Struggling With a Decision? Your Body Knows the Answer.

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“Pain is like a life coach in your body. It’s what made me a life coach because I started paying a lot of attention to what made me hurt and what didn’t.It turned out my body was trying to steer me away from a life that was absolutely wrong for me and into a life that was absolutely wonderful.” ~ Martha Beck

Your body holds a crazy amount of wisdom.  Take this experiment, for example, that Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book, Blink:

People were given 4 decks of cards – 2 red and 2 blue.  They had to turn over one card at a time and they either won money or lost some.  

What they didn’t know, though, is that the red decks were stacked against them.  The red cards gave them big wins but also big losses.  They couldn’t win using the red decks.  

The blue cards, on the other hand, gave them small, but steady wins and not as many losses.  They could only win the game using the blue decks.

So how long did it take people to figure this out?  

After about 50 cards they started to suspect something was up with the red deck, and about 70 cards into the game, they got it – the red deck was rigged.

But here’s the kicker:  after *just 10 cards*, their body started to show signs of stress – specifically sweating in the palms – whenever they reached for the red deck.  

So, something in their body knew the red deck was bad news long before their conscious mind got it.

I learned about this experiment in my life coach certification training and it’s the basis for one of the first tools we were taught – the Body Compass.  

The idea is that our body almost always knows what’s right for us, even when our conscious mind is confused or trying to give us a different answer.

And our conscious mind tries to give us a different answer a LOT of the time.  Because the conscious mind is often making decisions based on cultural indoctrination, received wisdom, and a desire to protect the ego, rather than on an inner knowing of what’s really true for us.

Here’s an example from my own life:

Last Monday I wrote about how a friend’s seething post on Facebook stating that “leftists” hate the country made me reflect on my own behavior and think about what I want to put out in the world.  

But before I wrote that post last Monday, a few other options went through my head, like…

…responding to his post in anger and pointing out how the “rightists” are actually the ones who hate the country since they tried to overthrow it, killed innocent people in the process, and are still defending their actions…

…writing a similarly angry post, but on my own page…

…writing a self-righteous post showing how his behavior is bad, with the inference being that I’m somehow better or higher-minded…

…and, while this wasn’t really an “option” per se, but more of something I just automatically did, simply obsessing about all the ways the Republican party has gone bat shit crazy in the last few years and all the cutting, mean, and insulting things I could say about it.

As I reflected on my friend’s post, though, the question that kept coming up from my soul was…

…“but how does all that anger feel in your body?”

And the answer was that it felt pretty crappy.  My stomach clenched…my breath got short…my head felt tense…my back started to ache…and my chest tightened up and curved inward.

And all the options I went through for how I could respond made me feel even worse.  

It made the clenching worse…the tightening worse…the tenseness worse…the aching worse…and the breath even shorter and more constricted.

So then, I started asking myself, “what would make you feel better?”  Because what I was feeling felt pretty terrible and I didn’t want to feel that way.

And here’s what bubbled up from some deeper, wiser place inside me:

Maybe reflect on your own actions, what you could change in yourself, and write a vulnerable post describing how you were about to vilify a behavior that you, yourself, engage in and what you learned from that awareness.

Maybe write a post from a place of composure that holds wisdom without spouting anger and blame.

Maybe take your anger and turn it into action by getting involved in the causes you believe in.

And guess what?  As I thought about each of those options, my body started to feel lighter.

My stomach relaxed…my chest expanded…the tension in my head softened…my breath opened up…and an ease started spreading through my back. 

My body told me the right course of action.  My body told me what was true and right for me.

What’s true and right for you will always feel like freedom

That doesn’t mean the action you need to take is comfortable.  Writing that vulnerable post wasn’t exactly comfortable.  But it felt like freedom.

Here are a few other ways you can use the wisdom of your body to make decisions:

Your mind tells you to stay in the job you hate because it’s safe and pays good money.  Now, get quiet, close your eyes, and think about staying in your job for as far as you can see into the future.  What happens in your body?  Do the sensations you get feel like freedom or constriction?

Your mind tells you that you should call your Dad even though he’s not that kind to you and doesn’t show you the respect you desire.  What does your body tell you about whether or not you should call?

Your mind tells you you should keep that difficult client because you can’t afford to lose them.  What does your body tell you when you think about continuing to work with that person?

Look, in all of these cases, the answer might not be the exact opposite – i.e. leave your job, don’t contact your Dad, or get rid of that crappy client.

But can you find something that feels better in your body than the first option you think you *have* to do?  

Maybe you start exploring other job opportunities…maybe you send your Dad a letter instead of calling him…maybe you work hard to find a new client whose revenue can sustain you so that you can get rid of that person you don’t like working with.

The thing is, our minds often tell us something that we believe is 100% true.  It tells us that we have no other options – that we simply must do this thing because that’s how it is.

But the body knows the truth.  The body knows we always have options, even in the worst circumstances. 

Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” captured this best when he wrote…

…“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

So, the next time you’re faced with a decision – maybe a big decision, like whether to end a relationship or start a business, or even a small decision, like whether to watch the news or buy that shirt, check in with your body.

More than likely, the decision that’s right for you will bring sensations that feel like ease, and expansion, whereas the wrong decision will bring sensations that feel constricting and tense.

If you’re struggling with a big decision, or you regularly get stuck in indecision, and want help tapping into the wisdom of your body, it would be my honor to lead you through the process and help you develop a course of action.  Find out more about how we can work together at

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