I was asked, ok so now that I have got all of that stuff out, what do I do with it, how do I change my life?
Well, I paused. You need to make some choices. You either choose a rubbish life or you choose something else which is in alignment with your heart, purpose and soul. And, I laughed how about choosing something better than that? If that is even possible.
It’s hard isn’t it? I’ve stayed in awful relationships and jobs because I was too scared to choose something else, something for my higher good.
Then one day – there is always a fateful day – I did choose something different and I didn’t procrastinate over it, like I’d done in the past. I went with my gut and my heart and figured out what my head would do later.
I made a conscious decision and the right choice just because I knew it was the right one.
And it changed my life – phew!
Conscious decision making is both easy and hard
Easy because some decisions can be made on the spot based on gut instinct. Hard because the decision is harder, it needs more time, more reflection, you may not be good at making decisions for new things, or you are just rubbish (or think you are) at consciously choosing, you may need external validation or there may be some other reason that makes this a hard decision.
There is no such thing as a wrong choice. All roads lead you home.
How do you do stuff?
There are some simple rules about becoming fully conscious in your decision making and that is to first understand how you do things. If you do not know how you do things, how can you know how conscious decision making will work for you?
I’m not a believer of how you do everything is how you do anything. I do believe that for certain things you do have a pattern. I choose IT equipment differently to choosing food for example.
So let’s talk about food.
Food choices and decisions can be traditionally hard to spot.
What I am talking about is making choices about what to eat based on your emotional state. It’s something most of us do on an unconscious level.
I had been working with a client and we had a fantastic session that went on longer than usual. This made me late for an appointment I had with the eco veg lady. Halfway down the mountain, I got a call from the woman to say she’d got the wrong day. (I did pull over when I heard my WhatsApp call)
Because I was late and I hadn’t eaten I was immediately cross. As I sat in the car I could feel my annoyance grow. Taking a few deep breaths I asked ‘what choices can I make instead’ and ‘how can I make the best of this?’
I did a quick reframe and thought, well that’s okay, I know where I can get a gluten-free sandwich and there’s various errands I can run which will be useful.
However, my luck was out and the cafe was closed, I could feel my energy dip even more, but thought one last errand and I can get home.
When I reached the final shop I was feeling lightheaded and uncomfortable and so when I passed the ice cream freezers I was immediately seduced by a deliciously dark Magnum. Of course, I was and it was very tasty.
Gut, heart and head
In simple terms when we make a decision based on our guts it is usually fast, we just do it, however, we often do not listen to our guts and immediately override it with our heads, missing out that vital ingredient of the heart.
The head is usually best left for slow decisions that need some reflection time. If too much head is given (excuse the picture in your head) then you can risk never making a decision.
The heart is where your divine inner wisdom resides, where you have a knowing based on your values.
Each of these has a rightful place in conscious decision making. The question is how do you know when you make decisions, which of these is right for which situation?
Does it matter as long as you act or don’t act?
Four stages of the conscious competence model
I believe how we form our decisions is progressive. You can use this model to consider how you made decisions through the stages of your life and how you learn.
- Unconscious Incompetence – You don’t know what you don’t know.
- Conscious Incompetence – You know you don’t know. This is a fantastic learning stage.
- Conscious Competence – You know that you know, you’re just not entirely clear on how.
- Unconscious Competence – You can do what you are doing with your eyes closed. At this stage, you will have gathered immense knowledge, skills and experience.
One way to understand how this works is this.
Stop and think about how you might make a cup of tea. Now write all of the steps down and then teach someone else what you do. Easy?
You might think it’s easy, but I bet you missed loads of things out like you had to pick up the kettle and carry it to the sink, before lifting the lid, placing it under the tap, etc.
What I mean by this is we forget how we make decisions, because we become competent at making them.
The same thing applies when you choose food and drink – you become competent at making your choices. And you become well trained in emotional eating.
This model shows us the stages that we go through when acquiring new skills and knowledge. It is really useful to consider this when reviewing our decision making as it reminds us how we become unconsciously competent and serves as a useful reminder of the stages we go through when acquiring new knowledge and to be mindful of this when making choices.
This model is also known as the Learning Stages model was developed by former Gordon Training International employee, Noel Burch in the 1970’s.
Naturally, the more experiences and skills you acquire, the easier it becomes when making a decision.
But as you will know that isn’t always the case, things can come at you and throw you off track when you least expect it.
In my case, eating the Magnum was an aberration and a decision that I would come to regret. Later that night I woke up with horrendous itching from the sugar in the ice cream. Which meant that I didn’t sleep. The knock-on was that my energy was lower and I was a tad ratty the following day.
This is just a simple example, but none the less an important choice about something that could have been avoided.
On another occasion someone had come to visit for the day and she was not in a good space and took it out on me. She was quite frankly horrible. When she left with some viscous parting words I wanted not only to scream, but I wanted to stuff my face with sugar.
As I didn’t have sugar in the house this made it harder to wimp out. But I knew a friend who did have some. I stopped. Breathed into the events of the day. Asked questions. Walked around like a demented demon. Instead I drank water, planned a calming meal for later and took the dogs for a walk.
I had been hijacked and it took a lot to calm me down.
Conscious decision making journaling exercise
When you are faced with things that you do at an unconscious level which could go on to cause you problems there are a few things that you can do. One is to stop and assess and two is to become aware of what is happening – this is often hard to do in the moment (see above).
Use this exercise to record the event and to then discover what your decision making process is.
Grab your journal and write about the event. This is best done while it is still fresh in your mind. When you have finished stop and reflect, allow your muse to connect the dots.
Just stop. Allow yourself a few moments or minutes to take in what was going on. Breath and assess the situation. You will find all kinds of thoughts going on.
- What is coming into your awareness?
- What are the unconscious rules that you are playing by? All you need to do is to become aware of them. How do you do things – is there a process or a pathway? What are your criteria for decision making?
- Consider, three other events. What do you learn? Do you see a pattern?
- How awake are you to the effect your decisions have on you, others and your environment? Again go back and review the decisions you wrote about and consider this. Also, look at how connected each was to your beliefs, values and emotional trigger points.
- What or when do these events remind you of?
The friend that came to call reminded me of how much I hate being unfairly criticized.
- What does this tell you? Consider the outcome and how awake you are to what this means to you.
In my Magnum example, it goes back to childhood when I was soothed with sweet things and was taught by someone that if your energy dips what you need is something sweet.
After being very unwell with a fractured spine and other complications I value my health. So why I ask did I eat this ice cream? This goes against all of my values around my health.
The bottom line is I don’t believe it is ok to eat rubbish as I value my health. However, I was hijacked by my low energy and emotions. As I am sure you will be occasionally.
- How did your decisions make you feel?
I felt crap eating crap.
What was the core emotion and how does this or these emotions run your life? Dig deep.
Good conscious decision making should make you feel more alive.
This is not in the sense that you are leaping around for joy because sometimes good decisions are gut-wrenching and difficult. This is alive in the sense that they are completely connected to who you are, values, beliefs and you believe that they are right in the moment.
No, you cannot turn back the clock. What is done is done. Accept the decision you made and then decide what next, what did I learn and what, if anything will I do differently next time?
There is power and peacefulness in acceptance. This is not about giving up or not taking action, rather it is knowing that pushing against a closed door will always hurt. Whereas finding ways to open the door and walk through it without resistance will deliver far greater rewards.
Acceptance is a choice. You can see the positive or you can fight what is going on. Why would you want to wander around a littered battlefield?
Acceptance is living fully present in the moment. It’s not about the past, while that is a great source of reference for peeling the onion; it’s not where to live. Neither is it about the future because we cannot force it.
We can create visions, make decisions and we can take action, but we already know stuff can happen to throw these visions off course. That is why it is important to understand yourself, just a bit more…
Whatever happens, you need to take action, even if the action is inaction. I know that there have been times when my decision has been to simply let go, to not be attached to the outcome and quite frankly let others get on with it.
My action was to throw the rest of the ice creams in the bin, remind myself to be better prepared and to recognise more when I am being emotionally hijacked. And you know I hated throwing food away because it was a ‘waste of money’. Let’s not go there…
Because of how important my health is to me I know that this will not happen again. The pain of the night long itching is far too good a reminder…
Ask your heart
One of the things that helps me is to take my choice to my heart.
Typically when I am journalling and I feel that the piece is finished, I stop this and place a hand on my heart, connect my breath, ask for guidance and wait. I will feel, see or sense something.
It is always interesting to notice what comes up.
What happens for me I find that I am checking in with my values when connecting with my heart.
I’ll look at how I can reframe something so that I get a better outcome. I like this opportunity for reflection.
My favourite question is do I love myself enough to? If the answer is yes, the decision is also easy.
You can do all of these things without a piece of paper. Just stop and practice the four thumps that are in this Donna Eden video. There are lots of different energy techniques. My other favourite is the zip up.
What do you think?
Another fundamental part of conscious decision making is to also stop and ask ‘what do I think?’ Out loud, not just in your head. That question is not for your conscious mind to analyse, more to ask the question and go deep into yourself – trance-like to allow the answers to surface.
Try it. Stop now and ask what do I think? Don’t rush, just allow. Get your pen ready and scribble.
Your many brains
There are three brains in the body that exists alongside the chakra system, the one in your head that you already know about, one at your heart and one at your gut. These three brains work together and communicate along another superhighway called the vagus nerve.
The name vagus comes from the Latin term for wandering. This is because the vagus nerve wanders from the brain into organs in the neck, chest, and abdomen. It therefore in case you haven’t guessed connects information in both the energetic and physical bodies.
This is why it is vital to nourish your body properly, heal your heart, embody self-love because the messages from here will influence the brain, the chemical messaging system, the neurotransmitters, your intuition, connection with spirit and how you make choices.
Stop for a moment and put your hands either side of your neck and breathe. You are now calming down the vagus nerve.
The gut-brain connection
Let’s come back to emotional eating and making conscious choices for a moment.
The vagus nerve travels from the stomach to the brain. This second brain sends signals to the first brain which advises it of our emotions which naturally affects our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviour.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the gut is responsible for a lot of how we feel, our ability to live well and make decisions for our well-being. It’s a bit of a circle, because what you eat affects your brain.
What’s going on in your brain affects what you eat, how you eat and why you eat the way that you do and how you think.
What you eat (and drink) affects every cell in your body. In his book The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton talks about how our thoughts affect our cells. If you are living in a perpetually stressed place, imagine what kind of thoughts are being passed to your cells. The cells will respond in the best way that they know-how, which might not be very beneficial.
I certainly feel that the better my diet the better my ability to listen to my gut and the sharper my intuition. Maybe that’s just me?
Want to know more about the vagus nerve? Read this.
Summary conscious decision-making points
- Stop. Breathe. Collect your thoughts.
- Try some of the energy techniques to bring calm back.
- Get to know you and how and why you do things
- Know why you have made previous decisions
- Look for patterns in your behaviour
- Look for patterns in your gut, heart and head decisions
- Practice stopping, asking and listening to your heart
- Understand your values, and you will certainly know what decision you will make next time you are faced with something
- Get in tune with your gut and look out for your bodies signals
- Ask. Other people can be very insightful, even if they don’t know the answer
- Always know that you are using the best resources you have available at the time
- Practice journaling around different decision-making choices and ideas, from the very easy to the very hard. What do you learn?
- Look at decisions from many angles. What do you learn?
- Remember you cannot turn back the clock, so make a conscious decision to be more conscious next time you are faced with a choice
Have fun, I’d love to know what you discover…