Four Steps for Clarity when Making Decisions
Several of my clients asked how to have more clarity to make important lifestyle changes. They wonder if they should move, change jobs, get in or out of relationships, etc. Moreover, many, myself included, struggle with discerning what our challenges and feelings within situations mean. Are they signs that steps need to be made? Do they mean this situation isn’t in our best and highest good? Or, do they mean we are learning? In other words, are our feelings of disgust, anger, sadness, etc telling us to get out of a situation, or are they defenses mechanisms that are mirroring an aspect of ourselves that is either sabotaging or that needs to be healed? Or, is it a middle road, in that something within the situation needs to be shaken up?
The Myth of Ever After
Perhaps, no one is completely certain about important life changes. Unfortunately, in our culture we are bombarded with “happy ever after” sentiments. We are the culture of immediate gratification and magical pills--all external--rather than a nation of self-agency and realistic views. There is great pressure to have a “perfect” relationship, have a hot bod, make lots of money, be a CEO, live in the place that’s “best” for us, etc. The fact of the matter is it doesn’t exist. However, on the other side of the coin, it’s dishonoring to self to settle and thus compromise one’s integrity. So, this brings us back to our originally posed question--how can we discern between our unrealistic expectations of perfectionism (and/or issues) and our actual knowings? How can we have clarity in our decision making?
How To Have Clarity in Our Decisions
This can be a tricky question. No one is alike, so only each person can come to their own conclusions. While psychic work, card readings, pendulums, astrology, insight work, muscle testing, and many modalities may be helpful, they can’t tell us for sure. Ultimately, we need to go within and trust ourselves and our decision making abilities. Nonetheless, I can share with you my process (and many of my clients’ processes), in the hopes that it may either inspire, empower, or give you some direction. From my personal experiences and experiences with my clients I have seen and defined here four possible steps through the decision making process.
Step One: Accept ALL of Your Emotions, Thoughts, Reactions, and Experiences.
Firstly, accept all of your emotions, thoughts, reactions, and experiences. Never minimize, invalidate, criticizing, or “should” yourself. Perhaps, you are right in that some of your reactions aren’t what you want, but you are having them; therefore, there is a reason for their existence. Instead of denying, repressing, or wishing them away, perhaps next time have a conversation with these experiences. Ask them, without criticism or an agenda, what they are about, why they are there, and what they need. In your privacy, focus on them. Get to know them. You may be surprised to find that they are very reasonable and make sense, and that once they are given space to be, they move through. I truly believe all emotions are valid and provide us with valuable information if we just listen.
For me this step was the most difficult. I had strong ideas about what were spiritually acceptable emotions and which ones weren’t. I thought that “negative” emotions brought my vibration down and so for years I repressed them. I didn’t even know how to access them or how to feel them. But believe me, they were deep down, and I believe because I didn’t listen to them, they manifested into chronic infections. It wasn’t until after years of counseling and actively participating in graduate school in counseling, and working with clients, that I learned about the importance of accepting whatever arises. I finally feel that I am beginning to give more space for my sadness and anger without criticism. As I did so, the infections subsequently became less and less frequent. Yet, feeling into the anger and sadness still wasn’t easy. It felt relieving and it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, and there were nights that I thought I would lose myself in it or that it would never end. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. I simply became, I hope, a more well-rounded person with all of myself integrated and present. This personal process allowed me to be more compassionate and present with others going through similar processes, and many of my clients reflected back that they felt more supported.
Specifically within attempting to make a decision, you can practice by doing an emotion and body focusing exercise. When you have a half hour or more to yourself in a quiet location, sit still, close your eyes and go within. Ask your body how it’s responding to your ideas of change. Notice any body sensations. Keep focusing inward. You may notice sensations of expansion, compression, heaviness, lightness, aches, pain, relief, etc. They may reside in certain locations, that may provide you with further information. For each sensation, one by one, go within and get to know it. Ask it what it’s saying in response to your ideas around the situation. Is it telling you to go for it? Is it saying this doesn’t feel good to you?
In the same way as noticing body sensations, also do the same with your emotions. Allow them to have space. Notice where they reside in your body. Perhaps there is a color, symbol, smell, shape, or other things associated with it. Take your time. You may be surprised to know your emotions and body rarely, if ever, lie and have important information for you.
Step Two: Be Honest with Yourself. Become Clear About What You Want & Don’t Want.
After spending ample time accepting whatever arises and listening to your reactions, the second step may be to be honest with yourself. And I mean really honest with yourself. If you remove all interjections, shoulds, expectations, fears, and criticisms, what do you want and need? There are no wrong answers. Everything is valid. Again, after allowing yourself to experience and declare what you want and need, you may find that at the core of your dilemma it’s actually rather simple. You may have known all along, but were afraid to acknowledge it to yourself. The key may be moving through fears, and other aspect pulling you away from what you know is true for yourself. Get back to your center by simply acknowledging yourself and what you need and want. It’s also ok to acknowledge what you don’t want.
Again, for me, the most difficult part of this step was allowing myself to have my own desires. Unconsciously I interjected familial expectations, that may have not even been true in the first place, around what kind of career was and wasn’t “acceptable” for me to pursue. I struggled with even giving myself permission to entertain what my career passions were that were outside of my family’s norm. When I finally became real with myself, I had already spent tens of thousands of dollars in schooling and years of my life pursuing a career that wasn’t really want I wanted, but I convinced myself and many others that it was. I was scared to make a leap to what I really wanted (ie. this work that I’m doing here with you now!), but I am so glad I did! I couldn’t be happier, and I’m fortunate in that my family fully supports me.
Step Three: Practice Clear Communication.
The next part is to be clear with whom your decision may concern--to share your experiences and discoveries from steps one through two, even if you don’t know what it all means. It may be helpful to befriend ambiguity. Don’t sugar coat it, give excuses, minimize it, or take on responsibility for their potential reactions. Simply honor your experiences and wants, and allow them to honor theirs. You could invite them into conversation, being mindful of only owning your side. Use “I feel” statements and attempt to understand their realities by actively listening and not taking it personally. There is no need to defend yourself. Once more, this is about sharing subjective experiences. There are no right or wrong experiences. However, you may learn a lot about that person’s ability to process and stay present based off of how they respond. If they aren’t respectful of you by honoring your experiences and aspects of self, then in my opinion, it just isn’t fair to self to be in a relationship where all of self isn’t given space. Also, they may have valuable reflections for you to further yourself discovery and clarity work (i.e. steps one and two).
As with each step, there may be parts of it that you find more challenging, and parts that you find more easy. In particular, I’m challenged by being authentic about my experiences and wants to my loved ones. I often take on too much responsibility for how they feel and if I’m not careful, I will therefore withhold information from them. This only causes more distance and doesn’t foster clear communication, which could have resulted in a more authentic and supportive environment. Now I actively attempt to communicate, especially when I notice I begin to withdraw.
Step Four: Act In Accordance with Yourself
The next and final step, after accepting your experiences, honoring your wants, and clearly communicating, is to act in accordance with yourself. What I mean by this is only behaving in ways that honor yourself. Don’t move, take a job, or get into a relationship, etc because you think you should or because of fears. Only do so if it feels right in your core and is in accordance with what you discovered in the previous steps. This step takes courage and faith that you are indeed worthy and ultimately taken care of.
When my clients or myself say “I don’t know what to do!” I often reply with, “That must be challenging and I think you know exactly what to do.” In my opinion, it often gets down to simply loving and honoring ourselves. It’s simple once we work through our fears and shoulds. Perhaps “not knowing what to do” is knowing what to do in that, in that moment we don’t have to do anything. We need to befriend uncertainty and ambiguity. Perhaps we will know exactly what to do when we are ready and the timing is right. Hopefully these steps are useful for you in your day to day life when making decisions. For more information, visit www.karihalvorson.com and be sure to signup for the newsletter.
Blessings on your Awakening To Thrive journey,
Kari Halvorson, MS, RMT