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Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

I’m happy to have Kate Hanley as my guest today. I recommended her book, The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity in my nurturing gift suggestions for the holidays. Kate is the founder of Ms. Mindbody.com. Here is an excerpt from her book, one of the 77 strategies. It’s from the section titled Indecisive.

Listening to Your Body
By Kate Hanley

Having the ability to make choices is one of the distinguishing benefits of being an adult. Babies don’t get to decide when to have their diaper changed. Even teens don’t get to say how long they’ll stay out at night. But you, you can choose which job to take, where to live, who you want to hang out with, and whether you want to have Indian or Chinese for dinner. Sadly, even though being the master of your own fate is a privilege, making a decision often isn’t easy. Whether you’re pondering your next career move or trying to figure out what to wear, weighing your options and committing to a decision can become so mind-boggling that you almost wish someone would just tell you what to do.

To that end, you’ve asked your friends, your Mom, the guy on the bus next to you this morning, and your Magic 8 ball—twice—for their opinions. Although other people’s insights can be extremely valuable, the truth is, you’re the only one who knows what’s best for you. There’s only one place left to turn. And that’s inward. It’s time to ask the wisest, most levelheaded part of yourself. Whether you call it a gut instinct, a hunch, or a feeling in your bones, everyone has an inner wisdom that resides deep within the body. This voice knows you better than anyone and always has a clear opinion about what you should do next. Unfortunately, it can’t write urgent memos or leave a high-priority voice mail. For the most part, this voice speaks in physical sensations—a funny little tingle in your chest or an unexplained heavy feeling in your stomach, for instance—that you likely don’t have time to notice, much less listen to. Today is the day that begins to change. . . .

Taking a few minutes to mentally check in with your body can help you make better decisions—the kind that seem to effortlessly result in a much happier you. It may feel like an exercise you really don’t have time for, but consider how many hours spent making pro and con lists and lying awake at night pondering your future you could save. Best of all, the more you use this exercise, the better you’ll get at it. With practice, you’ll be able to access your inner wisdom in a matter of seconds simply by standing still and noticing what’s going on in your body. Hey, it’s a lot cheaper than the Psychic Friends Network.

Remedy: Listen to Your Body

Ingredients: Someplace relatively quiet—a conference room, your parked car, even a public restroom

Time Needed: Five minutes (and even less once you get better at hearing what your body has to say)

Instructions:
• Sit comfortably in your chosen spot.
• Turn off any distractions, such as the TV, your cell phone, or the computer.
• Inhale a deep breath and exhale out every last drop of air. Take three breaths this way to cue your body’s relaxation response.
• Close your eyes if it helps you to relax and concentrate. If it only makes you feel sleepy, keep them open.
• Ask yourself the question you’re wrestling with. Should I find a new apartment? Is this the right job/guy/option for me?

Your job now is to notice:
o What’s happening with your breath? Breathing shallowly, like a panting dog, is a sure sign of stress. Holding your breath can indicate fear. Slow, deep breaths point toward acceptance.

o How does your stomach feel? Does it feel heavy, like you swallowed a brick? Probably not a good sign. Is there a tingling there, or a lightness? This could indicate that some deeper part of you is truly excited about the proposition before you.

o How does your heart feel? As with your stomach, feeling heaviness is most likely a sign that the choice you’re considering is not the best one for you. (You’ve heard the term “a heavy heart.” It’s pretty much universally considered something you don’t want to have.) On the other hand, feeling warm or tingly points toward the fact that your metaphorical heart is with you on this one.

o Before you finish, scan your head, neck, shoulders, hips, legs, and feet. Any noteworthy sensation there, such as tightness (which can indicate stress) or tingling (which points toward excitement)?

o Open your eyes and take one more deep inhale and exhale to give yourself the chance to re-acclimate to your surroundings before you go bounding off back into your day.

Modifications:
• Different people get messages from their inner wisdom in different ways. If you’re listening to your body but it’s not saying anything that you can understand, try writing down whatever comes to your mind. You don’t have to have a special journal—scribbles on a legal pad work quite nicely.

• Or, you may need movement to help quiet your mind. Try the exercise described above while walking, knitting, weeding, sweeping, or any other methodical activity that doesn’t require your full concentration. Please don’t try it while you’re driving or chopping vegetables–some things really are best left to the rational mind.

• And if you try and don’t hear anything, try again tomorrow. The more you do this, the better you’ll get. It’s just like learning to speak any new language. It takes time, patience, and practice.

• Finally, there are two types of fear. One is your body’s way of alerting you that something isn’t right and the situation may become dangerous. The other merely signals that you are moving out of your comfort zone–something every single one of us needs to do from time to time, scary as it may be, to keep moving forward. In my experience, the fear that signals danger feels heavier, like dread, while the other kind of fear has a lighter quality, like butterflies in your stomach—it might be the most intense case of butterflies you’ve ever had, but there is still a fluttery quality. As you become better at listening to your body, notice your own cues for each type of fear so that you can tell the difference between them.

• This exercise is also particularly helpful in navigating the physical and emotional changes that accompany pregnancy. Developing a daily habit of checking in with your body to see what it needs to feel its best can help you ward off the nausea, fatigue, head
aches, and mood swings that many women experience when they are carrying a baby.

Benefits:
• Helps you stop obsessing and start taking action
• Reduces your stress levels by helping you get out of limbo (otherwise known as purgatory)
• Boosts your confidence in the choices you make (Guts don’t lie.)
• Sets the stage for you to sleep better, since you won’t have to stay awake and ponder your future anymore

Check out Kate Hanley’s book, The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity to get 76 more step by step sets of instructions to calm your life. You can learn more about Kate at Ms. Mindbody.com.

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