Saturday, March 26, 2016

Integrated Mind-Body Decision Making: The Inner Board of Directors

While there is plenty of external stress we face on a daily basis, from gridlock during rush hour to worrying about ISIS bombings occurring seemingly randomly anywhere in the world, many of us have no shortage of internal stress as well. How do we balance professional time and personal time? How do we make space for self-care as we take care of others? How can we do not only what we HAVE to do, but also what we really WANT to do? These kinds of challenges that arise in daily life can evoke conflict between different parts of ourselves.

While we are often taught to think in polarities (right or wrong, happy or sad, now or later...), we may find that we think and feel in shades of gray or think or feel multiple thoughts and feelings at the same time. Something can be both right for us and wrong for someone else. We can be happy and sad and also scared at the same time. And maybe we need to work on a project in stages, some now, some in the short term and some in the long term. How do you make decisions in complex or multi-faceted situations?

Our culture socializes us to focus on thinking rather than feeling and intuition and to polarize the difference rather than seeing different as part of a multi-dimensional process. This causes us a lot of internal stress and fear of stressing our inner knowing. Our rational mind fights with our heart rather than working with it. Our intuition might scare us when we cannot understand why we sense something to be true. In actuality, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. If we find a way to listen to ALL parts of our internal guidance system, and develop an overarching wise part that can hold space for differing opinions to co-exist, we can make better, more integrated decisions, and feel that we are being more completely authentic and true to our whole selves.

Many years ago, I developed a fun and very handy mind-body tool called "the inner board of directors," which can help us listen to our different sources of internal guidance, and co-hold their input in order to make more integrated decisions. The members of the board are "the head," "the heart" and "the gut" with "the whole self" acting as chairperson of the board. When we have a decision to make, whether it be what to eat for lunch, how to nurture ourselves or what career direction is most authentic, we can call a meeting of "the inner board" to seek guidance and direction.

To call "the inner board of directors" together for a meeting, all you need is a question to ask the board members, and a pen and piece of paper (or an iPhone, iPad or computer) to write down the board members' answers. If the question is "what do I want to eat for lunch today," close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, center yourself with your feet on the ground, your tailbone anchored into your chair, and let yourself relax into the moment. You can play your hand on your heart, and ask your heart, "Heart, what do you want to eat for lunch?" Take a few deep breaths, and see what your heart has to say, and write it down. Then take a deep breath, close your eyes and put your hand on your gut (wherever in your body you experience your gut when you hear the word "gut") and ask your gut, "Gut, what do you want to eat for lunch?" Take a few more deep breaths and see what your gut response is. Write it down. Close your eyes again, take a few more deep breaths, and put your hand on your head. Ask your head the question, "head, what do you want for lunch?" Again, take a few deep breaths, see what your head has to say and write it down. Then review what your heart has told you, your gut has told you, and your head has told you, and close your eyes one final time to ask your whole self for its guidance. Write down what you whole self has to say, as it considers the heart and its response, the gut and its response and the head and its response. And see how you feel having listened to all four sources of guidance.

You may find that sometimes there is a conflict between two or more parts. And if that is so, it is worth asking each part what matters about whatever position it is taking. Is there something you are afraid of? How is the part trying to serve you? You can have a deeper dialogue with the parts to learn more of the underlying roots of the conflict. And having unearthed these underlying roots, call another inner board meeting and see what guidance your inner board has to offer now.

It is good to practice this mind-body tool in a wide variety of situations, so that it becomes a go to practice for decision making, simple or complex.