplessness, worry, anxiety, and depression).
When I started saying no to things that didn’t feel good, I experienced serious body relief, as in dodged being hit by a mack truck relief. At the height of learning to say no to others, I was like a toddler, who had just learned the no word and decided it was the best word ever. I liked saying no so much that I even said no to a hot fudge sundae with nuts! (Still not sure what I was thinking there.) On the positive side, I figured out the world wouldn’t end, people would still like me, and I would be just fine.
Exploring what I truly did like doing and listening to what made me feel good/satisfied/happy, I began to arrow in on how to incorporate those feel-good-in-my-center parts into my life. I tapped into my body feels to guide me and meshed together all the good things that I liked into a job that pays me and makes me happy, excited, and fulfilled. Listening to my feelings/intuition about people led me to my tribe, and understanding my body wisdom led me to a greater connection to me and to better and better decisions.
Paying attention to those feelings that I had been ignoring, I began trying to sort out what my gut had been trying to tell me all along. What did those feelings in my core tell me – tight gut, sick gut, disgusted gut, happy gut, excited gut, relaxed gut – and why aren’t we taught to listen to them. Then, I stumbled across this quote from Plato; “Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” Further thinking ensued.
How do we apply knowledge? How do we derive satisfactory conclusions based on a set of facts?
I bet Trekkies know the answer to these questions. Yep, I am a massive “Star Trek” fan, and I love Spock:
“I find your lack of logic disturbing.”
“Your highly emotional reaction is illogical.”
“Disregard emotion. Acquire logic.”
As in logic is the best way to arrive at a conclusion. In our culture logic seems most often valued over that of emotion. Desire seems to often take second place, and emotional reactions take a distant third or even no place in decision-making. It certainly did for me. Family and social expectations, others’ perceptions about the choices, and logic above intuitive/emotional reactions feature prominently in and sometimes even force decisions. Logical discussion is taught and reinforced over and over, and feeling discussions (gut reactions) are ignored. In fact, we are most apt to place the highest value on logical thinking.
Growing up, I made many a pros & cons list, laboriously pouring over each side of that dividing line, tallying the the pros & cons, valuing each pro & con on a point system, and following up with if/then scenarios that made my head ache, and the decision just as hard to make as when I began. Feelings & intuition were dismissed as well as desires in a lot of my decisions, especially the big ticket ones, like jobs, house-hunting, and car buying. Think on it, spin on it, worry about it. Just decide this! – that’s how it’s done.
However, intuition/feelings give us so much more information, and, I believe, they should factor into our decisions to a greater degree than they currently do. Our choices made purely based on logic or the shoulds and supposed tos forget that we are also beings of emotions and more importantly intuition.
Our thoughts and feelings are intimately tied together. Thoughts evoke emotions, emotions evoke thoughts, and we feel these emotions in our bodies. Nevertheless, we are socialized to believe that discussions that prominently feature emotional reasons must be written off or scoffed/sneered at as being silly or pointless. And God help you if you mention intuition – you might get a blank look or called a weirdo, or worse. I have certainly been taken to task for my inability to succinctly and concretely back up my choices with logical reasons for why I do or do not choose something; often being told, “That makes no sense.” Many people demand “concrete” reasons for the which, who, what, when, where, and why of our choices, which underscores, italicizes, bolds, and highlights the deep distrust that we have for ourselves and our own feelings. And doesn’t that suck! Because what we are actually implying is that we cannot trust ourselves and our intuition.
Please don’t get me wrong, logic is very valuable, but, intuition and feelings are just as and usually way more important than those concrete reasons. Living in our heads so often and continuously thinking things through, we forget to check in with our bodies. Our body feelings are amazing deciders of good and bad choices – I love it, I hate it, it makes me sick! Our gut reactions provide additional information on how we really, truly feel about our options.
Listening to my body more and more and discovering the way my body communicated with me from a gut standpoint (intuition), not just my logical mind, not just the spinning hamsters on their worry wheels, but to that truly still place inside myself, I came to a realization. The way forward is so much easier, clearer, and faster with far fewer regrets when I factor in my intuition.
How does a person/place/thing/situation make me feel? When I think about this person, place, thing, . . .
- Do I feel disconnected to myself, like my head’s floating?
- Does my throat tighten?
- Does my chest feel compressed or like I can’t take a deep breath?
- Does my core tighten hard?
- Does my stomach drop?
- Do I get sick to my stomach?
- Do my legs and feet want to step back, run away, or not move (deer/headlights freeze)?
If I get a yes to any of those questions, I don’t write it off. More often than not, those not so good feelings about someone or something have proven out.
Paying attention to my body: feeling grounded and centered, and feeling my body wanting to move towards a person, situation, place, or thing have resulted in wonderful outcomes; decisions that resonate with me.
How does your body communicate with you when it’s decision time?