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Feeling your way into decisions

Sometimes when we’re feeling low or even depressed, it’s hard to see the way forward. It’s hard to know what to do. It’s hard to decide. And because we think, ha ha, that decision-making is about being rational, logical, weighing up the pros and cons, we think that we can do it with our heads alone.
But since decision-making is as much about feeling your way into a path of action as it is about thinking it through. When we’re depressed and our feelings are simply not accessible. And when you’re an intelligent sort of being, your thinking about your decision can really run riot. After all, you have a great mind that’s good at thinking, imagining, creating. So you think, imagine, and create all kinds of ideas – appropriate or not – about your decision.

Imagine you’re at an important crossroads with a big decision to make. And maybe you’ve been feeling a bit low for a little while, not your usual self. You have a good think about your decision, the options ahead of you, the implications. You try to think of all the factors that might be relevant (and for good measure you probably also think of some factors that are only a little relevant, if at all relevant). After a fair while of head-work, you feel no more comfortable with any of the options than you did at the beginning. In fact, you probably feel worse. So now you still haven’t made your decision, and you feel worse than when you started, and there are so many things to think about that you can spend hours, if not days or even weeks going round and round these thoughts.

This is completely understandable, given what we’re led to believe about decisions. If you can’t justify it logically, rationally, etc, then it’s not a “real” decision (whatever that may mean). So we go for it with our intellects, thinking our way out.

If only.

What we’re actually doing there is thinking our way into inaction, into lowering our mood, into mental exhaustion, into feeling worse about ourselves and our competencies – and into a deeper silencing of our feelings and intuition. Our head is getting all of the attention, and the feelings and intuition get crowded out by all these thoughts swirling round and round and round. When our feelings and intuition get lost in the noise, we feel depressed, demotivated, stuck, and probably anxious too.

In the long run, if we keep on insisting to ourselves that we can think our way through decisions, think our way through life, even, we end up turning in directions that aren’t in alignment with who we really are – because who we really are is a feeling, intuiting being, as well as a thinking one. And when we aren’t in alignment with who we really are, we feel lost. We feel uneasy. Our life, logically a good one that should be enjoyable, doesn’t fit us. But if this has been going on for a long time, we don’t even know what fits: we don’t know who we really are.

So take a moment and breathe. Read the paragraph above again and let the ideas sink in and mosey around in your noggin. Give yourself space – at least 30 seconds, a few minutes is better – to feel how your respond – if you skim through, thinking about it, you won’t get the full impact: you have to feel it too. How does it feel? Does it fit? Do you recognise it? When you read it, do you feel the sadness of recognising a well-trodden path?

And this is the key to making your important decision to: you have to feel your way into it. Do your research, your thinking, your pros and cons – and then set it aside.

Now take time to come into yourself and how you feel: walk, do sport, listen to music, go to a concert, spend time with some friends not talking about your decision (for a change…). Have a bath, go swimming. Do whatever it is that connects you into yourself.

Then imagine the choice as a path you can choose. See yourself walking towards the decision. You know what it looks like, what’s involved – after all, you’ve thought it through and you know it as best you can do. So now feel how you feel. As you approach the decision in your imagination, notice how you respond: what does your body feel like? Do you recoil? Do you feel like moving forward? Do you shy away? Are you drawn more to one of your options than another one? Feel it.

Your head may try to hijack the process. In which case you can firmly and kindly tell it that it’s had its turn, you’ve listened to it and you’ve taken its points on board, and now you’re listening to other parts of your experience.

So how do you respond?

If you find yourself in a battle with your head fighting for dominance, your thoughts spilling out everywhere, you need to go back and spend more time re-finding yourself and your emotional side. Be kind to your head – it’s had a lifetime of doing what it’s doing and is going to take a little while to retrain. Do something physical, active, different. Get a massage, go for a run. Dance.

When you come back to feeling your way into a decision, what you’ll find – slowly at first, then more easily with practice later – is that your body will tell you clearly how you’re feeling. If you imagine the path ahead of you, and you can feel or even see yourself skipping happily down it, you’re probably onto a good thing. If you feel reluctant, or like you’re backing off, you can hold back from this particular option. If you feel like moving forward but you’re hesitating, take some time to feel your way into the hesitation.

A simple way to get to know your body response that you can practice goes like this:

  • Sit comfortably in a chair. Let yourself relax and feel supported. Now imagine that there’s a nice slice of your favourite cake waiting for you, and you’re hungry enough to eat it. Do you feel an urge – no matter how slight – to get up? To move forward? This is the feeling of “yes – I want this”.
  • Now try it the other way around. Settle comfortably into your chair again. Imagine there’s a horrible piece of something that’s gone off and mouldy. Imagine getting up to go and eat it. Do you feel yourself recoil? Do you feel stuck to the chair – there’s no way you’re going to go and eat that disgusting whatever-it-is. You might even feel your head turning to the side – a classic instinctual body response of “no – I don’t want this”

So when you’re mulling over a big, or small, decision, make time and space to check in with how you feel about it. Your head can only weigh things up – it’s how you feel that tips the balance in one direction or the other. And ultimately, when you go with how you really feel about something, you’re more likely to come into better alignment with who you really are, and towards a fuller way of being you.

How in touch with your feelings are you – and how in touch would you like to be with them?

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