Does this sound familiar?
Everyone always has an opinion on what you should or shouldn’t do. It’s easy to think that you should seek the opinion of a parent, a friend, or coworker, and assume they know the answer. You struggle to look to yourself for answers, when deep down, you know what you should do.
Sometimes we want other people’s permission to do things, their acceptance, or to avoid being criticized.
If you recognize this, don’t worry! As social creatures, it’s only normal that we feel the need to be accepted by the herd — it ensures we that we won’t get rejected or left behind to die. So we turn to other people for validation, nurturing, and companionship. This subconscious need can manifest itself in a variety of ways in our modern, daily lives, and it becomes a fine balance between self and others. But ultimately, the decisions we make for ourselves have to be for our own contentment.
Here’s an example:
When I was in my 20’s, I had a job that I didn’t like and I wanted to call in sick one day. I called my sister, who told me to go to work. I then called my boyfriend, and he told me to go ahead and call in sick. I felt torn and then decided to call my father to break the tie. He asked me, “Do you want me to give you permission to call in sick? I’m not going to tell you what to do. You need to make that decision for yourself.” I knew then that I had to make the decision and accept the consequences. If I’m being honest, I knew full well that I that what I wanted to do was call in sick that day, I just wanted validation from someone whose opinion I care about that it was ok to do so.
Learning To Listen To Yourself
As a therapist, I see this a lot. Clients struggle to decide what it is they want to do and they turn to the people around them for guidance. The funny thing is, more often than not, my clients know exactly what decision they want to make for themselves when we get to the bottom of it. But not only are they not listening to themselves, they are complicating the situation by bringing in all these different perspectives to consider, that may not even matter at the end of the day. Of course I’m not suggesting that everyone should go about making every decision, big and small, all by yourself all the time. I am however suggesting that we need to exercise that muscle in listening to ourselves and trusting in our own judgment. Think back to an experience in your life where you had to make a decision that you asked others’ input on. Did you know what choice you wanted to make, regardless of what anybody else thought about it? How helpful was the input of others? Did you end up going with the decision you already knew you wanted to make after people in your life suggested the same? Or did you end up making a choice different from what you really wanted?
Exercise 1: Turning the focus on yourself
I want you to trust that you know your wishes, desires, opinions, preferences, likes, and dislikes. After all, you are you, and nobody knows or can decide what you should do, better than you.
Think about your answers to the following questions:
What is your favorite color, flower, season?
What is your best memory?
What is your bad habit?
What are your dreams/goals?
What is your happy place?
I’m willing to bet that you were able to answer these questions quickly and without thought as to what other people think you should answer. No one can argue with these answers, because they come straight from your mind and heart. You would not allow someone to argue with you that your favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla, when it is really chocolate.
Isn’t that powerful?
Technically, you can apply this reasoning to any other question or decision that you come across in your life. Whether you try to do so or not, is a choice.
Exercise 2: White Room
Imagine a door appears to you out of nowhere and when you open it, you walk into a room. Everything in the room is white. The walls, floor, furniture, fixtures — everything. The door closes behind you and you are now alone. You have just entered the very unique White Room, where only you are allowed to enter. The opinion of your friends, family, significant other, media, society, and strangers is entirely irrelevant because no one will ever enter this room but you. This is a space that is quiet and tranquil to help you look to yourself to find out what you really want and the decision you need to make. You can do anything and be anything when you are inside of this room. Who are you? What does your life look like? What are you feeling and thinking? When we sit and give ourselves the opportunity to listen, we will find the best answer for us. Try to visualize what each option looks like, and how you will feel making it.
Sure, there are people in our lives whose guidance and comfort helps us.
But it’s so important to never forget that you yourself are one of these people in your life.
Trust your gut and your instincts in making the best decision for yourself.
This is your life to live.