Last month, I explored the topic of “What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do” on my radio show, which has been a subject I’ve pondered for years and written articles about. But I’ve recently been impacted by the challenges of decision-making with my 12 year old daughter.
12 years old is a tough age. I don’t know about for boys, but for girls (and my daughter in particular), it’s a very bumpy ride. She’s been inundated by increasing demands at school, social pressures, and disappointments, not to mention the emotional roller-coaster of hormonal changes.
Perhaps all of this has contributed to her difficulty making decisions. She gets stuck in a frenzy of not knowing what to do. Smoke practically rises from her head when she’s not quite happy with either and feels she can’t choose. Her whole body tenses up, her face turns red, and nothing I say seems to make a difference. I wonder if she’ll blow a fuse.
Perhaps you sometimes feel like that? Like you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, and don’t know which way to go?
Most of us look at decision making from two angles – the safe route and the risky route. A higher risk choice feels a little scary, puts us out of our comfort zone, and might end up in failure; but it also holds more possibility for something really rewarding and exciting. The safe route, on the other hand, is comfortable. It’s familiar, it’s easy, and doesn’t require facing any fear. But it holds more possibility for boredom and stagnation.
There’s nothing wrong with either choice. The safe route and the risky route are both valid and appropriate. The only problem is when we find we’re almost always choosing one or the other. If we avoid the safe route and always feel we have to throw ourselves into confrontation or busting out of our comfort zone, there’s something we’re avoiding in the familiar. We have yet to embrace the simplicity of just being where we are, and feeling present with the ordinary. On the other hand, most of us know the problems with always choosing the safe route: we’ll never experience anything new, and likely become stuck in old ways, no longer growing. What we know from nature is that if something isn’t growing, it’s dying.
So we want to have some balance between taking the safe route and taking the risky route in our choices in life. It’s doesn’t mean exactly 50/50, but finding the right amount of edgy choices and the right amount of safer selections for you, at this time in your life, which is unique and individual.
However, there’s more than just two choices when we make decisions. This was my daughter’s dilemma. It became very clear on Easter. We decided to go to Unity church for Easter service that morning. Again, age 12 and the middle school problems reared their head: go the teen program, with kids I don’t know, or come into the main sanctuary with my parents for the service?
The risky road would give her the potential to have fun with her peers and meet new people she might connect with, but the danger of embarrassment, feeling ostracized, not fitting in. Going with Mom and Dad? That was safe, comfortable, but the service could be awfully boring, and no one her age to have a chance to connect to.
So what did she do? She did exactly what you need to do when you’re stuck and don’t know what to do. She stopped. She sat in a chair on the patio outside with me, between the teen room and the sanctuary, and wouldn’t budge. She couldn’t choose either. I was getting anxious that we would miss both services and regret sitting outside. I feared that she’d be angry and frustrated with herself and with me, and I’d be equally as annoyed, both with her indecision and my inability as her mother to help her navigate it.
But this is exactly what she needed to do. If we don’t stop the ruminating and flipping from one side to the other, we won’t be able to get to get to the 3rd option. The 3rd option transcends the mind. It’s beyond the thoughts of whether to take a risk or play it safe. It taps into our truth through the body.
Too often, we get caught up in trying to figure out the “right” answer. Our mind compares and contrasts, looking at positives and negatives, trying to come to a logical solution, or one that feels good to us. Sometimes, we get in a rut of ruminations over alternatives, paralyzing us in the inability to choose between options. This was my daughter’s dilemma.
When you choose, instead, to just stop, you can let yourself feel. Be present with your body, and begin to notice sensations. These sensations can guide you to the best choice for you in the moment. For my daughter, her body simply got up and walked with me into the sanctuary. Once her mind got out of the way, she was able to make a choice.
You can sit in your body with one of the choices, and notice how it feels. It is more expansive, relaxed? Energized? Tense? Shaky? Whatever sensations you notice can guide you to whether the choice feels empowering, overwhelming, draining, grounding, etc. Then, try on the other choice and observe how your body responds.
Like my daughter, occasionally if you sit with the experience and let go of the choices, the body will do something. You won’t have to think too much about it, it simply gets up and moves in the direction it wants to. This is the body moving in the way that it feels most resonance with in the moment, and can be a helpful way to make decisions. It’s the 3rd option.
Give it a try. If you’re ruminating and feeling stuck on which way to go – and afraid you’ll miss out on both possibilities from lack of action – give yourself some time to stop. Let go of the “figure it out mind” and let something else rise to the surface. Let the 3rd option emerge, and guide you to where the body wants to go.