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Betsy Hedberg

Mindfulness for Decision-Making and Life Transition
by Betsy Hedberg, M.A.

“I know I’ve got to get out of this job one day, but I’m so busy right now, I don’t even have time to think about it – and how could I ever make such a decision anyway?!”

These words from a recent client speak to the heart of a major obstacle for many people when it comes not only to career transitions, but to any lifestyle change. Our busyness can obscure our ability to make significant decisions for ourselves. The irony is that being super-busy can be easier than allowing ourselves to become still and quiet and deal with difficult decisions or painful situations…but this avoidance can cost us genuine happiness and contentment.

Have you ever had a great idea come to you while you’re taking a shower, walking your dog, or just waking up in the morning? These are times when the busyness of our daily lives and our thinking minds often get a brief respite, allowing intuition to come to the surface. Have you also noticed that if you try for these moments of insight, they’re less likely to come? This is why it’s so important to allow ourselves quiet time alone each day, not to be used for planning or strategizing, but to just be with ourselves in the present as much as possible and allow things to arise as they will. (And science bears this out: scientists studying brain imagery believe contemplative or creative time allows the brain to synchronize its logical left side with its intuitive right side, facilitating our ability to think creatively).

Yes, I realize this is hard! Our culture tells us to remain busy all the time. If we stay busy, we can feel productive – but who is this productivity really benefiting? I would submit that quiet time alone is radical and countercultural – after all, we might just gain some insight that leads us to do something outside the norm (like singing in the street, eating slow lunches, vocalizing our political opinions, or taking a vacation to Timbuktu).

Our ability and willingness to set aside this quiet, intuitive time for ourselves can be gently facilitated if we practice mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” We all know how to pay attention in this way, but we tend to lose touch with this ability in the midst of our hurried lives. Developing a mindfulness practice (see some tips below) is a gift to ourselves, yet it can be challenging to shift out of our goal-oriented, “doing,” critical, and judgmental mindset into a mode of acceptance, self-compassion, and “just being.”

How does mindfulness help us in times of transition or when we face major decisions?

Mindfulness allows us the space to develop insight about what we really value and clarity about the options we are facing. With mindfulness, we can accept the reality that no decision will be 100% “right,” yet we can make the best decision for ourselves at the present time.

Mindfulness helps us invite time into our busy lives, reminding us of the value of being versus constantly doing. We need this time to effectively contemplate a major decision. Practicing mindfulness fosters the ability to “just be” with ourselves, which in turn helps us tune into our intuition.

Starting now, I challenge you to be radical by taking mindful, intuitive time for yourself every day (without trying too hard to be mindful, radical, or intuitive). This is particularly important during a period of transition or when you are facing a big decision. Excellent ways to do this include walking in nature, sitting meditation, drawing or painting, and petting or walking your furry friend (as long as it is in a meditative, present-moment spirit, rather than “stewing/thinking about all the things I have to do/ruminating about who said what” mode).

Here are some additional mindfulness exercises you can try:

·        Transition mindfully. Each time you transition from one part of your day or from one activity to the next, see if you can pause to bring yourself into the present moment. Bring attention to your breath; notice the sights, sounds, and smells of your surroundings; and acknowledge the transition you are in the process of making. This is a particularly helpful practice for transitioning between work and home at the end of the day.

·        Listen to your body. Every few hours, take a break from what you’re doing to tune in to the sensations in your body. Pay attention to how these sensations may have changed over the past few hours. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort. Also notice sensations of relaxation. If you find yourself feeling critical or judgmental about your body, acknowledge those thoughts and feelings while seeing if you can bring a gentleness and kindness toward yourself. Can you discern any connections between your emotions or moods and the way your body feels?

·        Spend three minutes listening to a piece of music. Rather than having it on in the background or thinking through your “to do” list as the music plays, really let yourself listen. Can you distinguish the various instruments, harmonies, and other nuances? What can you notice about this piece of music that you haven’t noticed before?

·        Take a mindful walk. You can do this during your lunch break or before or after work. Mindful in this context means bringing your attention to whatever you see, hear, smell, and touch along your way, also tuning in to how your body feels while walking and how the air feels against your skin. Each time you notice your mind wandering to plans, worries, or other distractions, notice where it’s gone and return your attention to your walk. Do this in a gentle way, without trying to forcibly push thoughts out of your mind.

·        Really pay attention to someone or something. It’s so tempting to multitask. See if you can have at least a half-hour period when you’re not multitasking. Instead, focus on only one thing. If you’re in conversation with another person, whether in person or on the phone, give them your undivided attention. If you’re doing a project on your computer, avoid answering the phone, checking e-mail, or any other distractions for at least a half-hour. Can you allow yourself to become absorbed in the present moment and whatever it has to offer, even if it is not entirely pleasant?

·        If you really want to delve into mindfulness practice, get some instruction in mindfulness meditation. If you live in a major city or a college town, you may have access to an Insight Meditation (Vipassana) group or a Shambhala meditation center. Keep in mind that not all meditation styles have the aim of fostering mindfulness, so ask the instructor to tell you about the meditation before you begin.

© Copyright 2009 Betsy Hedberg.  All Rights Reserved. 

Betsy Hedberg

Betsy Hedberg, M.A., is a Denver-based psychotherapist, career counselor, and mindfulness and meditation instructor. She helps people incorporate mindfulness practices into their daily lives to realize greater quality time, reduce stress, navigate personal and career transitions, and connect with their deepest values. She also has a passion for travel and is preparing to announce some mindful, soulful excursions. Her blog/web site provides useful tips to help counter the stressful lifestyle so many of us lead, with a special focus on helping people recover from divorce and end-of-relationship issues. If you live in the Denver area, Betsy offers in-person life transition and career counseling sessions to help you reach your fullest life potential.





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