How to make decisions based on your intuition vs letting your "Inner Manager" make the call
For those women or men out there who have trouble making a decision or knowing which way is the "right" way, this episode is for you. For those of you who'd like to tap into your intuition or for those of you who wouldn't know intuition if it jumped up and bit you, this episode is for you. For those of you who are non-feelers, i.e., you have problems identifying your feelings and sensations until you're in a full blown rage or meltdown, this episode is for you.
We've all heard of a woman's intuition, but sometimes it feels like intuition is only apparent in the rear view mirror of life. Sure, it's easy to look back and say, "you know, I had a feeling about him, or I just knew not to do it but I did it anyway," but is there a way to see these insights in the moment and make a better decision?
When I'm talking to a woman (and this problem does seem to be more common with women), they're often at a crossroads. That's why they want to talk, they want me to help them decide which way to go. The funny thing is that they already know what to do, but they're afraid to admit it for whatever reason. They'll hem and haw about what to do, wanting to review the pros and cons and all the different ways it could go. They ask a million people for their opinion before finally deciding what to do.
There are a few questions I've learned to ask that help give them clarity. One is like the song lyrics: Tell me what you want, what you really, really want. If I can catch someone off guard and get them to answer before their thinking brain gets involved, I get a glimpse of their True North. Another way of wording this is to ask, "What do you long for?" or "What does your heart want? What do you want down deep in your core?"
Years ago I dated a guy because my friend said he looked like Patrick Suaze and I was like, "Who wouldn't want to date Patrick Suaze?" Even though I wasn't into him, I could only see him through the Patrick lens. I finally admitted he wasn't my souldmate, but it took months of dating before I really saw him and admitted that down deep, I wasn't into him. Now, when I find myself doing stuff that feels out of alignment, like posting on Tik Tok or something, I ask myself if it's another Patrick Suaze situation. That helps me identify my "why" and whether it's a heart decision or an "everyone says I should" decision.
This Patrick Suaze thinking can also show up in us putting others first. We're so societally programmed to not be rude, to not be selfish, at least in the south. Most of us in childhood were taught to put others' needs first. We form an internal manager to help us filter our reactions to not be rude or hurt others' feelings.
"Be sweet" was a common refrain I heard growing up. The funny thing is, I noticed my daughter not "being sweet" at a young age regarding a girl her age. I wanted her to play with this girl because I was friends with her parents. But Ollie said, "I don't like her" and went on to give concrete examples of why they weren't the best friend match. I found myself thinking, "what will her parents think? I'll have to make my daughter be sweet to her." But then I thought, "why?" Why do we teach kids to go against their intuition? Turns out, three years later, this girl is nothing like Ollie and I can see how forcing a friendship wouldn't have been a good idea.
Another example, thank you wise teacher Ollie, was when she was first starting elementary school. One of Ollie's teachers' aides, whom I'll call Miss Mary. Ollie would come home ranting about how mean Ms. Mary was and how much she disliked Ms. Mary. So, of course, I assumed it was Ollie's fault and sided with the teacher. That is, until I went on a field trip with Ollie and Ms. Mary. I caught Ms Mary twice talking to kids in a very hateful, scary voice. She seemed angry with them and these were itty bitty kids who were exhibiting normal kid behavior. I was riding on the school bus watching this happen and realized I'd discounted my daughter's intuition yet again. She'd been right about Ms. Mary.
So if you were taught, like me, that grownups or superiors were always to be respected, and that one of the worst sins a southern girl could commit was rudeness, then you may need help tapping into your Inner Self and your Inner Manager. Think of the Inner Manager when you find yourself thinking of "shoulds" as in, I should take her a meal, I should volunteer for the snow cone booth at the school fair, I shouldn't be dreading going over to her house, I should be grateful for this job. The shoulds and shouldn'ts are all your internal manager trying to keep you safe and protect you. She appeared sometime during childhood to help you follow all those rules your parents and teachers were trying to teach you. Except she often goes overboard and can end up much more strict than the grownups in your life were.
My internal manager is Helga. I named her this because she calls to mind a Russian drill sargent. It's vital for me to recognize her voice. It can come across as an inner critic, but it might also be a fearful voice. An Inner Manager might fear becoming broke, dying single, having no friends, etc. She tells you you'd better stay at your job even if you're not happy because you might find the grass isn't greener at your next job. She's the one who says it's okay to settle for Mr. Okay instead of listening to your gut and finding your soulmate. She's the one who says it's better to work your butt off your entire life and be responsible rather than take a year sabbatical or take time off when your kids are little.
How do I know when Helga is speaking? The "shoulds" are an example, but I also feel tightness or contraction when she's feeding thoughts into my head. I breath more shallow, I get tense and anxious. I future cast about all the terrible things that might happen.
I'm also learning to check in with my Inner Self. This is the real Hope, my Inner Wise Woman. My mom was and is a huge proponent of praying about everything. I realized recently that praying is a way of checking in with your heart, with your God-within, your own inner knowing.
So we've got these two parts within us, the wise Inner Self, aka intuition, and we've got Helga. If we're listening to Helga, we tend to ignore our intuition, to push aside those internal nudges, to instead always filter decisions with "what would everyone think, or what should I do?"
When we live life according to this filter, we're living an inauthentic life, a life out of alignment or out of integrity as Martha Beck writes about. If you've ever driven a car that's out of alignment, you know it pulls to one side. No matter how much you straighten the wheel, it'll still pull to one side. As a teenager, my summer job was to scout cotton. This involved driving down long dirt roads to cotton fields and searching for insect damage on plants and telling the farmer when he needed to spray. I couldn't drive my Honda accord because it wasn't designed to fly down dirt roads. I drove my Dad's hunting and fishing truck, this beat up old brown 1986 Datsun pickup truck. It had the nickname "Ol' Buck" I had to learn to drive stick shift, change a flat tire, and lock it into 4 wheel drive before my Dad would turn me loose with it. I'd fly down the dirt road and bump over every rut. Eventually this threw the truck out of alignment. It didn't have power steering, so it would pull hard to one side. I remember thinking that Ol Buck had a mind of his own about which way I needed to go. If I'd let loose of the wheel and let 'Ol buck decide where to go, we would've ended up in the ditch.
'Ol buck is like Helga or our inner manager. It's out of alignment with our true selves. It has its own idea about which way we need to go.
Thus begs the question: How do you trust your gut with this other voice telling you off?
One way is the Body Compass. First, you need to know what your gut or intuition feels like. It can feel like a sense of dread, it can feel like flutters of excitement, it can feel like a deep knowing. It can feel like a warning or a heaviness. Settle down into your chair, if you'd like, close your eyes or soften your gaze.
Imagine a line marked all the way from -10 to 0, then to +10.
Pick an event/situation that was in the negatives for you, but not all the way to -10. Really imagine the scene in great detail. Feel it in your body. Describe it-location, sensations. Now, rate it on the scale.
Next, pick a positive situation from your memory. Fully immerse yourself in the memory, imagining each detail. Again, how does it feel in your body. Rate it.
Now that you have some benchmarks on your measuring stick, imagine a decision you need to make or a situation you're not sure about. Imagine the thing, fully visualize it. Notice your body sensations. Now, rate it from -10 to +10. This can help you know what your gut or Inner Self is trying to tell you. The body doesn't lie. That's how they get lie detector tests to work!
Another way of determining what your gut instinct is is to have someone ask you to fill in the blank, "If I didn't care what people thought, I would _______________ or I might _______________ " Or, money weren't a factor, I would _______ .
Insights can also appear in dreams. I dreamt of trying to get into a house I'd been locked out of. I was searching everywhere for a key. I finally found a key and it melted in my hand like warm taffy. I kept trying to find a key and open this door to my former house and it just wouldn't work, the key melted every time I'd hold it or try putting it in the lock. So in a case like this, you can do some work around the key symbols or characters in the dream. In this case, I'd ask myself to pretend I was the key. I'd ask for a description of the key (useless, bendable, stubborn) and then I'd ask the key if it has a message for me (you can't go backwards, the house is no longer yours, you need to move on and stop trying to make me fit). I'd then ask my house in the dream the same questions. I'd examine what else in my life has those characteristics. In this case, it might be a career dream, it might be a relationship, it might be a literal house or a way I've always done things that's no longer a good fit. When I ask this question, the thing that popped up surprised me. I got a sense that the key no longer fitting was related to how I treat my body. I used to push it to do tons of cardio, to lift the heaviest weights, to take power yoga. To eat according to whatever the latest health rules were. There's a certain comfort in doing things the way we've always done them. I've also been reading a lot more about the psychology around food and intense exercise. And I've been listening to my body. It turns out my body doesn't love gluten and it likes to walk instead of jog. It likes slow flow yoga instead of power yoga. It likes 30 minute weight classes instead of one hour ones. I keep going back and trying to make the old ways work and the dream signified a change.
You can try also distracting your thinking mind like Archimedes did when he came up with his famous mathematical principle while taking a bath. This will sometimes allow your intuition to "sneak" into your consciousness with a solution to a problem. I've had some of my biggest ah-ha moments of insight when I'm driving. In fact, I'll scribble a few words on a napkin or voice memo myself with ideas while driving.
Go with your first feeling: If you have something like a job interview, and you want so badly to make the right decision, go with your initial feeling while talking to the interviewees. Do you trust them? What's the energy like in the room? Do you feel flutters of excitement, or is there a tense pressure to "make it a good fit?" Another giveaway is if you find yourself trying to convince yourself it's a good fit. An even bigger sign is if you were on the fence, but when you heard about the salary or benefits, all of a sudden you find yourself more inclined to take the job.
What happens if you don't listen, is it too late by the time you get that uh-oh feeling or what if you know your body or intuition wants you to make a choice one way and you go against that? Are you doomed? No. Our intuition is here to help us make the best choice and to help keep us in alignment. If you make the opposite choice, you'll be like 'Ol Buck when he was out of alignment. You'll pull to one side, almost like a horse trying to turn by pulling his head to one side. You'll feel a little out of sorts, there may be a dis-ease or a strain to whatever it is you're doing.
But what if you must make a step in the wrong direction even though your gut is telling you to do the opposite? It's like when I took a job at an urgent care in Montana. I knew when I talked to the office manager that the doctor was abusive to his employees. She told me he was "hard to deal with and had a big temper" and alluded to the turnover. But, I needed a job badly. I was earning minimum wage at a bakery, I had student loans, we had bounced a check at TJ Maxx, I needed a job. So I took it. I ignored my intuition and took the job. Was it terrible? Yes. I cried, I stressed out, I was convinced I was going to kill someone by accident. I was a nervous wreck around the doc. BUT, all of this was good information. After a few months, I knew I never wanted to work for someone like this guy again, I knew I didn't want to work in an urgent care, and my paycheck became so valuable to me because of what I endured every week to get it. So when I had another interview 6 months later with an allergist who was in his 70s and as nice as Santa Clause, even though it was a temporary job for an NP who was going on maternity leave, I jumped at the chance. I took it. The take-home message is that even when we go against our intuition, the situation can increase our awareness of what we need to do the next opportunity.