Start With Your "No" to Find Your "Yes"
Sometimes, knowing what we want isn’t as simple as it sounds.
We make choices all the time that shape the way we live. What to do for a living, who to foster close relationships with, where to live, what our relationships look and feel like, how to start our day, how to end our day, the kind of relationships we have with ourselves. And in theory, we make those choices based on some understanding of what we want, or what feels good, or what works for us.
But what if ‘what you want’ feels totally unclear?
What if, as contemplative and empathetic people, our ability to consider a thousand different options turns our decision-making into a cloudy, tangled mess?
This is something I’ve been coming up against recently, particularly professionally (why did I think starting a new job after six years in a new field would be a piece of cake!?) - but this definitely isn’t the first time I’ve felt totally unclear about how I feel, where I am, what I’m heading toward. There’s something about looking ahead into the unknown and feeling the pressure to pick a direction that can feel both dizzying and overwhelming – particularly when we’re not totally sure how we feel about where we are now.
Is where I’m at now working? Am I feeling pulled in another direction, or do I just need to give it time? Do I need something more, or different? Am I overthinking it?
We don’t want to be too quick to dismiss alternatives. We don’t want to settle. We don’t want to miss an opportunity. We don’t want to pick the “wrong” option.
Knowing what we want can feel like an impossible task. But here’s something else I’ve noticed: it’s almost always easier to pinpoint what we really, really don’t want.
Possibilities can feel infinite, but sometimes it’s boundaries that provide real clarity. Because knowing what you absolutely don't want starts to create some borders, and suddenly you have a container to work within. Suddenly, the whole things starts to feel more manageable.
Put another way, when all of the possible ‘yes’s together feel too blurry and infinite to grasp, one or two intentional ‘absolutely not’s can bring us right back to center, with renewed focus. (Remember, “no” can be a force for good!)
So what can you do when you’re feeling unsure about where you are, or where you want to go from here?
I have two thoughts here. First, instead of forcing yourself to find an answer to a question of what you do want, start with the lower-pressure question of what you definitely don’t want. In a lot of ways, that answer can be just as illuminating, and it may at least point you in a direction that’s aligned with how you want to feel. You may not get there overnight, but intentionally moving away from the things you definitely don’t want is a great, purposeful start.
But also, give yourself permission to slow down, and pay attention to what’s already happening. Start to notice to the specific moments when things shift from "I’m feeling good" to "I suddenly feel icky/stressed/not ok/anxious." What’s the thing that changed your mood, or the thing that’s suddenly not working for you? Maybe even keep track of those moments in a notebook or journal, but with no pressure to write about them in lots of detail - just jot the feeling down as you notice it, along with whatever related details or thoughts come with it in the moment, then give yourself permission to put down the pen and move on. Over time, your brain will probably start to percolate in the time between incidents when your mind has space to wander, and you may start to notice patterns about what you’re ready to let go of, or move away from.
In any case, remember that forcing a choice in a complex situation is like forcing a smile; it’s no substitute the real thing, and it’s going to feel unnatural. So instead: relax, take your time, and trust that you’ll figure it out. Because often it’s less about being able to pull a “right” answer out of thin air, and more about doing the work to get there methodically – even if the methodology feels a little backwards.
Uncovering our “hell no”s has a way of putting things in perspective – because sometimes, we need to bump into our limits before we can figure out where we want to land.
Psssst! Want to dig deeper into this stuff?
I’m so excited and honored to have been featured on the #Createlounge podcast with Kayla Hollatz! If ideas like ‘gentle strength’ and ‘living purposefully as a highly sensitive person’ resonate with you, I’d love for you to listen in on our conversation all about embracing your softness, finding your footing, and the power of empathy. You can check it out here.