Do you know why it’s so hard to make a decision when presented with a truly challenging dilemma? It’s because there’s a part of your brain that’s designed to stimulate fearful thoughts. And these thoughts are supposed to stop you from seeking solutions to your thorniest problems.
These thoughts come from the left side of your brain, from the part that’s responsible for anticipating and taking care of your needs, organizing information, and planning.
In her fascinating book, My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor tells the story of what happened when a blood vessel burst in the left side of her brain and she could no longer efficiently communicate her needs. She knew she was in trouble, but she couldn’t remember to dial 911, the numbers on her phone’s keypad no longer made sense to her, and it took hours of effort before she was able to call a colleague for help.
So you really do need the part of your brain that sends those fearful thoughts. It allows you to process information necessary for survival. At the same time, though, it also generates thoughts that will keep you from taking risks, because they are deemed too dangerous. In a nutshell, here’s how the left brain thinks: small=safe=good, big=risky=bad. And it goes to great lengths to convince you of that, regardless of what the reality is in front of you.
But here’s the thing: the left side of the brain doesn’t have to have the last word in the matter of what you do with your life. You can actually engage the left brain (also called the inner critic or ego) in a conversation and address its fears in a reasonable conversation. You can meet your inner critic’s needs and thereby elicit its buy-in, which is really important if you want to sleep peacefully at night.
This is what it looked like for me:
Stacey: So I’m thinking of leaving my job at the hospital.
Inner Critic: WHAT?!! ARE YOU INSANE?!! That job is the only thing that’s keeping a roof over you head. It’s the only thing that allows your family to enjoy a nice lifestyle. It’s the only thing that will protect your family in case they get sick or injured!
Stacey: Could you talk a little bit quieter and slower? I’m having a hard time hearing you.
Inner Critic: Okay. I’ll speak more slowly: You. Are. Delusional.
Stacey: So you don’t think I can support my family with my current business?
Inner Critic: That’s right.
Stacey: Well, I’ve seen a lot of signs that my business is growing and the more attention I give it, the more it grows. And I always feel so joyful when I’m working on it. I think that’s a sign that I’m supposed to focus on it more.
Inner Critic: Life isn’t supposed to be all fun.
Stacey: Well, I don’t exactly agree with you about that. But I see your point. The other thing that I love about my business is that I’ve helped so many people have the most amazing transformations, and I really want to get out in a bigger way to help even more people.
Inner Critic: Yes, I’ll give you that. You are really good at what you do. But my problem is that you’re not generating enough money from it yet to support your family. Why can’t you keep working at the hospital while you continue to build your business?
Stacey: Remember, that’s the deal we worked out 2 years ago so that I could start my business. Now I feel like I’ve built a strong enough foundation, but what’s missing is enough time and energy—time and energy I’m currently expending at my hospital job—to really create growth.
Inner Critic: Would you be willing to continue working as a nurse midwife (but give up your staff/salaried position with benefits) to keep bringing in income as needed?
Stacey: Yes, I would. Because then I am more of a “free agent” and can decide my schedule and avoid the bureaucratic stuff I don’t enjoy.
Inner Critic: Well, then, I think we have an agreement. Keep working as a midwife on an “as needed” basis, and I promise not to sabotage your plans, or keep you awake at night with doom and gloom scenarios.
Stacey: Thank you very much. I look forward to talking with you again soon!
So, as you can see, I view my inner critic as a trusted source that gives me information I need to know to live my best life. Other trusted sources are also internal, such as what I call my Inner Guidance (others call it their Intuition or Higher Self). Some others are external, like what I call “the Universe” (some call it God) or Guardian Angels. There are many trusted sources and I have dialogues with all of them. I encourage you to name yours and engage them in the same process.
It may take some practice, but keep it up. At the end of the road, you will have a clear connection to your trusted sources, and they’ll be able to give you the information you need to make the right choice—even for your most highly charged, emotionally fraught dilemmas.
What does your process look like when you are faced with a big decision? How do you come to peace with your inner critic?
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