Over the last few months, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much I’m trusting, or not trusting, my instincts. In the past I wasn’t all that great at it. I tended to think much more about what I “should” be thinking or feeling or doing or saying, rather than what I truly felt was right. And the Shoulds are hard to shake off after decades of devotedly following their lead.
Like most people’s, my instincts tend to be pretty astute. The trick is to actually LISTEN to them, trust them and follow them. When I do, my inner guide steers me on a straight, even course. Things fall into place with improbable ease. While the Shoulds, deceivers that they are, keep me bouncing wildly around, trying to please, overextending, making poor choices, feeling waves of hot shame and cold guilt, giving me no sense of alignment to what’s most important to me or where I’m headed next. The Shoulds constantly remind me How It’s Always Been and What I’m Not Doing Right, they keep me following old, outgrown sets of rules and agreements, and they lack any connection to my true self.
Clearly that isn’t helpful, but in spite of understanding and feeling how different the two experiences are, I still find myself struggling to ignore the tyrannical voice of the Shoulds and listen to my gut instead. It always leads me right, I know that, I just get caught up in other pressures—both externally from other people and internally from my own hangups. (For instance, the Shoulds tell me I SHOULD be starting a new book project, why am I wasting time on other things?! *GUILT* *STRESS* But when I quiet my mind and listen, my inner guide tells me chill out, already. The next book will come when it’s ready. And I immediately relax, knowing it’s the truth.)
A close friend and I have been talking about this a lot lately. We’re both working on learning to pay better attention to our inner guides, to maintain our boundaries and to let go of what isn’t serving us. It isn’t easy. Not only are there years of our own repressions to unlearn, but the expectations of others to meet—or disappoint.
It can be incredibly challenging to stay strong when we feel like we’re letting anyone down or not living up to our own ideals. The words “failure” and “selfish” rattle ominously in our heads. But it isn’t failing to do what’s right for ourselves, nor are we being selfish. Because the truth is, trusting your gut isn’t ever about selfishly screwing over anyone else or doing whatever you want and damning the consequences. It’s about creating positive consequences. If I’m feeling confident, aligned and whole, I do better by everyone around me. I’m a more compassionate person and a better friend. I’m inspired, connected with my creativity, a more focused writer. I can take chances, trusting in the choices I’m making. I’m not keeling to one side or another, anxiously seeking approval, uneasily hoping I can find my way through each day. I’m thriving in my life, rather than surviving it.
For big decisions or very, very small ones, from what I eat for lunch to my core values in a relationship, my instinct is the best and truest compass for living a happy, healthy, balanced life. Whether it’s saying “no” to an outing that I’m just not up to or “yes” to a new opportunity at work, spending a lot of money on something I want or saving all my extra cash, curling up in a ball in my sweats and reading all day when there are chores waiting or pushing myself to work harder at an exercise class, trusting my gut is the practice of honoring myself. Respecting my own needs, respecting what is most true for myself at any given moment, and allowing that to guide me.
“My inner guide is my copilot, not guilt, Shoulds or the way it’s always been.” Amen to that.