It’s funny, isn’t it? How hard it can be for some of us to figure out what we want? I find this to be an especially common problem for dedicated moms and educators. Why? Because we’ve been taught that being UN-selfish is what makes us so amazing.
Wanting something JUST FOR OURSELVES (or God Forbid actually seeking to get it!) can seem selfish. So we get out of practice even knowing what we want.
Another contributing factor in our culture is that we’re taught to spend most of our time in our head. Emotions are viewed as suspect. Intuition is not to be trusted and the body is viewed primarily as a necessary container for living. None of above are seen as dependable sources of wisdom. (And I might add that this perspective leans a bit towards favoring masculine ways of knowing as opposed to feminine, but I digress.)
There's science to back up the importance of these alternative ways of knowing. I'm learning more about it all, but what I can say for sure already is that my life is WAY better now that I listen to all the parts of me, not just my (very overactive) rational mind.
Rational minds are good, but they can’t make good decisions without accurate information. And they miss a lot.
Because our bodies and the right side of the brain take in way more information per second than the logical, linguistic left side of our brain, the “logical thought only” perspective leaves us missing out on a whole lot of information that can help us figure out what we want, which is one of the first steps in moving towards a life we’ll really love—a life with meaningful purpose and a whole lot of delight on the side. Learning how to listen to my body’s wisdom is one of the best skills I’ve learned in the past few years.
If you have trouble figuring out what you want — or just making decisions in general — I highly recommend practicing this new form of listening.
Step one to hearing your body’s wisdom is to notice what your body does when it likes something and what it does when it doesn’t. In the Martha Beck coach training they call this using the “body compass.”
The exercise below is a first step in being able to effectively use your body compass, so you can follow it’s directions toward a life you love (and when you love your life it always leads towards more love for others too. Really. We’re wired towards compassion.)
Here’s how to get started.
1) Think of an event that you never want to repeat again, but NOT A TRAUMA. You don’t want to revisit a major trauma unless you’re doing this with a therapist who can support you in the process. Better to think of the day you stuck your pants in your underwear, or got the news that you didn’t get into grad school, or your kid got called into the principal’s office.
2) Now put yourself back in that event in your imagination. Really go there. Imagine all the sensory details. What did it smell like? What did you see? What did you hear? What did you taste and feel? Got it. Okay.
3) Now do a head-to-toe body scan and just notice what’s happening. Have your eyebrows scrunched together? Is your jaw tight? Does it feel as if someone is sitting on your chest and you can’t breathe? Do you feel like you want to throw up? Don’t judge the feeling, try to make it go away or avoid it. Just notice. Some kind of tightness and clenching is typical here.
4) Rate that feeling on a scale of -10 to 10 with -10 being the worst possible feeling ever and +10 being the best. Got a number? Good.
5) This is your body’s “H***, no! I soooo don’t want that!” message. The bigger the negative number – the more clear it is that your body is trying to tell you “Not that! That is not what I want.”
6) OKAY – and this is VERY IMPORTANT – now literally SHAKE IT OFF. Give your body the relief of letting go of that awful experience. If it’s sticking with you take the time to play some music and dance it off. You don’t want to get stuck there. We’re heading to the fun part now…
7) Now think of one of the best moments of your life and do the same thing as before. Put yourself there in your imagination. Really experience it – all the tastes, smells, sounds, sights, etc.
8) Then do another body scan—head-to-toe—what do you notice? Do you feel a giddy butterfly feeling in your stomach? Are you suddenly sitting up straighter? Did you start smiling? Is there a lightness in your chest? Again whatever it is just notice.
9) Then rate that feeling on a scale of -10 to 10 with 10 being the absolute best feeling ever and -10 the worst.
10) This is your body’s “Yes, please! I want that!”
That’s it. You’re now ready to use your “Body Compass.”
Use it as often as you’d like to check in with the wisdom of parts of you that take in a whole lot of information, but don’t know how to talk in words. You don't need to do the exercise again. You can just notice when you get that clenching feeling in the pit or your stomach or the light butterfly feeling in your chest.
Then you can use the information you gather from your body to help you to decide whether to say yes to an invitation or no (clenching feeling? Try saying no even if you think you "should" go.)
You can use it to start noticing what it is that you like doing, even if you think it doesn't make sense. Fluttery feeling about going to that book signing even though it conflicts with your kids soccer game? Try going and see what happens. Or if that's too scary, just notice and look for a time that you CAN go to a book signing, or a book store.
You still get to decide what to DO with the information you gather from your body. But start by gathering it.
Side note: If this exercise didn’t work for you, don’t despair. You may need a bit more practice just noticing that you do actually live in a body that experiences life through the senses. That’s okay – just start noticing. Stop a few times a day just to notice your feet – how are they feeling? Are they cold or hot? What are they touching? Then try it with other body parts. After a couple weeks of just noticing your body sensations throughout the day, try the exercise again.
Or (especially if you’re and extravert) you might need someone else to walk you through the exercise – could be a friend, a partner, or a life coach or a therapist who is comfortable helping you to learn how to listen to your body (look for somatic therapy or Martha Beck certified life coaches as a start). You might be able to experience better if you can tell someone else about it as you go along.
In any case, I hope you’ll try it! I’d love to hear about what you discover!
Have questions or stories to share? Leave a comment below! (If you're reading this on email go here to see the post on my website first, then leave your comment.) I'd love to hear from you!
Here’s to thriving!
P.S. I’ve got a great new coaching program for stressed college students who want to be successful, but aren’t happy with how life and school are going right now. It’s called “Success, Now!” and I’m SUPER excited about it! If you are a stressed student yourself, or a parent of a stressed student, I’d love to tell you more! Sign up for a free consultation here or read more about it on my website.