Your head might consider a dilemma logically, the belly intuitively or emotionally, and the pelvic floor will provide information about which scenario feels safer.
Most of the time we assume we make decisions with our minds. We weigh the information. Maybe we talk to a friend. And then we come to a rational decision about what to do. That’s how it works, right?
Well, not really. Some of that happens, sure, but there are many decisions that we do not make with our minds, even when we think we’re doing so. Our bodies make our decisions for us more often than we’d think.
The Body Recalls
Our minds don’t remember every experience we’ve ever had, but our bodies do. What happened to us before we were able to form cognitive memories leaves a deep impression in our nervous systems, setting the stage for our future relationships, career choices, and stress responses.
Part of this is about the nervous system. The body will always want to know, first, whether or not it is safe. If the body feels unsafe, it will make decisions based on whatever allows it to feel safer. This can include literal fight-or-flight reactions, like running away or lashing out. It can also include addictive behaviors.
[Read: “4 Healthy Hobbies to Try During Addiction Recovery.”]
Addiction is almost always a coping mechanism for stress, and when stress becomes chronic, behaviors, substances, or sometimes even thoughts can become chronic. That’s because they are the quickest way to make us feel safer—even when those behaviors have negative consequences.
Blaming the Brain
That means that we can end up not only eating the wrong thing for lunch, but potentially also marrying the wrong person. We can make a whole host of decisions with the reflexes in our bodies that we don’t even realize we are making. Our bodies are remarkably good at convincing our brains that it was all our brain’s idea when it really wasn’t.
Sometimes it’s a good thing when the body takes the reins. The body is where we access our intuitions, where we “feel out” whether or not something is right for us. Our brains make mistakes all the time, and we need our gut reactions to help us navigate the world. But our guts don’t always get the whole picture either.
It’s important to remember that we can’t read minds or tell the future. There are always consequences of our actions that we didn’t plan for. But we can gather information from the mental/intellectual side and from the emotional/intuitive side and figure out what’s most right for us according to the information we have in the moment.
Decisions of the Mind and Body
So, how do we make the best decisions using the best of both the mind and the body?
We slow down. We listen. And we feel.
My favorite way to explore making a decision is to separate the choice into two clear categories: 1. Stay the same, and 2. Change. Of course, we are often faced with decisions that force some kind of change, but I can usually see which side would keep me closer to the status quo.
Next, I sit down and pay attention to three places in my body: my head, my belly, and my pelvic floor. I present each scenario to each place as if I’ve already made the choice and notice what happens. My head will look at the thing logically, my belly will show me my intuitive/emotional reaction, and my pelvic floor will give me some information about which scenario feels safer (the pelvic floor usually relaxes when we feel safe).
Checking in with these three places and allowing them to each have their own opinion about what I should do helps me gather information and make the choice that’s best for me in the moment.
The body doesn’t always make perfect decisions, and neither does the mind. But when we can get good at allowing the different aspects of ourselves to weigh in and be honest about our emotional responses, we can get a little closer to making the choice that feels most right.
Still Undecided? Try Julie’s guided meditation for decision-making: “Body as Compass.”