Are you ever in situations where no matter how hard you push your brain you remain confused about important decisions? As I faced my own personal mid-life questions, my brain often came up short on answers to these:
“What is a successful life look like for me?”
“Do I take an assignment where I’ll be making more money but will be working for someone I don’t connect with?”
“I feel restless, like I should be doing something different, but how do I find out what that is?”
“What work life balance is right for me?”
Interestingly, one of the most read articles on Harvard Business Review’s site is Clay Christensen’s “How Will You Measure Your Life?” suggesting we all ponder these questions from time to time. Yet our workplaces seldom equip us with answering them. As we get into higher level positions we are faced with many decisions where the answers are not black or white, but dwell frustratingly in the gray. With all the emphasis in the business world on facts and data and logical conclusions, it’s easy for us to let an important part of our decision-making center lapse. This part is called our inner voice or intuition. I call it the inner coach. Our inner coach connects us to our own authenticity, our core, our values. When we listen to our inner voice it helps us be at peace with important decisions. It also helps us be a more authentic leader. Albert Einstein said “the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Five Practices to Listen To Our Inner Voice
1) Daily practice of quiet time with yourself – I’ve often wished my inner voice would be booming and loud and provide specific answers. It would announce its entry – sort of like Morgan Freeman’s “voice of God” in the movies: “Henna, this is your inner voice calling. Make a left turn at the next intersection.” Unfortunately, mine is not there yet. I have found though that even a 15 minute ritual of journaling really helps. I start by writing a few sentences about what I am grateful for. Being in a state of gratefulness creates an opening to connect with our inner voice and quiets the voices of the inner critic. I then write out the question I am seeking an answer to and hold the intention (have faith) that the answer will come to me. Mindfulness is another great way to practice quiet time. If you want to have fun with your inner coach you can even name her and create a personality for her that you can be in dialogue with. It can help counterbalance the constant buzz of the inner critic.
2) Connect with what inspires you – Have fun. Play. Yes, you can tell your boss I said you could do that. Blame it on me. Seriously, when we are energized and inspired we are better able to connect with our inner voice. Take a piece of paper and write down three great memories of when you were last inspired by simple acts you were engaged in. Now carve out space on your calendar for a daily dose of being in joy in those acts. Yes, now. Put it on the calendar. For me, dance is what inspires me so I do it several times a week. Quiet walks in nature inspire me. Writing inspires me. Reading some of my favorite quotes inspires me. It doesn’t have to take much time. What can you do to feed your soul every day?
3) Connect with your creative brain – We have our analytical left brain which plans, analyzes and makes sure we get our tasks accomplished in the most efficient ways possible. If you’re like me, you reside most of the time in this part of the brain. We have another part of our brain which is more present, focuses on here and now and being in flow and connection with others. In this amazing TEDTalk by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor, she explains the right brain and how experiencing a stroke got her connected to it. Thankfully we don’t all need a stroke to find it. We can find a way to dwell more within it by engaging in creative activities.
4) Visualization exercise – Our right brain thinks in pictures so here’s a visualization exercise I’ve used when I’m really stuck on a question. I take a deep breath. I close my eyes and picture myself on my favorite beach. I really embellish the picture. I feel the sand in my toes, experience the color of the water, hear the sound of the waves. I picture myself walking up to a treasure chest. I open the treasure chest and visualize what’s inside as the answer to the question I’ve asked. Try this exercise. You’ll be surprised at what shows up in the treasure chest. It disengages the logical part of your brain so a deeper knowing can emerge.
5) Being present in our bodies – A mentor of mine says “lose your mind, come to your senses.” Sensing what our bodies are feeling connects us to our inner voice. I remember one time I had to make a tough decision on my next career move. I had to choose between a General Manager assignment on a small business in Mexico vs. a Sales Head assignment where I’d be responsible for a business ten times the size of the business in Mexico. After visiting with the team in Mexico, I just “felt” an amazing sense of expansion, excitement, and “butterflies in the stomach” anticipation. The logical choice would have been the much larger business, but I was able to listen to my body and made what I believe was an excellent decision for me. Just paying attention to our bodies during the day will help us learn what they’re telling us. I ask myself the question “What am I aware of now?” and it helps me move from my head to my senses.
The most important way to develop our inner voice is to actually trust it and trust yourself. Unlike the inner critic, the inner coach is reassuring. It feels good. It’s kind and non-judgmental. To help develop trust in your inner coach, you can journal about positive outcomes from listening and following through.
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