Conscious Decision-Making: Or, What on Earth Do I Do Now?

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” Goethe

A few years ago, I did what many entrepreneurs do when looking to grow their small business, and joined a new,  local face-to-face networking group. Superficially, the nature of the group seemed to be in alignment with my values and to be attracting like-minded people, so I committed to the group and attended meetings regularly. However, as time wore on, I started to feel uneasy about it and wasn’t sure why. I noticed feelings of resentment on the days when I was due to participate and resistance to making the effort. Continuing to attend felt like I was forcing myself and, when I mentioned this to a close friend and colleague he suggested that maybe I wasn’t trusting myself and in particular my intuition. I was waiting for my mind to come up with some plausible justification for how I was feeling before I would allow myself to overcome my fear of losing contact with important people and quit.

What nature seeks to teach us is that life (and business) is all about relationships, not commodities. In networking, and cultivating business and personal relationships, I’ve since learned a few crucial lessons. Firstly, that it’s my conscious intent and how I feel about the relationships I engage with that are most important. Secondly, it seems more effective to focus on what I have to offer the relationship, what I have to give, not necessarily what or where it can get me, which is an attitude  that stems from the old ‘command and control’ life and business paradigm. However, there needs to be a balance in the flow of energy, so that the relationship settles into something that is mutually beneficial. For this to work, it is essential that trust is present, between those involved in the relationship, yes, but first and foremost I need to trust myself.

What’s happened to the trust we had in ourselves?

We are taught, in the Western world, to trust the opinions of others before our own authority, discernment and inner wisdom. This happens through our schooling and much of our work experiences, unless we’re extremely fortunate. The advertising media we are exposed to uses this idea to relentlessly attempt to convince us that we’re not good enough or we’re unworthy unless we consume the latest gadgets, food, fashion in clothes or TV dramas etc. So, we learn to be distracted and to look outside ourselves for decision-making clues.

How do we reclaim our self-trust and thereby our trust also in others?

Presence: This is a deeply focussed and grounded way of being with ourselves. It’s necessary, I believe, as a precursor for being open to knowing ourselves in our unique authenticity. To cultivate presence with ourselves involves spending quiet time alone and being able to relax with that. Once we can do that on our own and be comfortable with our own company, then we’re ready to be present with others. One of the greatest gifts we can offer to others in their presence is unconditional positive regard and this can be very challenging to achieve if we are not at home with giving this quality to ourselves.

Awareness: Once we are present, it becomes easier to be aware – of how we’re feeling (emotionally and physically), what our strengths and limitations are, what beliefs we’re holding, the values we hold dear and the opportunities that are presenting themselves to us. In my experience, it’s the opportunities that are most easily missed through lack of attention. We might also be sidestepping the fact that we’re currently in a space where our energy is not matched by the people we’re with or the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Intuition: This is our connection to our High Selves or inner wisdom. By cultivating presence and awareness, we can master the art of being a witness to our actions and making consciously chosen decisions – choices that we engage with through deep trust of our inner wisdom and discernment. But something needs to feed our inner wisdom and discernment and this is where our intuition comes in. We can connect with it through being present, grounded and aware. It is that ‘still, quiet voice’ within that is always on our side, even if what it tells us does not make total sense to our minds in the moment.

Emotional Self-Sufficiency: In order to trust ourselves, we need to know that we are trustworthy. To be internally trustworthy means to give up any need to refer to others for our self-approval and to instead consult the wisdom of our own experiences and judgment, so discern for ourselves regardless of what others might think. It necessitates letting go of what we imagine, or what we know, to be other people’s expectations of us.

With the networking group, I made the decision to quit and re-invest my energy elsewhere. It wasn’t until a year or 2 later that my mind finally caught up with my intuition and revealed to me the wisdom in making that choice. You might argue that I could’ve waited a while longer until it was more obvious what I should do. And I would understand your reasoning – I was there, leading myself along that very train of thought. However, during that time when I was forcing myself to continue in the group rather than listening to my intuition, feeding the resentment and resistance was consuming my energy. I would agree with you, though, if you suggested that quitting earlier might have made more sense. That was my learning.

6 Responses to Conscious Decision-Making: Or, What on Earth Do I Do Now?

  1. Jamie Robe September 6, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    Wow Sally, your posts get better every time. I do agree that “modern” education systems (especially here in the US) pretty much sap people of the drive that is present initially in children. By the time you are measured and tested against the “norm”, you are convinced of the value of those in authority. I don’t think its a matter of strictness – its a matter of conformity. Some of the most progressive and intelligent writers, scientist and philosophers came from one room school houses or even less structured environments, yet they were able to reach great heights due to inner driving forces. We admire those people now, but we don’t ever think about what helped to shape those people. In fact, most of the greatest leaders of past would not qualify for a clerks job in today’s world of inane requirements. We care about grades, paper diplomas and such… not the dreams and motivations of people.

    BTW, Earth Pilgrim was a great book. Bought it after you quoted from it earlier. Thanks!
    Peace, Jame

  2. Sally September 6, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Ah, yes, conformity! And what is it we’re being asked to conform with? A teacher friend once told me that she called the type of assignments that students and pupils are set, in readiness for meeting the ‘inane requirements’ you mention, ‘pointless busy work’!

    And very pertinent, in my view, what you say about the background of some of the great leaders in our world. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about such pioneers ‘not fitting in too well at school’. Conformity, I guess, is more about follower-ship than leader-ship.

    To be a pioneer and a leader maybe involves an even greater imperative for self-trust because there are few others to refer to, being on the leading edge of something, although I’m not advocating totally ‘going it alone’. Great leaders, in my view, hold the vision rather than having all the knowledge, so they know how to work with others and in service to others in order to collectively achieve something great.

    Glad you enjoyed Earth Pilgrim.

  3. Marie September 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Dear Sally,
    I’ve been subscribing to your newsletter for some time but this one jumped out at me in particular. I have been researching decision-making for some time. It was my area of interest when I worked as an engineer and management consultant with organisations. Since becoming a parent I have become aware of how tuning in and trusting your instincts is of utmost importance. Being able to first of all observe a situation and what our instincts tell us before leaping in and making a reactive decision is key.

    In fact, I have just published a book (available on Amazon) which is the culmination of four years of writing about the relevance of ‘good enough’ practice in decision making for families. It is titled ‘Mindful Decisions – Intentional Family Decision Making’. The content is so closely aligned to what you are talking about. I even developed a simple model that talks about four different mental states:
    One can be:
    ‘Swept Along’ i.e. place low reliance on either societal values or personal values through to
    ‘Submissive’ i.e. over relying on societal values through to
    ‘Suffering’ placing high reliance on both societal values and internal thus essentially being paralyzed and finally
    ‘Self-sufficient’ where internal values are the primary guide.

    That’s just a snippet and better seen as a visual as shown in the book. I couldn’t resist commenting because it is so exciting to hear how closely aligned our thinking is. Respect for authority, respect for societal values can exist in conjunction with an awareness and primary focus on trusting our own gut feel. Thanks for the sense of validation with my own thoughts.

  4. Sally September 14, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Marie, and your model for mental states in decision making. I imagine your book will prove to be a very useful reference for parents.

  5. Ali September 25, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Sally, I’ve held these words with me, particularly the tale in the first paragraph about feeling resistance, over the last couple of weeks and they came in very handy for me in listening to my (loud!) internal barometer without worrying too much about pinning rational explanations to a big decision. Thank you!

  6. Sally September 26, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    Lovely to know that the tale was handy, Ali. All the best with your big decision.

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