Decisions, decisions

questionsIndian or Chinese, jeans or track pants? If only all the decisions we had to make were so trivial – and came with a guarantee that the world won’t end if we make the wrong choice.

In many ways we have more choices than any generation before. Yet few of us are ever taught how to make good decisions.

So if you are facing one of those Decisions with a capital ‘D’ – a choice about work, relationships, marriage, children, home, health, even your principles –   how can you increase the chances of making the right one?

On the horns of a dilemma: be creative in coming up with as many possible options or solutions as you can.  If you’ve only got two options, you’re facing a dilemma. Three and more, and suddenly you’ve got a choice.

Focus: the more we worry about a decision, the more variables and ‘what ifs’ we  seem to load onto it until we lose sight of what the real decision is. In amongst all the to-ing and fro-ing, there’s usually one factor that’s the most important. Concentrate on that: everything else is details.

A stomach for decision-making? according to estate agents, most of us spend ten times longer searching out a new outfit as we do choosing a new home (10 minutes is the average viewing time). One of the reasons is because we’re acting on our feeling about a place. Intuition, gut feeling, whatever you call it,  is a wonderful guide so long as you don’t disengage your brain entirely.

Inside story: it can be hard to connect with our intuition when the chatter going on in our heads is so incessant. When it gets to 3am and you realise your thoughts are chasing their tails, try meditation: sit on your bed and use a simple technique like counting your breaths to put your mind in idle. Left to itself, your inner wisdom may eventually tell you exactly what you need to know – important decisions can be discovered as well as made.

Make believe: if you’re really stuck pretend to yourself you’ve made the decision and act as if it’s really happening. Over the next 24 hours monitor your feelings. Relief, peace..if it feels good, even if it’s still scary, go ahead. Edginess,defensiveness, unease, are signals you need to test out another of your choices in the same way.

Sober reflection:apparently the Persians dealt with difficult decisions by discussing them while they were drunk and then reviewing them in the cold light of the next day’s hangover.  Only if last night’s ‘brilliant idea’ still looked good did they go ahead. The moral of the story is don’t make serious decisions while under the influence – especially the influence of strong emotions such as anger, hurt, fear, depression or desperation.

When is a problem a possibility: no matter how huge the decision seems, it is also an opportunity, a chance to shape your life and future. Often we come at the really difficult decisions with a mind set on damage limitation: what’s going to hurt the least or is least likely to end in disaster? Remind yourself that every big decision is a chance to change direction on your journey through life.  What are you trying to achieve through this choice: a better career, better relationship, better life? Think positive.

Finally, if you’re really stuck, you can always flick a coin and remind yourself that, like celebrity marriages, decisions don’t have to be for ever. It may not be easy to undo a wrong decision but, in the long run, it’s easier and less painful than trying to live with one.

Wishing you a clutter-free Christmas

Free as a bird

Free as a bird

Clutter clearing is a recurrent theme in our house where there always seems to be too much Stuff and not enough Space.

So I was interested to read a piece in the Susan Jeffers Organisation newsletter suggesting we hang on to  clutter through a kind of poverty consciousness. After all, the world we live in (in the west at least) is largely based on the idea of ‘progress’: having more and being more. We are what we own.

I love nice things as much as anyone but the truth is that, as I reflect back over the last 12 months, my best days were spent walking in the Lakeland Fells with my sister. If we hadn’t been travelling light – jacket, bottles of water, an egg roll and slice of gingerbread – we wouldn’t have had the energy to climb as high as we did, nor been rewarded by views from the top of the world, stretching beyond layer upon layer of velvet felltops to a shining silver sea in the distance.

Amazing how freeing all that space and air is. How much easier it is to simply stop and just be.

Reading this from Susan Jeffers this morning I glimpsed the same feeling of space and lightness that I’d felt while we were up there with the soaring birds:

“As you get rid of all your excess baggage, you begin to realise: You don’t need (or want!) as much as you thought you did, which means…you don’t need to buy as many things, which means…you don’t need as much space, which means…you don’t need to have a bigger home, which means…you don’t need to earn as much, which means…you don’t need to work so hard, which means…you have more time and energy, which means… you are better able to end the struggle and dance with life!”

Wishing you space and light today and in the year to come.

Let yourself be seen

Sometimes I fear I use the word ‘authenticity’ too much. It feels as if a lot of what I am doing in the workshops, the coaching, and the writing, is encouraging people to peel back all the layers, one at a time, and see what lies at the heart of us. Minus all the beliefs, the habits, the stuff about how we should live and think and behave, that we’ve absorbed from the world around us.

Speaking for myself, I’m not sure I know yet; indeed I have a suspicion this peeling back the layers milarkey is the work of a lifetime. But I have had glimpses, and seen it in others as they sit in a workshop and, for a moment, trust themselves and those of us around them, to tell the truth. About who they are, and what they feel, and how much it sometimes hurts. And then they talk about what they really, really want and they light up with the recognition that that is also true.

Daring greatly

Which brings me to the point of this blog, which is to direct you to a film of the academic and author Brene Brown talking about her research into living your best life. (She doesn’t call it that but I think that’s what it amounts to – looking at why some people appear to have a strong sense of worthiness and love and belonging, while others spend all their lives believing they are Not Good Enough.)

Please watch it for yourself, not only because I think what Brene Brown has to say is really useful, but because she’s one of us: flawed, cagey, doubtful, resistent, and very, very funny.

And when you’ve done so you’ll want to think on what her findings mean for you. For it turns out what makes the difference in how we experience our lives is how vulnerable we allow ourselves to be. Instead of hiding who we are, burrowing in under all those layers in the belief that if they ever saw the real us the world would end, we need to do more of what those courageous people I meet through my workshops are doing, and trust ourselves with others.

have a heart

I hadn’t realised the word courage comes from the French ‘coeur’ – heart – but I love the idea that living with courage is really living wholeheartedly. Pain, pleasure, love, loss, fear, hurt, joy, peace, happiness, connection, and the rest. Allowing that life is all these things and that the alternative to courage or wholeheartedness is to be numb to all of it.

Which is where Brene ends her talk, with the warning that we can’t selectively choose to be alive to the positive parts of life but numb to the negative. “You can’t say here’s the bad stuff: here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these things.

“You can’t numb those without numbing the other emotions. When we numb these we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness…”

Something to consider on your journey to a more authentic life then: to what extent are you willing to start letting yourself be really seen? To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart?

A little more support…

laughterLighten up

It’s no secret that laughter is good for us, lowering our blood pressure, reducing stress, and firing up our immune systems. Which would be reason enough to do it, quite apart from the fact that very little beats a really good laugh.

I’m not talking about wry smiles or smug titters: the kind of response we feel to a lot of the cynical humour we see on screen these days.

No. I mean that helpless kind of laughter that comes from somewhere deep inside and has us at its mercy, even though our eyes may be streaming with laughter tears and the sound we’re making is completely embarrassing.

Think back for a moment. When was the last time you laughed so much and so unexpectedly that your muscles went weak and you couldn’t speak? You really let go and to hell with how you looked?

According to scientists, we laugh on average 17 times a day, but I suspect they must be counting chuckles. For a really good belly laugh workout seems to me as rare as a newscast reporting good news.

Those same scientists claim that as children we laugh on average 400 times a day, which is, ironically, a rather sobering thought. It’s not that life isn’t serious sometimes, and there’s certainly plenty going on to make us weep. But the truth is that letting laughter into our souls makes us so much better able to deal with life’s challenges. And perhaps take ourselves a whole lot less seriously too.

The best thing about laughter is, of course, that it is hopelessly contagious. Hearing or seeing someone else get the giggles sets us off. So today, let’s hear it for the kids in this wonderful video shared by my good friend Lizzie.

Lighten up and let yourself go. You’ll feel better for it.