Time and time again, I’ve watched coaching clients walk into my office stuck, in the fog of confusion about some situation in their lives. They are sure that they don’t know how to move forward, that they don’t know which next step to take.
We’ve all been there – in that uncertain, frustrating place. It’s no fun.
Time and time again I’ve watched those same clients walk out of my office having uncovered a clear, wise answer to their questions, a clear resolution to their dilemma, the kind that allows them to move forward with that wonderful sense of confidence and calm.
I certainly didn’t give them their answers – I don’t have them. They found the answers inside. We followed a simple process that cleared a space for their own answers to emerge.
This article is a guide to doing that process on your own. In 3 simple steps, you can shift from a state of confusion to mental clarity.
All of us have an ever-present, remarkable well of inner wisdom, there for us whenever we need it. The tricky part is learning to access it. Our inner guru speaks quietly. In the midst of busy lives and busy minds, it can be difficult to hear.
Here’s how to access the wealth of wisdom within us and overcome mental confusion, in three steps.
Step 1: Clear Confusion by Clearing Inner Clutter
Inner wisdom needs an open, quiet space to emerge. Problem is, our minds aren’t usually a quiet, open space.
They are typically cluttered with all kinds of stuff – fears, “shoulds”, and others’ opinions –and our minds are particularly cluttered with all of that when we are facing a difficult choice or navigating a challenging transition. That clutter drowns out the voice of our inner guidance system.
The first step to clearing confusion is to clear the mental clutter, which includes:
Ideas about what you “should” be doing, or things you want to do in an ideal situation. For example, how a “good” person (or a “good” mother, father, employee, friend, daughter, son etc.) would act in the situation.
When we take seriously or feel bound by our shoulds, it becomes very difficult to decipher what we authentically want, what we truly value.
We’ve all had experiences when fear accurately warned us about a dangerous situation or person. But most of the time, our fears are irrational and over-reactive. They are about protecting our egos, not about protecting ourselves.
We’re plagued by fears that obscure the wisdom within — the fear of rejection or failure that keeps us from trying something new or going for our dreams; the fear of being unloved or being left out that causes us to censor ourselves and conform; the fear of the unknown that causes us to lead safe but unfulfilling lives.
These fears are like loud static that makes it hard to hear our inner voice, causing us to feel confused and distancing us away from the clarity within us all.
c. Inner Critic
We all have a critical inner voice that chatters away about how we don’t measure up. (In case you’ve been wondering if yours is pathological, you can relax. It’s normal. We are all hard-wired to have a tough inner critic.)
When we face a major decision that requires stepping up, taking risks, pursuing our dreams, telling difficult truths, being ourselves, that inner critic chatter tends to get louder, more frequent and more intrusive. It prevents us from hearing our own truth.
It needs to be cleared (or at least quieted down) for us to move away from confusion.
d. OPO – Other People’s Opinions
Then there are all those other people’s opinions echoing in your head: Your know parents will go through the roof if you quit the secure job and go for your passion. Your married friends will cheer if you get engaged, and be disappointed if you decide to wait.
Here’s the problem: it’s impossible to hear your own opinion, to sense where your inner guidance would lead you, with all those other people in your consciousness.
Your inner guide needs an open, empty space to emerge. It will come out when the one right person (that would be you) is listening.
e. Beliefs About What Isn’t Possible
Our inner guidance will often lead us toward creative solutions we would never consider if we were looking through our habitual lens of what’s possible or realistic.
For example, if you are sure that you can’t make a good salary doing something you are passionate about, you’ll be unable to hear any guidance from your inner wisdom that would give you ideas on how to do just that.
Clearing a space for inner guru, includes suspending –temporarily– your beliefs about what is and isn’t possible – to create a truly empty, open space, a blank canvas.
How to Clear the Mental Clutter
Take out a journal and write down all your mental clutter, downloading it from mind to page without editing: List all the “shoulds” you feel about the situation and any fears.
Write down the lines your inner critic is feeding you. Write down the other people’s opinions swarming in your mind. Write down all the things that is causing you confusion and anxiety. Make a list of any pertinent beliefs about what is or isn’t possible.
Then clear your mind of the clutter, using one of these simple tools:
- Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Spend a few minutes letting go of any tension in your body. Then visualize emptying your mind of the clutter and confusion, one source a time. Use whatever imagery works for you. You might imagine a beautiful rain, washing it away; a candle burning it up; or a raft carrying it away on a peaceful lake.
- Let these pages you’ve been writing on symbolize the mental clutter. Physically move the paper to a different part of the house. Then return to the original room, to a space metaphorically free of all those polluting influences. Then continue with step 2.
- Give the clutter a send off. Close your eyes and imagine bundling up the clutter (the shoulds, fears, etc.) and taking it to a fun or beautiful place where it can rest without bothering you. Maybe you take all the clutter to your favorite beach, or a camping spot, or the mall. (Sounds hokey, I know, but it works.)
Step 2: Tap into Your Wisdom
Now, with a space cleared of confusion and mental clutter, tap into your inner wisdom. There are many ways to do this. Here are a few of my favorites:
a. Journal About the Big Questions:
- If I could have it any way I wanted, if anything was possible, what would I want?
- Deep down, what do I desire?
- What’s the truth of this situation?
- What next step am I being pulled toward?
- What feels right?
Explore what arises in answer to these questions, particularly any fragmented words, images or ideas that does not make sense at first.
The more foreign the answers seem, the more your inner guidance is taking you beyond what your conscious mind is yet aware of. That’s a good thing.
b. Check In with Your Gut Instinct and Your Body
Try on different decisions and notice how they feel in your body. What feels energizing, and what feels draining? What feels like a strong “no” in your body, and what feels like a “yes”? What feels scary but right?
The answers have subtle effects on your body, take your time to relax, and then ask yourself the questions, and see the first gut instinct reaction out of you.
c. Be Playful Visually
Doodle, draw, paint, or make a collage in response to the questions above. See what the images tell you.
d. Ask the Future You
Imagine yourself ten years from now, a fulfilled older you. Step into that person’s shoes and journal from his or her perspective. How did you resolve the dilemma you face now? What advice would that self give you?
e. Time Travel
Close your eyes and travel backward in time to visit your childhood self in his or her favorite place. Spend some time with him or her, just playing. Then ask him or her,
- “What would you want me to know about this situation?”
- “What do you want here?”
If an “I don’t know” feeling persists as you use these tools, that’s just fine. Ask yourself, in a friendly and compassionate way, “What more do I need, in order to know?”
Use this clarifying question for all the other techniques above, if an “I don’t know” feeling emerges.
You may hear a clear “wait, just wait for now”, or you may hear “go get more information about x” or “you know the answer, you just need to face it.”
Step 3: Trust & Respect What Emerged
To move from confusion to clarity, it’s not enough to simply go inside, find the answers, and leave it at that. It matters what you do with the answers once you have them.
Here are a few guidelines for how to integrate your inner guru into your daily life, and what to do with that wisdom once you’ve tapped it.
a. Treat It With Love and Respect
How would you treat a person with whom you wanted to develop a deeper, closer relationship with? That’s how you should treat your inner guide.
How would you want to treat someone who has always been there to support and love you, no matter your capacity to love back? That’s how you should treat your inner voice. Treat it with love, appreciation and respect.
Though it’s difficult, try to trust whatever emerged from your inner voice, even if it doesn’t yet make sense to you.
Often, our inner guidance system is so far ahead of our conscious minds and present-day lives that its guidance feels surprising. Live with the guidance lovingly and patiently and see what emerges. Be open to hearing more, to coming to understand.
c. It’s Okay to Feel Scared or Resistance
Maybe your inner wisdom is directing you to make a major life change or make a choice other people won’t understand. It’s okay to struggle with the direction you’ve been given. It’s even normal.
d. Protect What You’ve Discovered
Don’t throw your pearls before swine. Don’t share new, still gestating ideas with people who are unlikely to be supportive.
e. Remember that You Don’t Have to Figure It All Out
Maybe your inner guide presented a vision of your future you have no idea how to create. Maybe it reignited your passion for a dream you don’t know how to realize.
You don’t have to know how to make it all happen. That part is not your job. You only have to trust, be open to more guidance, and take one step forward at a time.
Next time you are feeling confused and overwhelmed, take a moment to step out of your current situation, and follow the 3 steps above. It’ll get easier with practice: clear mental clutter, tap into your inner clarity, and trusting the answers that rise out of your inner clarity.
* What do you do when you are distracted by confusion and mental clutter? What do you re-gain clarity? Share your tips and stories in the comment section. See you there!
About the Author: Tara Sophia Mohr is a coach, writer, and the creator of Wise Living. She helps people live more simple, compassionate, authentic lives. You can receive her free Goals Guide, “Turning Your Goals Upside Down and Inside Out (To Get What You Really Want) by clicking here. Or find Tara on twitter here.