There comes a point in everyone’s life when significant decisions need to be made. Whether or not to take a job, leaving a marriage, buying a house—these are the sort of choices that are not made lightly. We make spreadsheets, double-check the finances, consult with advisors, and Google ourselves down rabbit holes. Eventually, paralysis by analysis sets in, and uncertainty remains.
This is usually the point where someone says, “Well, what does your gut tell you to do?”
If you’re anything like me, your gut is now so wrapped up in the logic of it all that there’s no way to untangle a gut feeling from a pro and con list. It’s like a compass that’s too close to a magnet. Instead of pointing north, it’s just going round and round and round.
But there is one question that can stop the compass from spinning and help you get back into your body and hear that innate intuition:
“Does it make you feel expanded or contracted?”
Let’s say you’re trying to decide whether or not to take a new job. Maybe it pays more but you’ll have to work more, too. Perhaps there’s more upward mobility, but you don’t love your new colleagues. The work is more interesting, but it is also filled with annoying red tape. It’s not perfect, but neither is what you’re doing now. So what’s the right call?
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the new job. Get as detailed as possible. See yourself opening up your computer in the morning, interacting with your boss, and executing the work. Then pay attention to your physical body and ask yourself, “Do I feel expanded or contracted?”
Asked another way, “Do I feel big or small?”
The answer might be subtle. Expansion might feel like a general lightness, a tingle throughout your body, a deep breath, or a hint of a smile. You may feel suddenly relaxed, confident, and full of possibility. Maybe your mind stops turning and a faint “Yes” or a “This is right” echoes from somewhere in your subconscious. Perhaps the image of someone you love pops into your head, filling you with warmth. Expansion is all emotion. Logic will not factor in.
Contraction, though, tends to be more obvious since we are more attuned to recognize the negative rather than the positive. A sense of anxiety, dread, or apprehension often appears along with physical symptoms like rapid breathing, increased heart rate, or the need to fidget. The word “No” may appear in your mind, or maybe everything just feels a little darker. Contraction also tends to also be followed with a “but.” As in, “Taking this job does make me feel smaller but it also pays more.” There is bargaining with contraction that doesn’t exist with expansion, and the need to talk yourself into it is a warning sign in itself.
This is not to say that choosing expansion is easy. The opposite is often true because if it was an easy decision, you wouldn’t need to agonize over it in the first place. But there always comes a point when we have to trust and leap into the unknown.
As D.H Lawrence said, “Be a good animal, true to your instincts.”