I was catching up with a friend and colleague and shared my recent decision to pass on an opportunity to pursue a new project that would require a significant investment of time on top of my usual responsibilities. Little did I know how timely that decision would be.
The impetus for making the decision came from a voice that whispered, “Create space and time to be there for your family.” Normally, I would believe that I could do both - handle all that I already had on my overflowing plate AND support my family. But, on this occasion the message caused me to pause and reconsider the habitual response.
Just a few weeks after that decision was made, my brother died. I was grateful that I had freed up time and space to be able t travel to be with my family and grieve the loss.
This is not the first time that I’ve been glad that I’ve listened to that voice. After entering my rank list for the residency match, while still sitting at the computer, I heard that voice ask, “If you knew you could go anywhere you wanted to go, where would you choose?” My answer was currently sitting at the middle of my list. It didn’t seem to be the logical choice as I was a newly single mother with a five-year old and no family in the area of that residency program. But, I made what at the time seemed like an impulsive decision to move that program up to the number one spot, rationalizing that I wouldn’t match there anyway so what difference would it make.
Fast forward to Match Day. I almost cried when I realized I’d matched to my first choice. Why wasn’t I happy? Because the logical side of me kicked in and shared with me a long list of all the reasons that this was a bad idea. For those of you who know me, you know how it turned out. It was the best decision I could have made at the time and I went on to have a long and successful career as an academician and clinician.
So what is this inner voice? Some people call it your intuition or gut instinct. It’s the sense that you feel when you walk into a room full of tension without anyone having to say a word. It’s the whisper you hear to change direction to avoid danger. Or the gut feeling you have when you meet someone that they’re not who they appear to be.
Your inner voice is the soft, gentle voice that helps to guide you and direct you by sharing wisdom. It is kind and intelligent and has your best interest at heart. It’s a kind of knowing or innate wisdom. It is not the inner critic which tends to be harsh, judgmental and sometimes just plain mean.
It’s helpful to listen to your inner voice as it can serve as an important guide in your life as you’re making decisions, both big and small.
Here are 3 simple steps to start listening to your inner voice:
1. Discern - The first step is simply in learning to hear the voice. There is often so much noise in our world that it drowns out the soft inner voice. When you’re constantly busy, there’s not much time to hear it either. Slow down and create some space in your day for solitude and stillness. It may be first thing in the morning before everyone else is up. Or late at night if you’re a night owl. It may come to you while you’re in the shower, during a drive or while out walking/running. The key is to carve out time for you. This is usually when the voice is more active and can get your attention.
2. Decipher - Once you’ve heard the voice and it has your attention, the next step is to actively listen to the message. What information is the voice sharing with you? It may come in the form of a thought or a feeling. It can also be a sensation in your body, pleasant (gentle warmth flooding your body or chills) or unpleasant (GI discomfort, headache, anxiety) or a change in your behavior, such as disrupted sleep or eating habits. Treat the voice like a dashboard light that has come on in your car. It’s an indicator that’s designed to get your attention and let you know that you may need to check out your engine or oil level. In this case, be curious and see what information the message from your inner voice may be bringing you.
3. Decide — Now that you’ve heard the voice and explored the message, you get to choose what you want to do with the information. Maybe you take action in response to the information or you decide to ignore it. Whatever you decide, be honest with yourself about the reasons or your decision and commit to it. You can always make a new decision when you have more information.
Set an intention to listen for your inner voice. It’s a practice - learning how to tune inward when there is so much in the outer world calling for your attention takes time and skill. Remember to focus on the progress you’re making and don’t expect perfection.
What helps you to hear your inner voice? Share in the comments below or send me a private message to let me know, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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