January 2014: Making the Right Decisions

by Brad on December 31, 2013

“Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.” – Aldous Huxley

 Among the comments I hear often, whether from friends, family or clients, is something like this: “How do I know if I’m making the right decision, and what if I make the wrong one?” We make hundreds of choices each day. Though most are tiny, the big ones commonly overwhelm us – about relationships, choosing a career or job, discovering our life purpose, buying a home, the legacy we’d like to leave behind, or even how to handle a tough conversation. And although we expend huge amounts of energy trying to answer the question correctly, rarely do we stop long enough to look at the kinds of questions we ask instead.

When I look at this one, I see at least four hidden assumptions embedded in the question itself, assumptions which, if shown to be false, will invariably lead you to false conclusions: (1) that there is a right decision, (2) that there is only one right decision, (3) that there is a wrong decision, and (4) that there is a negative consequence or punishment for a wrong decision. This means that if you try to “make the right decision” without awareness of assumptions inside the question itself, your decision process will instantly validate the assumptions as true. Yet not a single one of the four need be so. I’m not sure about you, but I wouldn’t want to make a big decision based on false assumptions.

IMAG0032The way we make choices in our lives, with the kind of thinking embodied in the question above, reflects our unconscious need for control. Life is far too complex to “figure it out” with our thinking. If we actually stopped to examine our thinking, we’d see how powerless we are to control life, or to figure it all out. Here’s an alternative: Any decision is a right decision as long as it has heart – a line from Jack Kornfield in his book, A Path With Heart. The idea is that if we were to make big decisions (and maybe even little ones) based on the truth of our hearts instead of the thoughts running through our heads, we’d be happier, more at peace, more productive, and lead lives with far greater meaning. Your heart sees and feels the big picture; it knows what’s right for you. It’s impossible to make a decision from your inner truth, however, if you don’t know what that truth even is. Worse, society’s message tells us to avoid the kind of quiet, personal reflection that leads to our inner truth. The result? We live frantically in the outer world, believing this world is “truth,” and that if we slow down to change course, we’ll lose even more ground.

I see the impact of this every day. So you do. People (and this could be you) racing from one part of the day to the next; people being short-tempered with others, only because their own fuse is so short they’re ready to blow at any time; people and companies driven by greed and selfishness borne of the belief that there’s never enough, so they have to be driven in order to get their share; people trying to measure up to the yardsticks of others (money, being liked, keeping a job, etc.), unaware that it leads to perpetual chasing and dissatisfaction. If you recognize yourself in any of this, it may just be time to change the game. All stem from believing that making decisions is about control.

The fact is that “right” decisions are ones that are right for you. There’s no objective right decision to most questions. When you come to know the inner truth of your own heart, the decisions that cause you agony today will either make themselves or prove inconsequential in the light of your truth. It’s almost as if your personal truth becomes a “filter” for everything that matters to you. It may be hard to believe that now, fixed as you may be in the world of thinking.

Exercise: Toward making a life that works for you: If you want to live your own life instead of someone else’s, you need to come from the place where your own life actually resides – your heart. The heart knows only love, not fear, so one of the best ways to evoke what’s inside is to allow yourself to dream, envision, imagine your full potential. In a place of quiet reflection, free of outside distraction, allow your mind to wander. Dream; envision; create. If you find yourself thinking, or if worries or fears creep in (they will), be aware it’s your head trying to regain control (it thinks it knows what’s best for you). Ask the worries to step aside for now, and go back to your imagining. It’s an exercise, not a project plan. Doing this exercise on a regular basis not only opens you to the truth of your heart, but it also creates energy that pulls you toward your own truth – naturally, easily. When you know your heart, life gets very easy.


A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

One reason we have difficulty making decisions is that we tend to compartmentalize everything in our lives, breaking everything into small pieces so our decisions will be “easier.” Accepting the illusory truth of fragments, we experience only sound bites of life rather than life itself. Real life is chaotic wholeness, not separate pieces or sound bites, leaving us lost when confronted with the complexity of it all. I see this as a by-product of our classical-science-based worldview, which tells us that in order to know a thing, we need to separate it from its surroundings so we can study it, measure it, predict its behavior … thereby getting to “know” it. This has always left me with a pressing question: How can I claim to know the truth of anything separate from its connectedness and wholeness, when connectedness and wholeness are part of its truth?

I commonly saw pink ladyslippers all along my woodland trail this summer. It’s a lovely plant in the orchid family, with a single distinctive flower. Both uncommon and fragile, it’s protected. A crucial criterion for its survival is the chemistry of the soil in which it lives. It depends on a mycorrhizal association with root systems of the trees nearby. If you transplant a ladyslipper (illegal, but if you did it anyway), the plant would not survive unless you transplanted the forest along with it. It’s a perfect example of how we fool ourselves into believing we know something once we know the fragments of its life alone. A single plant is beautiful, so beautiful in fact that our “fragment thinking” tells us we should “have” it for ourselves. But if we try to own it, we find it comes “hitched to everything else in the universe,” as John Muir said. Unaware, we live with the illusion of knowing, all the while knowing not.

The entire universe is connected – a hologram, if you will – where every piece of the universe contains a miniature version of the universe. Nothing is separate. A walk in the woods might not yield this fact to a casual observer, but with even a few walks on the same trail you’ll notice associations between trees and plants, between species of birds and species of trees, between field and forest, between wet and dry land, between summer and winter, and between air, sea and land. Nothing survives as a fragment. Neither do you. No island is truly disconnected. Neither are you.


Openings to New Possibility

Available for you:

  • The Road Not Taken Community, a no-cost subscription that offers you connection, interaction, challenge, and learning. See articles, newsletters and blogs; you’ll find “new stuff” here regularly. I welcome comments and conversation; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together.
  • “In Nature’s Image,” a series of blog posts here. A new post every few days, each a simple suggestion for adding meaning to your life, accompanied by one of my images from nature. If you’d like them delivered to you by email, you may use the green icon (“receive blog via RSS feed”) on any page of my website or right here. If we are connected on Facebook, you’ll also find each post there.
  • My e-book, A Field Guide to Life: How to Live With Authenticity and Freedom, offering a path beyond the limiting belief that you can’t live an extraordinary life. Reclaim the power of your deepest longing. You can purchase the ebook, or read it at no cost as a series of blog articles posted on my website.
  • The Road Not Taken newsletters (12 years, 144 issues of Purposeful Wanderings) available here as a pdf file.  
  • Photo images from my travels available here on fun products – note cards, coffee mugs – great gift ideas.

An invitation to possibility: If you have the courage and determination to step apart from the crowd and challenge conventional thinking so you can live instead with authenticity and freedom, contact me for a conversation that can shift your thinking forever. I will help you reach a level of clarity and perspective – about yourself, others, your life, your work and the world – that allows you to live your truth, every day. Trade the way it is for the way it could be.

Book of the month Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. A story of the Buddha’s early life. After being shielded as a prince from “everyday life,” Siddharta eventually saw how differently people lived, and thereby became determined to understand what it means to be human, what joy and suffering mean, and how to move beyond fear. Leaving a life of comfort, he chose “the road not taken,” opening to a life of deep meaning, awareness, and influencing others. …  And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.

Download January 2014 pdf

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Julie Fraser January 4, 2014 at 5:14 pm

Thanks Brad for pointing out that we must ask good questions! Using the heart as the filter for decisions is such a wonderful approach! We are so thoroughly trained to THINK, analyze, and be RATIONAL about our decisions that this is a major shift. It’s a simple exercise that’s not necessarily easy to do – as you point out, worries, fears and thoughts do impinge on our heart-based imagining. And thank you also for reminding us of our oneness – we are like a drop in the ocean – not separate, and while seemingly not very important, truly the critical each and every one of us in creating the environment. Let’s make it one where we and everyone around us will flourish!


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