This is a long post, so if you’re short on time or want to skip the backstory, just jump to the relevant section:
I’m not sure when I started trusting my innate wisdom to guide me, but my first recollection dates back to 1996 – just a few months after my nearly fatal suicide attempt.
Shortly preceding the event that I’m about to share, I’d seen my psychiatrist for what would be the last time. He was pleased with my response to the cocktail of mood-altering meds I was on and told me that as long as I remained medicated for the rest of my life, I could have a somewhat “normal” existence.
I was miserable, and his prognosis left me dumbfounded. Like, are you freaking kidding me?! But then, a miracle happened and something inside of me surrendered. To what, I don’t entirely know. But there was an internal shift.
And then, not long after my miserable prognosis, I vividly recall hearing an omnipresent voice say, “You are responsible for your own happiness.”
Up until that point, my life had been one train wreck after another. I had multiple suicide attempts under my belt, a couple of two-week stays at a psychiatric ward, lots of credit card debt, and no hope that things would ever get better. I was miserable and medicated, and therapy wasn’t helping. By this point I’d dropped out of college three times and was working the counter at a donut shop. Oh, and I had just totaled my parent’s car, so walking was my only mode of transportation. Etcetera.
I’d spent an entire decade being depressed and either pointing the finger at everything outside of me or blaming myself for being such a pathetic excuse of a human being and so when I heard that voice utter those words, it was truly a revelation.
It then occurred to me that I had created my own shitty reality and that I needed to stop blaming my circumstances for where I was at. And for the first time ever, I realized that if I related to the world differently and took different actions, my life would change.
Back then, I didn’t have much of a relationship with my intuition or any real tools for changing my world. I had a therapist who thought poorly of me, I certainly didn’t have a life coach, and I hadn’t yet discovered self-help books or personal development “gurus”. So, I was pretty much on my own.
Without knowing where to start, little by little I did what I thought would make my life better. My first steps were to (1) start doing what was expected of me and (2) upgrade my job. Coming from a middle class home with well-educated parents, that meant doing the college thing and applying for better-paying work. So I went back to school, waited tables, and got on the Dean’s list. I also got elected senator for Purdue student government, became the executive director of a respectably-sized student organization, and tried to make a difference by doing things like going to Washington to lobby members of Congress on environmental issues and writing countless letters to the editor.
But, something still wasn’t right.
My innate wisdom knew that the path I was on wasn’t fully aligned with my soul, and it communicated this relentlessly through my body. You know that crawling-out-of-your-skin feeling? Where you feel like you literally can’t tolerate another moment of whatever’s going on? I had that feeling, and it attacked me relentlessly from the summer of 1999 until late October when I finally caved and left college. Again.
Fast-forward to today.
Dropping out of college was integral to me eventually uncovering my dharma (my soul’s purpose). As I committed to feeling my way blindly down this path of discovery, I swapped a “comfortable” life (if living with that crawling-out-of-your-skin feeling can ever be considered comfortable) for one of extreme hardships. But I needed to do what I did in order to discover what truly mattered to me in this world so that I could, ultimately, live in alignment with my purpose.
These days, I make an effort to check in with my body whenever I feel stuck or am at a crossroads. Even small decisions that perplex me – like what I ought to eat for lunch – are fair game for the tools that follow. And you know what? My body always lets me know what’s up. What it wants. What it doesn’t want. No more guessing. No more wondering if a decision is aligned with my inner truth or – when it comes to food – my body’s needs.
Tapping into my body for the answers has yet to lead me astray.
The body is a very powerful gauge for whether you’re headed in a direction that’s bringing you closer to or further from your soul’s calling. It’s also a gauge for whether something’s right for you – you only have to learn how to speak its language, and it’s not nearly as difficult as you may think. The remainder of this post provides tools for helping you learn how your body uniquely communicates your innate wisdom to you.
Letting your body guide your decisions
These days, I check in regularly with my body to see what my innate wisdom thinks about a decision or task or whatever else I have on my plate.
Sometimes I meditate on the “bigger” things, but I rarely have a need to do this anymore. Usually when I do it’s because I don’t like the answer my innate wisdom provides and want to unpack it further. In fact, before I learned how to use my body to make decisions, I devoted years of my meditation practice to a question that I already had the answer to simply because it wasn’t what I was expecting! Funny thing is that it didn’t matter how many times I asked my inner guide the same question, as she always returned the same answer.
Today, I approach decision-making based on opportunity costs, my body’s cues, and my intuition.
The first step is to identify the opportunity cost of a decision. We’ll dive into what this means in a moment.
All subsequent steps are intended to help you identify whether a decision is soul-aligned. If you were my client, I wouldn’t have you do everything on the list unless you weren’t getting a definitive answer or we wanted to unpack the answers you were getting. So, please view what follows as merely a menu of options. Choose a tool that resonates with you and test-drive it. You can always choose another later.
Let’s explore each tool.
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I have to preface this by saying that I returned to college years later…and fell in love with economics. I loved econ so much that I continued my studies in an applied economics graduate program (I quit when I was near the finish line and instead wound up finishing my masters in another field).
My study of economics continues to influence how I make decisions today, and one of my favorite applications is to consider the opportunity cost of a potential course of action.
Then, I ask my intuition to weigh in on said opportunity cost.
Opportunity cost is the cost of making one decision over another.
For each potential decision, there will be costs and benefits that require consideration.
For example, when I was weighing out whether I should stay at Purdue or drop out of college (yet again!) back in 1999, here are the opportunity costs I faced:
- If I remained enrolled at Purdue, my opportunity cost was dropping out and joining an activist community. This would have entailed disappointing my parents, losing my income, giving up nearly all of my possessions, becoming homeless, having no reliable means of bathing, being reliant on the support of others, facing extreme uncertainty, possibly experiencing police brutality, tasting freedom, living with full integrity, honoring my calling and my heart, and feeling alive.
- If I dropped out and joined an activist community, my opportunity cost was remaining enrolled at Purdue. This would have entailed retaining financial and emotional support from my parents, earning income from my part-time job, enjoying respect from my peers, having the sense of certainty that I’d be able to support myself post-graduation, having the comforts of shelter and a shower, being surrounded by resources, enjoying college life, dealing with extreme crawling-out-of-my-skin feelings, feeling trapped for prioritizing others’ expectations, sacrificing my integrity, and ignoring my calling.
Just a note that I italicized those factors which ultimately led to my decision. Back then, I didn’t use my body to make decisions in the same manner as I do today. It was more about identifying what I could live with and what I couldn’t; what I could tolerate and what I couldn’t.
The purpose of identifying opportunity costs in this context is to truly understand what your options entail so that you can “test” how aligned they are with your true self using the tools that follow.
Just a note that if you’re struggling with the concept of opportunity cost, don’t sweat it. Creating a simple benefits (pros) and costs (cons) list will work.
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Heads up that this exercise – if done thoroughly – can take 20+ minutes. If you’re short on time, try jumping ahead to either the body check-in or body sway instead. But if you have the time, this can be a very enlightening experience about the signals that your body sends to you.
Early on in my life coach training with Martha Beck*, I learned how to calibrate my body compass. Once I had a calibrated body compass, I was able to test all sorts of things (decisions, things on my to-do list, etc.) to see whether they were aligned with my true self. And for those things that tested negative but that I still had to do (like go to the doctor), my calibrated body compass allowed me to explore ways to make them less negative. Pretty rad!
This tool puts you deeply in touch with your body, and what you discover through it may surprise you!
Before you can use your body compass, you must calibrate it. This is best done live with someone guiding you through it, so I created the next best thing for you: an audio recording of me walking you through the first three steps. To access the audio, click here.
But if you don’t dig recordings or want to do it yourself, here’s how it works:
Step 1 – scan your body
- Get comfortable and, if possible, remove your shoes.
- Close your eyes or soften your gaze, and begin to slowly scan your body starting with your toes. Pay close attention to any physical sensations that you notice, e.g. sharp pain, tightness, clammy hands, etc. Feel free to wiggle your toes or touch any body parts that you struggle to connect with. Don’t try to change anything – your goal is to simply observe what your body’s “normal” state is like.
- Once you’ve finished scanning your body, write down all of the sensations you felt. This is your body in a neutral state.
Step 2 – go negative
- Recall a negative memory – please don’t choose a traumatic one! – and either close your eyes or soften your gaze.
- Dive back into this memory using as many of your senses as possible. The goal is to feel like you’re reliving it.
- Scan your body again. You can do a full scan, or you can simply look for new physical sensations.
- Write down all of the sensations you experienced this time.
- Come up with a short description for this collection of sensations you just experienced.
- Now, rate this memory on a scale between -10 and +10, where -10 is the worst possible memory, 0 is neutral, and +10 is the best possible memory. Don’t overthink this step!
Step 3 – go positive
- Shake off the negative ick from step 2, preferably by doing something physical. Like crank out 10 jumping jacks or dance to your favorite song. Then…
- Recall a positive memory – just a normal, great experience, e.g. cuddling with the love of your life, reading a book on the beach, etc. – and either close your eyes or soften your gaze.
- Dive back into this memory using as many of your senses as possible. Again, the goal is to feel like you’re reliving it.
- Scan your body again. Same deal as in step 2.
- Write down all of the sensations you experienced this time.
- Come up with a short description for this collection of sensations you just experienced.
- Now, rate this memory on a scale between -10 and +10.
Guess what? You’ve just calibrated your body compass. The range between your negative and positive memories will serve as a guide as you test things (more on this below). If you struggled with this exercise, I highly encourage you to listen to the audio version, which you can access here.
Now that you’ve calibrated your body compass, it’s time to play around with it! A calibrated body compass can be a powerful tool to help you both choose more soul-aligned courses of action and identify ways to make less soul-aligned choices “better”. Let’s look briefly at both.
Use your body compass to choose a course of action
If you’re undecided between two or more possible courses of action, take a few moments to visualize each option and then scan your body. What sensations are you noticing? Are they more similar to those you experienced when you recalled your positive or negative memory? Does your body feel more expansive and light or contracted and tense?
If you’re having a difficult time discerning your body’s signals, try really living out each experience in your head. What tastes, smells, sounds, sights, and physical sensations can you envision occurring if you chose each option? Take your time with this exercise, and rate your experience for each possible course of action on a scale of -10 to +10.
The greater/more positive the number, generally the more aligned it is with who you are.
Just a note that some courses of action may trigger feelings of anxiety and register negative even when they’re most aligned with your integrity. For example, I used to get incredibly anxious when I’d have to stand up for myself or set a boundary with a particular person. This feeling was most unpleasant and probably would have registered pretty negative using the body compass test.
If a potential course of action is attached in some way to a past trauma, your body compass may send confusing signals. In a case like this – where you suspect that the result you’re getting isn’t truly aligned or you’re dealing with trauma – the next two tools may provide more concrete answers.
Use your body compass to make less soul-aligned choices “better”
So…you have to do something you very much don’t want to do, and there’s no backing out. Guess what? You can still use your body compass to make the dreaded activity at least a bit better.
You’ll need to get creative here. How can you make the activity less negative? Think in terms of how you can reward yourself and how you can change up how you normally would do the dreaded activity.
For example, say that you have a job you can’t stand but you work remotely, everything is project-based, and your supervisor leaves you alone until she needs something. What if you blocked out your time and committed to working more efficiently than normal? Then once you’ve finished the tasks that you’ve scheduled, what if you spent the rest of the day doing something that brings you joy? Sure, you may need to stay near your computer and all, but just think about how much more pleasant your workday would be if you did this instead of what you’re probably already doing to avoid actually doing your job. You know, endlessly scrolling through social media, checking the news, getting into a Twitter war, etc.
Even if this only frees up a half hour in your day, just think how great it would be to have that extra half hour! Test this possibility using your body compass (same deal – vividly imagine doing the activity with the reward attached) and see if your score increases. Even a slight positive shift is telling you something!
Now, consider if there’s any way that you can change up how you do things to bring an element of novelty or pleasure to it. Maybe you change up something about your workspace, crank up the volume on some dance music, or just have motivational videos playing in the background. Maybe you opt to use one of those focus timers and take frequent short breaks where you sneak in a couple of sun salutations or take a quick walk around the block.
Or, say you have to clean the floors and you really can’t stand doing that. What if you proactively decided to have a blast doing it for once? Perhaps blast some music and try out some serious dance moves or do karaoke with your Swiffer and reward yourself with a treat once you’ve finished? Get creative! Whatever you come up with, test the activity with the rewards using your body compass.
While you can simply come up with rewards and ways to make dreadful activities less horrid without using your body compass, I recommend that you test doing the activity with the ideas you come up with. Why? Because being able to quantify an incremental improvement may inspire you to find additional improvements to make the activity even better!
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The body compass is an awesome tool, but doing a full body scan and calibration takes time. If you can block out 20+ minutes to do it, please do! But if you can’t, this next tool may be a better choice.
First, it’s imperative that you get grounded. If you have a go-to grounding ritual, feel free to do it. If you don’t, just sit tall, close your eyes (or soften your gaze), and take several slow, deep breaths. Breathe exclusively through your nose if you can. And, try extending your exhalations so that they’re longer than your inhalations. But don’t overthink it. Do this until you feel grounded and relaxed.
Now, imagine a potential decision, course of action, thought, or whatever. Bring it fully into your awareness and engage as many of your senses as you can. How are you feeling both physically and mentally? Generally speaking, if it’s a soul-aligned thing, you’re likely to feel lighter and more expansive. There will be a sense of freedom even if there are also feelings or sensations indicative of nervousness and stress.
And if it’s not soul-aligned, you’re likely to feel more tense, constricted, or clenched. Weighed down, held back. The opposite of free. Trapped.
Just an important note that feeling anxious or stressed about something in and of itself isn’t an indicator that the action isn’t soul-aligned. Soul-aligned actions are often scary and stress-inducing! But despite that stress or anxiety or whatever…does your body feel lighter and freer? Or does it feel heavier and trapped?
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Need a yes or no answer quickly? If so, this may become your go-to tool.
I first learned this tool from my spiritual business coach, and it literally blew my mind at how simple and accurate it was. Since then, I’ve discovered that it’s used by some celebrity names that you’d likely recognize. And, my own teacher mentions it on her site. Anyway…
I use this tool a lot. And I mean a lot! For example, I have some minor gut sensitivities to various foods, and I’ve learned that testing my breakfast choices before I settle on something sets my day up better and leaves my gut happier than if I just eat the same tried-and-true thing or even the seemingly healthiest-for-me option. It’s pretty wicked!
Here’s how it works:
- Stand tall without shoes.
- Ask yourself something that you know is true, e.g. if your name is [your name]. What happened to your body? Note the direction that it just tilted, even if it was slight.
- Ask yourself something that you know is false, e.g. if you currently live in Antarctica in a tent next to a hippopotamus. Note the direction that your body just tilted.
- Assuming your body tilted in two distinctly different directions in the preceding steps, you’ve just calibrated your sway. Note the direction of your “yes” and “no” sways for the next step.
- Ask yourself any questions that have a yes/no answer. Go ahead – have fun! Pretty wild, huh?!
A few notes:
- If you didn’t detect a noticeable tilt or sway, try filming yourself and replaying it. The sway may be very subtle or very pronounced, and both are relevant.
- If your sway seemed confused, e.g. it wasn’t exclusively forward or backward or it went sideways, try recalibrating with other yes/no questions that your mind readily knows the answers to. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, something else may be going on that needs investigating that’s beyond the scope of this post.
- You don’t need to repeat questions – give your body time to respond. Also, note if you can sense the direction your body wants to tilt even if it stays put. The key is to not try to influence or override the direction that your body is naturally drawn to tilt.
I love using this tool, especially in conjunction with the Energy Alignment Method. The latter has been used on me by my own coach and it’s amazing! But I digress. I hope you enjoy the body sway tool as much as I do.
This may be the longest post I’ll ever write! Thank you for staying with me. If you’d like to explore working with me 1:1, please check out my transformative coaching page. Thanks!
*I need to give credit to Martha Beck and her Wayfinder Life Coach Training program for teaching me the body compass exercise. It’s truly powerful!
I’ll end this post with the hope you found a tool that works for you to tap into your innate wisdom when your rational mind’s trying to run the show. If you’d like to access to both the audio exercise Calibrate Your Body Compass and my beautiful ebook edition of this post (extra content included!), please click here. Thanks!
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