When you’re feeling indecisive, instead of agonizing, or making your best guess, what if you choose arbitrarily to see what happens? If there’s no right answer, there’s no wrong answer. If there’s no wrong answer, there’s no way to fail. If there’s no way to fail, there’s no fear of failure.
Okay, say you have a decision in front of you. It can be a big one like which job to take, or a small one like what’s for dinner, doesn’t matter. You’re not sure what to do. It could go either way. What if, instead of trying to choose the RIGHT thing, when it’s really not that clear what the right thing is, you see it as “need more input” and just choose SOMETHING. Maybe the easy thing. Maybe the hard thing. Maybe the thing that you don’t usually choose. Maybe the comforting thing. Just something. You have 2 ounces of energy to spend on the decision making process, ready, go. Okay, have you chosen? Great. If you’d agonized over the decision instead, how much energy would you have spent? 10 ounces? a pound? 6 tons? (You knew the energy in your life was measured as a weight, right?) Is this decision worth that much energy? Would the wrong decision cause permanent damage? Is it really permanent, or is it something you can heal from or apologize and make amends and move on? Is this a safe place to fail? To be uncomfortable?
Now we’ve created a split scenario. In one, you’ve spent 10 pounds of energy making a decision with the intention of it being right; in the other, you’ve spent 2 ounces with the intention of gathering information. Now it’s time to act on your decision. You start to see that it’s not working out quite the way you’d imagined. When the intention is to get it right, and it’s going wrong, there’s pressure for it to be right, there’s energy to correct whatever’s going wrong or save face, there’s probably some beating yourself up for choosing the wrong thing, and maybe a side of anxiety around the next time you need to make a decision or do the thing again. When the intention is information gathering, then you can calmly observe the failure, see that maybe it’s not a failure after all, or maybe it is and you can laugh about it. You understand what’s going on better because now you’ve lived it, and when the time comes to make a decision again, it’s a bit easier because you remember what happened last time. When your intention is information gathering, you might feel a little younger, a little more like a kid, a little less in control. You might need to admit that you have more to learn, and that might feel uncomfortable. Or it might feel freeing, like a weight has been lifted. You’re experimenting in this moment, living in this moment, gathering your set of life data, getting better prepared for next time. You’re admitting that you weren’t prepared this time, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact, an observation. And geez, maybe the decision was just what to eat for dinner.
When the intention shifts from making the best choice you can to gathering information, it’s so much easier to laugh at your mistakes, forgive yourself (well, there’s nothing to forgive in the first place) and move on. You’re learning by experience and developing your intuition. Instead of expecting yourself to know it all already and rely on your rational brain to figure it all out, you’re approaching life like a kid again with an air of curiosity and joy of discovery. It means there might be mistakes, and there might be grand ones, but you’re not beating yourself up over them, and life moves on. You can apologize if necessary, make amends if necessary, and try again if necessary.
Where did we get this idea that it wasn’t safe to make mistakes in the first place? Why do we expect such high standards of ourselves? At some point it really was a matter of life and death that we get it right. Is it still? In every situation? At some point, it was society keeping us on the straight and narrow. But now don’t we keep telling our kids that it’s okay to make mistakes? That it’s about the journey? Yet it’s so hard for them, and it’s so hard for us. We’ve gotten stuck in this place of working so hard to do right and thinking we need to know or figure out everything, that it’s blocking our ability to be present in the moment, laugh at our mistakes, and save our energy for the important stuff.
I’ve been pondering the feeling of ownership lately. Ownership is about a sense of control and a sense of authority. It’s about power and decision making. Ownership over your own life is really important. While it’s technically possible to get all of your needs met without it, it makes the trust factor very difficult unless you submit all control and have someone or something or a system in place that you can trust implicitly. If that system fails, though, it’s still up to you to find something that works, and so there goes ownership again. But if you’ve been dependent all your life and suddenly the system fails, chances are you won’t easily step up to own the situation. And so for the sake of a robust system, I choose to develop the skill of ownership as much as possible.
What is appropriate ownership? Where are the boundaries? What’s stepping out of line? Let’s start with, you have ownership over anything that is yours. If it’s not yours, you don’t own it. So what is yours? You have possessions. Those are yours and you are in control of them. You choose where they belong, what they’re used for, who can use them and when. They’re yours. You don’t have to share, and if somebody takes them from you, they’re out of line. That said, if you want to keep your possessions, it’s your job to defend them.
Now let’s extend the concept of ownership beyond possessions. You are responsible for making sure that your needs are met. You own your own needs. What does that look like?
Fuel. Ownership of what you eat and how you nourish your body is about having preferences, and having the ability to choose what you eat. It might mean listening to cravings and disgust, or it might mean choosing what diet you want to follow. It’s freedom and liberty to make your own decisions about what goes in your mouth. It’s the opposite of being told what you have to eat (Eat your vegetables! Finish your plate!) or what you can’t eat (No salt! Sugar is bad. Limit your calories. Low fat. Low carb. No red meat. No antinutrients. No processed foods!) It’s the opposite of food regulations that prevent you from consuming what you want to consume (raw milk, undercooked meat, locally butchered meats), or being forced to consume something you don’t want (pesticides, preservatives, artificial color and flavoring, GMOs).
Engage your Mind. Ownership of how you engage your mind means choosing your own interests and projects, and choosing what you want to work on and when. It’s the opposite of being told what to learn or where to work or clickbait. It’s the opposite of zoning out in front of the TV, watching whatever comes on next. It’s freedom and liberty to say what interests you and what you want to be doing with your time.
Movement. Ownership of movement. I’m going to have to come back to this one. Freedom and liberty. Is it about being free from reflexes? Is it about developing at your own pace? Is it about moving your own way, when you want to? Is it the opposite of being stuck inside or stuck in a desk? The opposite of being forced to run or forced to do something you don’t want to be doing? The opposite of moving on someone else’s schedule?
Rest. Ownership of rest would be about choosing when you take a break and how long of a break you need. It’s going to bed when you’re tired and sleeping as long as you need. Ownership of your space is choosing what goes in it and how it’s organized and decorated – your possessions. Having ownership of your emotions means being able the express them in a method of your choosing, as needed. Ownership of your mind means you are in charge of how it’s organized. Others can listen, but they can’t tell you how to think or what’s right and wrong. It’s the opposite of being forced to share, of not having your own space, of forced apologies and holding back tears.
Connection. Ownership of connection is about choosing who you spend time with. Choosing your social environment, and the culture in which you’re living. It’s the opposite of your parents choosing your friends, or living somewhere with a culture that just doesn’t fit who you are.
Separate from the needs, I’m thinking about timers. When you set a timer for yourself, you’re owning how you use your time, but you’re not really owning meeting your needs. If you’re deeply involved in a project and loving it and the timer goes off and you have to stop and dig yourself out into a different mental state – maybe to go eat lunch, that’s something. It’s not having full ownership over how you engage your mind. You’re not eating because you’re hungry, you’re eating because you should. Which might not necessarily be a bad thing, but I think it should be distinguished.
The common theme coming through is that ownership is about freedom and liberty, and it’s the opposite of external control. Rational thought still feels like a form of external control on this one to me. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad or unnecessary, just that it’s not the same as total freedom and liberty. We’re caught in a major transition time period of history. Just the fact that this blog is interesting is an indicator that we can’t trust all of our instincts and we need/want to be doing personal work to grow from how we were raised. Rational thought and control is a critical tool for that process. I would argue, though, that a few generations out, when we are so well practiced at getting our needs met first and foremost, and it’s been completely ingrained into our limbic systems and society, it would be totally instinctual and we wouldn’t need the rational control anymore. And timers might seem ridiculous.
You need to be interested in what you’re doing. This means exploring to find things that are interesting, gathering information about your interest, trying it out, mastering it, and incorporating it into your life. Engaging your mind is about being able to move freely through the different stages of an interest, and knowing how to let go of something that does not interest you.
How many interests do you have? What are you working on right now? Do you have free (or paid!) time to follow your interests? Are you free to move among the different stages of an interest? Do you know how and when to drop an interest you’re not longer interested in?
Explore. Exploring is how we find interests in the first place. It doesn’t matter if you’re wandering though a new country, a baby exploring your body, or a kid sitting in school listening to your teachers, it’s all about new ideas, new directions. Anything that sparks your interest.
Gather. The gathering stage is when you’ve found something interesting and you want to know more. You talk to people, read a book, see more similar places. You’re collecting information and forming a framework for your interest in your mind.
Try. Once you’ve collected enough information to have an idea of what’s going on, it’s time to try it out – maybe you’re taking your first steps or speaking your first words in a new language or experimenting in a new art medium. This is when you make all sorts of mistakes, and figure out what works and what doesn’t. You might look for a teacher/mentor so that you can see how others do it.
Master. You’ve tried out your interest, you’ve made a million mistakes, and now you know what you’re doing. You can do it without thinking about it much. It’s easy. You’re past the steep part of the learning curve and it’s pretty smooth sailing from here on out. You could be the teacher/mentor for someone else.
Incorporate. Now that you have this new skill or product, bring it into your life. If you’ve mastered reading, now you can incorporate that as a new skill for gathering information or resting your body. If you’ve mastered cooking, you can use that to make yourself and others food. If you’ve mastered building bridges, you can use that to earn money to fund your other needs.
Drop. Dropping an interest is as important as pursuing one. If something no longer interests you, it’s no longer engaging, it’s no longer benefiting your nervous system. When it’s no longer interesting, you could re-frame it so it is, or else drop it and make room for what you really want to be doing.
Engaging your brain is about freely moving from one of these stages to the next, and not getting stuck. Maybe you’re stuck in a rut and can’t think of anything that sparks your interest and you don’t know how to explore and see things in a new way. Maybe you know what you want to gather more information about, but you’re embarrassed or don’t know where to look. Maybe you keep on collecting information and need to know it ALL so that you don’t make any mistakes when you try it out. Get it right on the first try. Or maybe all you see is your mistakes and you can’t stop trying and trying and trying even though someone looking on would call you a master. Maybe you’re shy or embarrassed or don’t think it’s worth it, and even though you have this amazing skill, you don’t want to work it into your life. Or don’t know how to work it into your life. Or maybe you just lost interest somewhere along the way and didn’t notice, or felt pressured to stick with it and don’t give up. Maybe you were never interested in the first place but didn’t have any choice. Or you’ve invested so much you feel like you need to keep going.