I read The Secret along with 53,000,000 other people. Maybe you read it too? It was a quick read (more and more this is my primary consideration when choosing a book), and although it was a little too new-agey and commercial for my taste (Companion video? Workbook? Um, no thanks) , I like the concept of tapping into our gut, aligning one’s thoughts with one’s goals and picturing the desired outcome of certain situations as a way to effect an outcome. Personally I prefer prayer for this, but whatever you rely on (hope, God, lucky rabbit’s feet), the concept of ‘right thinking’ may be more powerful than we think.
Right thinking is not always positive, and that’s where my opinion differs from that presented in the book. The fact is, life is not all rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes a little reality (which sometimes sounds a lot like negativity) is our best friend.
How is our inner voice affecting our lives? Are we listening to it? Does it accurately reflect who we are as people? Parents?
Have you ever taken a moment to tune in to your inner voice? It’s linked to that old friend you’ve tried so hard to suppress in favor of keeping up with what everyone else is doing – instinct. Instinct comes in handy almost daily. It is our life GPS, and many of us ignore it, inadvertently throwing up mental road blocks that send us off course. We can play some pretty manipulative games with ourselves…things like denial, justification and self-righteousness become lethal weapons when brandished without the proper application of our instinct, and allowing fear to permeate our decision-making stifles our progress as parents, spouses and people (not to mention what it does to those around us).
Instinct is what causes us to glance behind us when we hear footsteps approaching too closely; it’s also the most effective ingredient in our recipe for successful parenting. It is unique to us and if respected and heard, will bring about a clarity of thinking that cuts through all the environmental clutter we live with every day. Clarity of thinking is not the same as that old tried and true state-of-mind: positive thinking.
Even if your inner dialogue is mostly positive (I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Gosh Darnit, People Like Me), it may not be fueled by your instinct. We are responsible for maintaining a modicum of honesty with our inner voices. There is nothing wrong with applying some self-help techniques to stave off a case of the blues, but if your personality is more caustic than bubbly, so be it. If you’re faking who you are, you’re probably ignoring your gut.
So how do we recognize instinct? If you’re about to do something stupid, your instinct is responsible for that little burst of adrenaline that’s telling you not to do it (this should not be confused by your learned behavior of fear. If you’re about to do something that’s outside your comfort zone, your fear is responsible for that little burst of adrenaline that’s telling you not to do it. You should do it anyway in almost every case). Lots of people have amazing stories of instinct saving them from peril. In fact, a large percentage of Urban Myths rely on the power of instinct for greatest dramatic effect (she saw a suspicious van parked next to her car and went right back into the mall. It just didn’t feel right. Later, the cops pulled him over and found rope and a gun in the back of the van…).
I don’t have any specific stories that can unequivocally prove the importance of instinct in my life, but all of us at one time or another have felt that sense of foreboding that starts in the pit of our stomachs. That is instinct. So how do we link instinct with our inner voices? We listen. We trust our gut. We tune out the clutter that interferes with what we know is best for us and our loved ones, and we go with it. This takes practice, because we are conditioned to not trust ourselves and instead go along with everyone else. I am not sure, but I’d be willing to bet that every time we’ve ignored our instinct, it has derailed us from our true purpose and created problems in our lives. Every. Single. Time.
I think some of our most important parenting decisions stem from listening to our gut and teaching our kids to do the same. We know that “everyone” is staying at so-and-so’s house after prom, but we just don’t feel comfortable letting our son stay out all night. Go with it. We sense a change in our daughter’s disposition – it’s subtle but our gut tells us something is wrong. Ask her. Don’t accept a shallow reassurance (everything’s fine, Mom) because your instinct is designed to pick up on these subtle signals.
We need to teach our kids to listen to their instincts as well. This is their best and most powerful weapon against peer pressure. If someone hands them a beer, their natural instinct (the one that helps them distinguish between right and wrong) will send a physical clue to their bodies (like hesitation). If we teach our kids to listen for that primal signal and trust it, chances are they’ll follow it. It’s the same with s-e-x. There is tremendous pressure on our young girls to become sexually active at an early age. They know it’s wrong – their bodies tell them it’s wrong – but they don’t feel empowered to speak up in the moment, so often they will give in to the pressure and do something they ultimately regret. Teaching them to trust their inner voice (a.k.a. instinct) and feel confident about drawing boundaries is the most effective way to stop this alarming trend (and please don’t bury your heads in the sand, moms of girls. It’s happening everywhere). You can’t physically be there every time they’re tempted or pressured. They need to rely on their gut, just as you do.
There is a theme emerging here. I write a lot about authenticity. The fact is, we are steering farther and farther away from who we really are in favor of tired societal norms or pressure to fit in (mom, volunteer, middle-class mom, suburban mom, room mom…arghhhhh!). We have a compass – our gut – which should give us all the clues we need to honor our individualism in word and deed. This is an ongoing project for us as moms, especially. I am pretty convinced that any unease or hesitation we feel in our day-to-day lives can be mitigated by trusting our gut and allowing it to fuel our inner voice.
In other words, be authentic. Let the outside match the inside (and own it – good and bad!), then watch the pieces of your life fall into place.