We looked out over a blanket of snow that stretched into an emerald alpine lake. The body of water stood perfectly still – as though it found comfort in the protection of the towering trees that surrounded it. The rest of the group began descending the snow bank, despite there being no clear trail in sight. There were eleven of us in the group – we were backpacking near Mt. Jefferson and we had lost our leader. The uncertainty of where to go catalyzed somewhat heated discussions as to which direction we should head and whether or not to split up.
“This just doesn’t feel right,” one woman said.
A few of us agreed that following the group – who traipsed over the snow unaware as to whether there was lake or solid ground below – didn’t seem to be the right decision. Shortly after, as luck would have it, our group leader stumbled upon the few of us that had decided to stay back. Had we followed the group, there’s a chance she may have missed us altogether.
The practice of listening to yourself – to that inner voice that speaks to you when you need it most – is quite literally just that…a practice. How often do we find ourselves engaging in activities that simply don’t feel right? Eating food that is bad for us or not allowing ourselves time to rest when we need it most? Maybe those seemingly small decisions lead to larger behavior patterns…staying in relationships that are emotionally or physically abusive, working jobs that makes us miserable, or simply finding ourselves doing things we just don’t want to do and then feeling resentful because of it. The more we ignore our inner voices, the more we deviate from leading happy and fulfilling lives… and before you know it, you’re three-quarters of the way into a pint of Chunky Monkey, two years into a relationship that never felt right from the start, and three years into a job you hate. But I’m obviously not speaking from experience because my favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor is Phish Food, so that settles that.
Studies show that there is a clear linkage between your brain and your gut, which essentially means that there’s some truth to the old adage “go with your gut”. This brings up a slew of interesting ideas and highlights the importance of eating well, exercising regularly, and incorporating probiotics that stimulate healthy gut bacteria growth. It’s probably safe to say that if you’re subsisting off of McDonald’s and Ben & Jerry’s, you’re likely engaging in some other poor decision-making BUT let’s assume that we all have healthy guts…how often do you listen, and I mean really listen, to what your instincts are telling you?
I sometimes find myself making decisions in haste – either I’m uncomfortable and looking for a quick escape or I simply am not listening to myself because, in some cases, the truth is just plain harder to hear. Ignoring that inner voice, though, seems to pave the way for all other decision-making and before I know it, I just feel off – as though I’m not performing at my optimal level and am constantly met with resistance.
But if I really pause to ask the question, “Does this feel right?” and then (arguably the hardest part) allow myself to answer that question truthfully, I’m able to approach the situation confidently, feel steadfast in my decision, and am typically always happy with the result. To really develop this habit, I’m starting with small things – asking myself “Does this feel right?” when I’m in a yoga pose or lifting a weight or when I’m on a hike and not sure of which way to go. Listening to your instinct is a lot like strengthening a muscle – the more you use it (with care and caution), the stronger it becomes. The more you practice listening to yourself, the easier it will become to make choices that are best for you.