“Hindsight is 20/20, but I don't understand why I didn't pay attention to what I knew deep down I wanted."
If this sounds familiar, welcome to the club of intuition-ignorers...A club which includes most of us at some point in our lives, in some capacity. Trusting our gut is tricky business, and the doubt and self-criticism that occurs after we choose to ignore what feels right adds an extra layer of exasperation to the mix. Clients often share with me, "I'm not as upset about the outcome of the decision as I am about not having listened to my gut. Why did I do that when I knew it wasn't what I wanted!?"
Contrary to common belief, it is not the work of a therapist to give advice or tell a person what is right for them. In actuality, I’m in the business of believing every person knows deep down what it is that they need. The purpose of effective therapy is to guide the process of uncovering authenticity and self-trust—trust that may be buried within a person after years of second-guessing, doubting, and sacrificing personal needs for what appears to be best for others.
So why do we do a 180° from our intuition when that inner voice is whisper-screaming for us to follow our gut instinct?
- We don’t want to end up being "wrong." Take a minute to close your eyes and think of everyone in your life whose opinions matter to you, past and present, including yourself. Who is typically your harshest critic? For most of us, it's actually ourselves. Part of the lifelong work of learning to trust your intuition is working on quieting the inner criticism when you make mistakes....Mistakes, those inevitable things that help us learn, grow, and challenge us to look at the bigger picture. Let yourself be “wrong” sometimes. (And perhaps replace the word "wrong" with "human!") Embracing your inner voice must be accompanied by a release of perfectionism and self-criticism for every perceived misstep. Those missteps are a part of the journey, and listening to intuition is what ultimately allows us to regain our footing on the path and continue forward.
- We don’t want the pressure of our decisions to fall solely on us. Making group decisions or trusting the judgment of others more than our own comes with the benefit of not having to carry the burden of choice, and more specifically, the fear of making the "wrong" choice. It often feels easier to have someone else to blame if things go south, which allows us to stay stuck in a victim role and shake off responsibility for our own choices. While blaming others might feel soothing in the short-term, staying stuck in a victim role keeps us wading in a river of indecision, confusion, and inability to trust ourselves. It can feel scary to recognize that at the end of the day, each decision we make rests fully on our shoulders, but it is also an empowering tool that allows us to fully live our lives, and on no one’s terms but our own.
- We believe there is only one correct choice. Releasing the dichotomous thinking that often has us categorizing decisions or actions by "right and wrong," "good and bad," and "black and white" is an essential step toward trusting our intuition. If we believe there is only one choice that will get us to where we want and we’re not certain what that is, of course we will be afraid to listen to our intuition! These perceived rules of "good and bad" make life feel absolute. In reality, life’s circuitous path is anything but. Having faith that at any given moment we are where we are meant to be, and that every choice we make is furthering us on our path in some way, allows us to move freely, tune in to intuition, and most importantly, trust.
Next steps? Putting it all into action and tuning in to your intuition. This part takes daily practice. No choice is too small to start with, and no emotion is too small to listen to.
If your gut tells you to take a different route home, listen to it. If you get a strange sense you’d connect deeply with someone new but only meet him or her in passing, don’t leave without getting their contact information! We dismiss our gut reactions as silly or “nothing” many times throughout each day, but these small moments can be practice for bigger life choices that may be well-informed by intuition: where to live, who to settle down with, or when to embark on a fresh start.
You may also begin by taking a few moments each day to quietly tune in to your intuition - So often we know how we are thinking about something, but we may not make time or space to determine how we are feeling about it. Get into the practice of asking yourself, "How do I feel in this moment?" Your instinct may be to answer that question in a long, anxious string of thoughts: "It just doesn't seem like starting a new job right now is financially responsible. My family needs me and I also really shouldn't have gaps on my resume. I hate my current job, though. But what would happen if I let my coworkers down!?..." Feelings, on the other hand, can usually first be summarized in single words, although it may take time to identify them: "I feel apprehensive, curious, and confused." Start by taking a few deep breaths, identifying the emotions that are coming up for you, and see where they guide you. You might just find an answer that you had inside all along - an answer that no amount of overthinking would have been able to provide you with.
Trusting intuition is no easy business, but today may be the perfect day to begin releasing self-criticism, become empowered in your decisions, and toss out those “rights and wrongs” in order to start uncovering that wonderful voice that is the one to place your trust in: your own.