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How to Make a Major Life Decision

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Submitted on: 03 Sep 13


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Some of you might think I’m new age. Out there. Woo woo. Spewing self-help jargon from behind a computer screen. To be honest, I’ve often struggled with this image of myself. On the one hand, I think I am a hippie at heart. I’ve become deeply embedded in the self-help movement catalyzed by people like Louise Hay. I’ve looked into a mirror and said affirmations to myself. I’ve participated in story-telling rituals at women’s retreats. I’ve anointed myself with clay and danced around under the full moon.

Crazy, right?

On the other hand, I’m trained as a research scientist. I spent ten years in university, toiling under the doctrine of “Don’t believe it unless you can see it.” The scientific method became my bible. I’ve run countless studies on human behavior. I love data analysis. I’ve written scientific papers and given lectures to faculty at some of the top academic institutions in the world.

Normal, right?

As my life and career have progressed, I’ve realized that these two sides of my being have often been in conflict. I’m very logical and analytical. I like—ok, LOVE—to think. I could talk all day and night about philosophical topics. I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have any other responsibilities in life, I would spend most of my time reading, learning, and thinking. This intellectual prowess has taken me pretty far. I have a PhD, and I work at Harvard Medical School.

But I’ve also learned that logic can only take you so far.

As a society, we place a huge emphasis on only believing what we can see. The scientific method has infused modern culture, and, in some cases I think, the pendulum has swung too far toward requiring hard evidence for absolutely everything.

How many times in your life have you encountered a situation, a coincidence, a feeling, or a solution that you just couldn’t explain? It wasn’t logical; it made no sense, and, yet, it was perfect.

I’ve noticed that my default is to try to explain things to myself very logically. When making major decisions, I’ve often made pro and con lists, talked the situation over with countless friends and family members, and tried to come to the best conclusion based on all of the available evidence. However, many times, the evidence often contradicted what my gut was telling me to do.

For example, when I was trying to decide whether to quit my nine to five job, all of the evidence said “Don’t quit!” My mortgage, my bills, and my lifestyle were providing hard proof that there was no way I would be able to afford to leave. But my gut was urging me to release my cubicle. I followed my gut, and not only did I survive the transition, I thrived. I released several stress-related health problems, kicked my wellness and happiness up to a new level, and was presented with opportunities that never would have come my way if I’d continued in the nine to five grind.

Similarly, when deciding whether or not to accept a new job in Boston, my logical self was telling me that I had a great life and shouldn’t mess with it. I had a house, a car, and a wonderful group of friends. I lived in a small, safe suburb; I was making decent money, and the next step would simply be to settle down and have a child. My decision to move to a new country, 600 miles away from friends and family for a less than stellar paycheck, was not logical. But I knew that it was what I was supposed to do.

I came to an a-ha moment in a recent blog when I realized that my True Self doesn’t speak to me in language. It speaks to me in feelings.

Research actually shows that our intuition often comes to us at a physical level before we register anything on a conscious level. This is where the term “gut feeling” comes from.

An article on the Science of Intuition in Oprah Magazine describes a study in which people were asked to play a game with four decks of cards. Two of the decks were rigged to have higher value cards, while the other two were stacked with losers. The study showed that after seeing only ten cards, participants started to show a stress response (sweaty palms) to the bad decks. However, they didn’t verbally report suspecting the decks were rigged until they had pulled fifty cards and could only explain exactly how the decks were stacked after eighty cards.

For years, I’ve been reading self-help books where the author says that he/she “heard a voice” urging him/her to do something. They often describe this voice as the “soft, still voice within.” I’ve even described it this way myself.

But I realized recently that I don’t hear a voice. I feel a calling. The voice that talks in my head is the voice of logic. This voice is useful in some instances, like when I’m designing a research study or writing an academic paper. This voice is completely useless, however, when it comes to making major decisions and following my truth.

My logical voice will say things like:

“You should really get this work done.”

“You shouldn’t act that way.”

“You should do X because it’ll make [insert name here] happy.”

Notice all of the shoulds?

My True Self, on the other hand, comes to me in feelings. It’s like a wave of calmness that rushes over me when I know deep down inside that I’ve made the best decision for me, regardless of what other people think.

The problem is that I often have trouble accessing this deep and true part of my being. I get so caught up in my logical mind that I block my intuition. So, how do I get back on track? Here are a few methods that tend to work for me:

  • Get into nature. Even if it’s just a five-minute walk, it helps!
  • Spend time with friends who support and nurture my dreams.
  • Meditate (every morning!)
  • Yoga
  • Eat a mostly gluten-free, dairy-free, whole food diet. My physical body is a sacred vessel, and the better care I take of this vessel, the more mentally stable I feel when making important decisions.
  • Move/dance/play. The logical mind can be so conservative and boring. Put a great song on your iPod and bust a move!
  • Breathe. Pranayama is an amazing tool for grounding yourself in times of stress.
  • Read inspirational books.
  • Find stillness. It’s much easier for me to feel my intuition when I slow down.

I think that one of the challenges the universe is offering me right now is for me to learn how to balance the logical, analytical side of my personality with my intuition. Many authors who write about feminine wisdom speak to the fact that, instead of trying to prove that one way of thinking is better than another, we need to embrace the totality of life, with all of its seeming contradictions and opposites. For me, this means accepting the fact that I can be both logical and intuitive. I can practice good science and be open to the idea that there is an unseen force (my True Self) guiding me every step of the way.

This week, I’d like you to pay attention to how your True Self speaks to you. Do you hear a voice? Or experience a gut feeling? Or something else? Start paying attention to this “voice.” Do what it “says,” even if it seems illogical.

Stop worshiping your logical mind. Start nurturing your intuition.

Personally, I’ve found that my least logical decisions often bring me the most amazing results. What about you? Please share comments below!


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