Accessing the body's wisdom in decision making

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

silhouette of person standing in front of board with yes/no choices

I struggle with making decisions. The bigger the decision, the bigger the struggle, but even small decisions are challenging.

This is not unusual for my personality type (I'm an INFJ).

My ability to see situations from many different perspectives means that I am often able to make compelling arguments for every possibility under consideration such that my mind gets bogged down in over-analysis as I try to evaluate the many equally compelling options.

Likewise, my strong empathic abilities mean that I often feel other people's emotions even more strongly than my own. When making a decision, I'm often so aware of how each option will make someone else feel (and thus make me feel—often along with the guilt of having caused their emotion) that it's hard to untangle my own feelings about the matter at hand from everyone else's.

With both my mind and my emotions on overwhelm, I find myself paralyzed with no option seeming like a clear winner.

In those moments, I've learned that body holds answers that neither my mind nor my emotions can see. The challenge is in learning to understand what my body is telling me.

Open/Closed

One of the easiest ways I've found for tapping into my body's knowing is to pay attention to how my body feels as I imagine each option.

Deep in my belly and chest, I will usually feel a sense of openness and expansion when considering one possible option and a sense of contracting or closing off when I consider the other.

I've found that choosing those options that create a sense of openness and expansion invariably turn out better than those that create a sense of contraction.

My shorthand way of thinking about this way my body communicates with me is to watch for "open" or "closed" as I consider the options because this is how I experience my body's knowing.

Other people I've talked to have different signals. I've heard others describe their body's signals as hot/cold, tight/soft, or stiff/flexible. Still others find that their body's knowledge comes through in visual or auditory signals.

For example, I had a friend who used to see a traffic signal in the periphery of her vision that would light up with red, yellow, or green signals as she imagined different options. She found that those options with a green light always turned out best for her.

How does your body communicate with you? Do you know your body's yes/no signals?

Testing "as if" decisions

When my open/closed signal is not giving me the information I need to make a choice (or sometimes when I want additional confirmation of what that open/closed signal is telling me), I take my body observation to the next level by living with a decision "as if" for a short time.

In this case, I choose one of the options (without announcing it or acting on it) and live with that option as if it is my final decision for a certain amount of time—often a day or two.

As I live with that choice, I check in now and then to see how my body is reacting to that decision. Posture, energy levels, and pain levels are three key indicators here.

I once had a co-worker who I came to describe as the most cheerful negative person I've ever known. She was bright, cheerful, friendly, high energy, and quick to laugh, but she was almost always complaining nonstop even as she smiled and laughed.

I remember talking to her one day and noticing that after a short while, it felt like my body was deflating in the chair I was sitting in. I slowly slumped over more and more, and my energy felt like it was just draining away.

That feeling is one I often remember during this exercise as an indication from my body that a given option isn't a good fit for me. In addition, choices that my body rejects will often lead to stomach-aches or shoulder and neck pain as I live with those choices.

On the other hand, a choice that ultimately feels good has an energizing effect. I will find myself standing taller, sitting straighter, and moving with more pep and energy as I live into that decision.

These are often subtle shifts how my body feels, so I have to carefully watch for them over a day or so to be sure that there aren't other factors (like the weather or amount of sleep) that are getting in the way. It also helps to try out both options so I can contrast the impact of each one.

How does it feel in your body when a choice is a good one? How does it feel when one isn't working for you?

Know your body's signals

Each of our bodies has its own unique way of communicating with us, but few of us have taken the time to study and learn our body's language on a conscious level that allows us to tap into the knowing when we need to.

If you haven't taken the time to be fully conscious of your body's language, I urge you to take the time to learn how to add this information to your decision-making factors.

Even if you don't struggle with decisions the way I do, this extra source of input will still improve the quality of your decisions by giving you even more information to work with.

Then again, if all else fails, I've found that flipping a coin can sometimes be the clearest way to know what I truly want. In that moment when the coin is in the air, I invariably find myself pulling with all my might for an outcome. No matter how the coin actually lands, I come away with a clear knowledge of what I want most!

How do you tune into your body's wisdom when making a decision? What works best for you? I'd love to hear!

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