A simple strategy for listening to your heart when there’s a lot at stake

heartspeak

We’ve talked about inner wisdom as the language of love and how we know we have it.

We’ve discussed whether or not it’s selfish to follow your heart (it’s not.)

Today, we’re going to get practical.

What happens when you’re faced with a decision and you feel paralyzed? How do you tap into your inner wisdom when there’s a lot at stake?

When you feel immobilized, that’s anxiety talking. It may be accompanied by a pounding heart, short & shallow breath, and untamable thoughts of doom surrounding your decision.

What will happen if I fail?

Will I regret it if I don’t TRY?

Who will be impacted?

What sacrifices will it require? 

The root of all of this, the bigger question, is the one we don’t ask because it’s too scary:

Will I survive this?

Yes, yes, you will.

On a cognitive level we know that no matter what we decide, life will go on. We will survive. Look at all we have come through so far! But the feeling that accompanies these questions doesn’t listen to rationality.

Our reaction to these questions is driven by fear. And our fears, by definition, are not necessarily reasonable, and they certainly aren’t predictive, no matter how vivid our imagination may be. Arguing with these fears can be a futile effort – a waste of your precious time and energy. It can be helpful to acknowledge that our thoughts are not real, but until we can mitigate the symptoms of the fear, it may not do us much good.

So for now, let’s give the quaking feeling, the shaky breath and the racing thoughts a buy. Give them permission to be here rather than fighting them, and offer yourself some gentleness for this process.

Now, Love. Let’s talk strategies.

Strategy: Move your body.

  • Get outside and take a long walk. Or a run, if that’s your thing.
  • Dance it out – I mean really shake it off. Not like a two minute half-hearted chair dance – I mean a full-out fling your arms around, stamp-your feet heart pounding cavort.
  • Do a strong physical yoga practice. On your own, or hit a local class.
  • Anything that gets your limbs moving and your heart pumping.

You want to sweat (and hopefully, have fun. We’re looking for a healthy expenditure, not abuse). Your heart rate is up anyway, so you may as well give it a reason to work. The point is to get your blood moving and expend some of that anxious energy. It’s hard to be freaked out when you’re trying to catch your breath.

NOTE: If moving your body is not an option for you for any reason, here’s what you do instead: Exhaust that busy mind. You want to do the dance equivalent for your brain. Get a jig-saw puzzle and see how fast you can bust it out. Try some sudoku, or crossword puzzles, or a favorite faced-paced party game – doing this with friends is totally allowed. Get your brain engaged and moving. Just like your heart, your mind is already working overtime, so go for it! It will get tired eventually.

Sometimes, we can hear our inner wisdom more easily when we are too worn out to argue. It’s true.

Next Steps: Hit Pause. 

Once you’ve burned off that energy through movement or mind-work, STOP.

Rest. Get quiet. Sit or lie down – find the comfiest space you can and settle in. If your mind is still churning, you’ll know that you haven’t shaken out enough. Our minds can be stubborn and since they don’t have an “off” switch you may need to be persistent. Repeat your first effort or try another from the list.

Once you are ready to settle: Breathe. Know that you are breathing. Let that occupy your focus for a minute or five or ten. You want to be still long enough to feel the quiet, but not long enough for your mind to start running again. Your strategy here is to be with your breath, as well as you are able. Your mind may still wander – but this quality will be different from the frenetic worry. Simply bring your mind back to your breath once you notice it’s elsewhere.

NOW. Now, you may be in a place to hear what your inner wisdom has to say.

Now, Verbalize. 

Grab a pen and paper, a journal if you have one, and write. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write on this prompt:

If I knew everything would turn out perfectly, I would….

Pen to page, fast as you can, dump out every single thing (related or not) that comes up. GO.

If writing isn’t your thing, you have other options: Speak into the recorder on your phone, to an online recorder, or to the empty space around you.

The idea here is to get more than one sense involved: eyes + hands, voice + ears. Write or speak stream-of consciousness, with as little pause as possible. If you run out of words or aren’t sure where to start or what to say, continue with these:

The truth is….

What I really want….

What else? (And what else?)

What we’re doing here is practicing listening to ourselves in a more concrete way. The voice of our heart speaks through our body, in subtle sensations that are easily drowned out by the noise of our mind and the consequent churning of our belly.

In this practice, we’re making the voice of our inner wisdom visible. We’re acting as translators for our own heart, lending it our fingers or voice; amplifying it’s signal and making it easier to hear and harder to ignore. We are embodying our role as the source of our own wisdom and also the recipient of it – and this is powerful stuff.

This third step is the most crucial, but it’s not likely to yield any results without first moving through the steps above. The hardest part of any practice is actually doing it – I know. SO…

If you are in the churn of a big decision, commit some time (an hour, maybe two) to step through these strategies.

Shake it out.

Get Quiet.

Hear what your heart has to say. 

Let us know how it goes.

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This post is part of a series on connecting with your inner wisdom, all the many ways that it shows up, and how we learn to actually use it. On June 20th, in Seattle, Washington, my dear friend Kylie Bellard and I are gathering with a group of kind and curious folks to share our most cherished practices for drawing on our inner wisdom. Are you interested in building a more conscious relationship with your own inner well? We would love to have you join us.

Find all the details and register to save your spot, right here. 

4 comments on “A simple strategy for listening to your heart when there’s a lot at stake

  1. I made a decision about a month ago that was consciously made based on unconditional, non-judgement love. While it didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped; the whole experience opened my heart again. I survived and actually thrived after situation that would have broken me not that long ago. It was a decision for love over fear.

    1. Goodness, Teresa. You touch on something so very important, which is that we never really know how anything is going to go, but if we make the decision from our heart (and exactly as you say, from unconditional love), we can be sure that we’ve done our best, and that we’re acting in integrity.

      On a personal note, although our situations and experiences might be different, I’ve recently had a similar situation – and I think this is key, too, isn’t it? That decisions made in this way contribute to our ability to thrive if things don’t turn out the way we hope. Big, big love to you, and thank you so much for sharing.

  2. This is awesome, Mel! As someone who has a hard time listening to my heart, these steps always help me. Thank you for writing this.

    1. Ah, Katya. It is so good to have you here. With the little I know so far of your life and your work, from my (very) external perspective, you seem so well aligned with your heart. It’s an ongoing, dynamic practice though, right? It’s not like we figure it out and have the path laid out from then on. I’m learning to recognize the feeling of getting *away* from my heart – and using that as a signal to come on back before I get too far off course.

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