"I'm feel conflicted and uncertain about a big decision. How do I make the right choice?"
Whenever I want to understand my mind better, I apply a process of “unpacking” all of the different thoughts and feelings I have.
Let's take an example, from a Quora question that I just responded to.
That question was...
"Why was it so hard for you to leave a long relationship even though the person was mean and said hurtful things to you?"
We've all felt that internal conflict in the past. It feels like a war in our head, usually between our thoughts and our emotions.
Your head says one thing, but your heart says something different.
This is known as cognitive dissonance.
Unpacking Cognitive Dissonance
Unpacking is incredibly easy, and stunningly powerful.
Let's give it a go.
Simply grab a piece of paper, and list every thought that you have, like this…
- “I feel disrespected”
- “I am afraid I won’t find someone better”
- “Sometimes they’re nice”
- “I am uncertain whether to let go, or fight harder”
- … and so on
Also list every feeling you can identify, too…
- … and so on
Once you’ve identified them, look at each of these thoughts & emotions individually, and the situation will make far, far more sense.
See the Crowd
Right now your mind is a crowded room of voices, and it’s too loud to hear what’s being said.
That creates feelings of confusion, conflict, and paralysis, because none of the paths are clear.
Turn down the noise by focusing on one voice at a time.
What you’ll find is that some of the voices in your “mental room” are yours, and others have just wandered in to give their unasked-for opinion on the situation. They come from your society, friends, parents, culture, teacher, religious beliefs, etc. And they’re loud, but they’re not you.
Distinguishing that is essential in understanding your inner conflict, and making the right choices for your life.
Usually, I find that those voices can be neatly organized into 3 groups.
- Reptile “survival” brain - All the thoughts regarding survival, safety, personal security, and lust or desire.
- Mammal “social” brain - All the thoughts regarding social approval, the need for relationship, protectiveness over those you love. The desire to be loved. Loneliness, jealousy, heartbreak, love, and much more.
- Human “predictive, rational” brain - All of the thoughts regarding the future, plans, dreams, expectations, and your core values as well. As a human, those core values are where you are most distinct and unique from other humans. They are your psychological fingerprint.
See if you can identify where each of your thoughts and feelings are originating from and what each of them are trying to get you to do.
This is important, because every one of those voices has a motivation in this internal debate you’re having.
It's why they're speaking out, and why they won't back down.
Most likely, once you’ve identified your own thoughts, and separated them out from what your parents, friends & society think - you'll have a very clear picture of the voices in your head and their motivations too.
Using our above example of a relationship-in-crisis, that person might find something like this-
- Reptile brain. If I let go, I’ll be OK, but probably no sex. That’s very uncomfortable.
- Mammal brain. I am afraid to be alone. What will others think? Sometimes this relationship is nice, just not often enough. What if I can’t find a better relationship? Would I be alone forever?
- Human brain. If I give up, I will feel like I failed. This relationship isn’t really good for me. I can’t really be who I am here. I can’t really create the life that I want to here. But I feel it’s important to remain committed and try my hardest until I’m sure. When do I know whether to take path A or B?
Making a Decision
The goal here is the resolve the internal argument, by clearly seeing which path will best take you in the direction you want to go in live.
Once you can see them clearly you’ll have a much better understanding of what’s happening in your head.
At that point there is really only one question that remains.
What is the best choice for my future, where I get the be the most authentic version of myself, and live the most authentic version of my life?
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