The Answer Resides In Your Gut, Not Your Brainy-Brain

How often do you over-think things? Making an exit? Opportunities? Big decisions?  Small decisions?  Or just…buying a simple chocolate-chip cookie?

Here’s how it goes down:  A thought comes – “Mmm, oh, it would be nice to eat a cookie. A warm, chocolate-chip cookie.” Simple.  Unless you put a “simple” thought like that through the mind of an adult-child! Drum roll, boom-boom – enter doubting, unsure, cocked for battle adult-child Brain: But…should I eat it?

What if I then start to buy one every day…?

Do actually deserve a treat?

I’m running late today and now I want to spend five more minutes to buy a treat I don’t even deserve? Who do I think I am? And since I don’t truly know how to estimate how long things actually take – it’ll probably take an hour to buy the cookie…

A bit exhausting. A bit silly. And totally unnecessary (with practice).

We tend to wonder, “What’s the right course of action?” during times when life puts opportunity and choices in our path. (Actually, it’s more accurate to say when we intersect with opportunity, because I don’t believe it’s Life’s job to dole out our opportunities; it’s for us to make opportunities happen, to push the air that surrounds us with our movement and energy, and thereby create the ripest environment in which opportunity can grow.)  Something happens–a job opportunity at your friend’s company, a surprise love interest through a mutual friend, or–especially–an inner, personal realization about what you truly want–and while your gut/heart/mind are clear on what you want, you don’t listen.

We don’t know how to listen to our gut properly. Instead of mucking about in the soul, heart or gut, we hike up into our minds and think it away.  We think the opportunity into a twisted shape, an oblivion.

Enter:  Should.

The word should shows up in my own vocabulary in many more ways that as itself, as should. There’s what if, there’s what will they think, they’ll say things, But if I do this…etc. It’s not our fault. We then ask, “What ‘should’ I do?” as we try to figure out an interaction or response, it’s not surprising that we distance ourselves; we were trained from a very young age to receive our answers from our parents and not from inside ourselves. For us it was safest for us to behave in the accepted way in order to get our basic child needs met. So we don’t have much practice (if any) with identifying our gut instincts and following them. That, and, when we take opportunities change is inevitably involved, and we tend to be change-adverse because it activates so many unresolved traumas. We become confused about the source of our anxiety during change – whether it’s from the current situation or is past trauma transposed upon the present.

The Should Press.

When I put a decision through The Should Press (think Dr. Seuss and the wacky, twisted machines that press-on and remove stars from the bellies of Sneeches)–in doing so, I stamp “should” all over the idea and thereby alienate myself from not just the opportunity but also from being in touch with what, for me, is real.

The shoulding happens lightning-fast, right?  Pretty much the minute we have a desire, we stamp it with shoulds.

It once took me two years to decide to apply to earn a Masters Degree in creative writing. And it once took a year for me to break-up with someone I shouldn’t have been in a relationship with. While I don’t regret the time it took to go for the degree and I truly treasure memories from the relationship, I wasn’t acting on what I really wanted at the time. The Should Press stamped many paralyzing thoughts onto my wants –  A creative writing degree won’t make me a writer, What if I’m actually avoiding writing somehow by going to school, What if only a totally crappy college accepts me, What if I miscalculate my budget and truly can’t afford it, What if self-sabotage and turn in my applications late? What if I’m a fool to think that I can write well?  Such thoughts contributed to a two-year delay in going for it. With the relationship I didn’t truly desire, it was true psych-ops at work in my mind:  I willingly made out with him, I can’t just turn around and say, “Oh, never-mind,” I can’t deal with the awkwardness of hurting someone I work with every day, I got myself into this mess – I should see it through, I’m just being silly and afraid of love, and, oh, the over-the-top sign of a twisted self-doubter, What if my gut is wrong and I don’t know what I really want?

What are your shoulds?  What are you stories of action-delay?

If you honor your gut and listen to what you really want while also being a kind and loving self-parent to yourself, own your crap (take responsibility) — you can’t go wrong.  Really!  It’s a fool-proof system.

Buy the cookie. Enjoy it. If the next day and the next you also buy one, or that you’re dragging people along and buying more and more, then it’s time for your inner, kind and loving self-parent to pipe up and say, “I think you may want to cool it a bit on the cookies so that you don’t wind up feeling like an over-sugared slave to cookies…” Or, “Are you avoiding feeling something…?”  Trust that you will take care of yourself, listen to yourself, and stick-up for yourself – we CAN learn to act from a place of self-trust. Another example:  Once you learn techniques for how to end conversations (without guilt!) when you’re done with the conversations, you’ll no longer dread falling into conversation with people.

What is your gut telling you that you actually want?  Go for it -

…no matter what anyone might say.

…no matter what anyone might secretly think.

…no matter what anyone might do.

It’s your life. ‘They’ don’t live it. Only you do.

When you give yourself permission to honor your gut and listen to and honor what your actually want/feel/think, you will experience a send of lightness and freedom that is beautiful, if infrequent till now. The other nice surprise to it, when we act on our truth, we suddenly find that we don’t give a damn about the shoulds anymore – we don’t have to manage them because they evaporate.

The answers are inside.

Be kind to yourself.


  1. Carl S says:

    Being in my brain most of the time. Thinking, re-thinking, revising, re-playing. Current, past and future.

    This is a habit that is mostly unconscious. I have noticed that I can observe my positive cognitive changes coming when it’s been months, four months, six months, maybe even twelve months or two years from the time I express to my therapist that I have started to really own my desire to be more patient with myself and allow myself just to enjoy the moment.
    My therapist confirms this observation and I feel genuinely validated.

    I am very grateful when I can see that I have been regularly choosing not to self-monitor and try to control my outcomes.
    male, 63 and still gaining new infusions of peace in my soul.

    • Amy Eden says:

      Carl, it’s great to hear from you and also to learn about your site. Thank you. I’m 40 and still very much a work in progress. You’re 63 and still practicing – I like that. There’s no end to the practice…being “done” would be antithetical to the process.
      I’m beginning to think that for all my striving for knowledge…to figure all this dysfunctional stuff out…that, acutally, the gut is truly where all answers reside.
      Peace -

  2. Peyson says:

    I have a question for the writer of this blog…

    Your post has really hit home for me in so many ways. In particular, the part about you waiting to get your Master’s. Have you written any other posts about this? I am in the daunting process of applying to a Master’s program myself and it seems like I am self-sabatoging at every step. Ugh! I know the process is supposed to be difficult, but not this difficult.

    • Amy Eden says:

      Hi! A close friend just went through the process of applying for a Master’s and a family member is now, too. It’s a tough process. The GRE is daunting and takes time to practice for, and maybe a couple tries at taking. Then there’s the process of figuring out which schools are interesting…I’m a big advocate for writing down each step, then the sub-steps and taking a realistic look at how long it will take. Is it possible you’re attempting to apply in too short a time-frame? I don’t know the details… fill me in. -A

  3. Peyson says:

    Hello! I can’t believe you actually answered, thank you!
    There is a definite time crunch with applying right now, but that is because when I had all the time in the world I didn’t adequately use it. Actually, I am applying to some programs for Spring and others for Fall start and according to advisors at my previous university and an admissions counselor at a potential school, time isn’t an issue. It is more about the self-doubt that has come with all of this and the sabotaging I cannot stop. Put aside the fact that I cannot put two words together for the personal essays. What if I don’t get accepted where I want, do I actually know what I want, and what if I can’t do it alone {that is the most terrifying of them all}? Plus, if I fail and people aren’t surprised, well, I don’t think that needs an explaination. Lol! This all comes out in “what should I do? Should I really be doing this?”. This is why your post resonated so well with me.
    Oh my! I am not used to over-sharing like this! If I could only put words together like this for my essays. Lol!
    I was hoping maybe this was similar to your experience and wondered if you had written anymore about it, or if you had more to say here and held back.

    • Amy Eden says:

      It was interesting to read that post over again. It did take me two years from when it first came to me that I wanted to go to graduate school, and when I actually applied. (I haven’t written about the grad school decision elsewhere, but I have written about self-sabotage (plug that term into the Search box on my main page and a few posts should come up).
      I got accepted to a school that a friend recommended, but it wasn’t my first choice. But I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else. I carried a lot of fear with me through the process. But I pushed ahead. I wasn’t sure if my sample creative writing was good enough, that concerned me. I had no idea if I could write, but I knew I wanted to. (I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d use writing so much in my job–and blog–either, so that worked out better than I could have imagined.) It changed my life, it was a good decision. But it’s one I hemmed and hawed over, and sought reassurance and validation about — particularly since I was going for a “useless” degree (not an MBA), and there was no return on investment (not that was measurable).
      I think the key is to write (and revise, and revise, and revise) the essays to the best of your ability, even if you blow off the applications and wait till next year (but it sounds like you won’t). Is it necessary to tell people you’re applying? If not, you could keep it to yourself, or to a very small circle, so that you keep it closer to the chest.
      Whenever we’re making high-stakes decisions, the fear factor goes up! That’s proof of how important it is to us. Sounds like you’re really challenging yourself to do something outside your comfort zone. VERY COOL. And all the accompanying fears and self-doubts are completely par for the course. It’s hard to turn-off the What Ifs — we have to move forward with the What Ifs tagging along.
      There’s a lifelong swimmer who admitted in an interview that she’s scared every time she does an hours-long swim in a large body of water, but she says, “I just swim with my fear.” I love that.

  4. Peyson says:

    Hi Amy,

    Something today made me head back and read this post. I had forgotten that I had discussed any of this on here and was pleasantly surprised. I needed to see it today. I got accepted into the program I wanted, the one I mentioned above. Er, well, the one that I thought I wanted.
    I wonder, once you go into a new situation, such as you did with your masters, do you acclimate quickly? I have had a lot of poor luck this first semester. So much so that I had an exit interview today in preparation for leaving the program. So many of the situations were not a result of my doing, but really just poor luck. I claimed it was an ill fit and, after hearing the ridiculousness of the experiences, the people around me agreed. But now I am faced with the decision of leaving! In undergrad I claimed something similar, but ended up fitting well and thriving there. Maybe because survival kicked in and I did what I had to, maybe because it was a genuinely good fit, who knows? Anyway, I cannot help but wonder now… Is this self-sabatoge? Is this me making mountains out of mole hills? My friends just want me to make a decision already, but it is so difficult because I think what SHOULD I do? What is the RIGHT thing to do? What if? Can I really do better?

    Any light you can shed on the situation would be very welcome. I have to have a decision by Monday.


    • Amy Eden says:

      Hi there! What do you plan to do right after you leave the program? What’s next? What are you leaving the program FOR? If you have a sense of how this decision fits into your plan, it might click for you. What’s next? :-)

      For me, the grad school clicked. But I’ve made other decisions – taking certain jobs – that seemed good, but turned out to not be a good fit, and I eventually left or was pushed out of. Actually…three jobs in a row over the course of ten years or so, all part of one particular career, were bad fits. The experiences were valuable, but I was there because I was too afraid to trust my gut. I talked myself out of my gut instinct to leave because it would seem…”crazy”. So I played it safe. Later, when I played it “crazy” and took a massive pay cut to do something else, I was much, much happier. And not crazy! Still not crazy. Actually – happier.

      One last question – Can you commit to being the kind of person who quits grad school because you believe that another, better program is out there and that you’ll find it?

      That question was inspired by this article (NY Times):

      • Peyson says:

        Ah! That last question was a good one. Thanks for the article link, but even more for the response! I didn’t think I could commit to being the person to over-share and ask others to do the same on a blog, but apparently I was wrong. Hah! I can commit to being the person who leaves (quits is just too harsh right now for someone who cannot be a “quitter”) grad school for the possibility of greater things. Though, committing to this means being terrified that there isn’t anything greater. Just saying. :-)

        I’m curious if you think that your choice to stay in an ill fitting career had anything to do with your ACOA history? Currently, I am in a state of “who the hell am I?” and believe that just maybe after years of being the caregiver, I still look at myself in relation to who I am to others. I am X’s mom, X’s this, Someone’s that.
        I am a huge Gilmore Girls fan and I find myself going back to one episode while I am looking at my current choices. I don’t know if you are a fan, but this one particular episode had the main character questioning whether or not she really liked what she liked, or if she liked it because her mother would not. I couldn’t find just a clip of it, but it is here, so if you haven’t seen it, you should! It is 2:45-4:45.

        I also liked what you said about how things fit into a plan. I haven’t quite got that whole planning thing down yet. I mean, I can plan for work and for my week and such, but long term planning still seems to be a concept I lack. Everything is a work in progress, I suppose…

        You wrote all of these posts that I relate to so well, and yet you seem to have it all figured out. How? I read what you write and I think “someone else gets it! It’s not just me! Maybe I am not crazy!”, but then in your responses I see that you aren’t in those places anymore. It’s inspiring, but also makes me realize I have got to stop bugging you with questions!!!

        • Amy Eden says:

          You are awesome! I just shared that link on my FB Page –
          That video clip makes your point VERY well. I’ve never watched that show. But now I might.
          Let me clarify something: there’s no “everything” to figure out. I don’t have it all figured out. I did probably figure out some critical issues that freed me a lot from ancient patterns — like, reaction/action mode when I came to an understanding of what the difference between surviving/thriving is — living in reaction versus living from a place of taking action on what was true for me…that was, for me, HUGE — as well as having an understand of what “victim” living or “surviving” living is (like living in reaction to the reactions of others, or the imagined reactions of others) versus living in “thriving” mode.
          Are you living in survival-mode?
          Oh, and therapy. :-) That too.
          As you work through personal roadblocks (like this one, like having compassion for yourself and your decision to move in another direction even if that direction is yet-to-be-known), I bet you’ll figure out all that you need to. No one figures it all out, just most of what they need to — and not on their own schedule, but on the universe’s schedule. Or so I tell myself ;-)
          You’re asking — that is a step forward, isn’t it?
          Big, big hug.

          • Peyson says:

            I am so glad you enjoyed it! If we were friends this would be when I would grab season 1 of Gilmore Girls off of the shelf, throw my coat on, and text you that I was on my way over for a Gilmore Girls marathon. Since I cannot do that, I am begging you to please start watching the show ASAP. It is on Netflix now and shows on ABC Family once or twice a day. I would start from the beginning though.
            If I cannot convince you to watch it just because it is just that good, then think of it as a resource for excellent examples for life experiences. For instance, I used this to inspire my Facebook status while I was writing my admissions essay for the program I am now fleeing from…

            So it’s not as good as the Pop tart dilemma, but it’s still pretty great.

            Thank you for sending the big, big hug. I needed it. Also, thank you for your kind words of wisdom. I actually had a few ah-ha moments just reading it!! I was going to share them, but think I may have shared enough for the time being. I will say that they went beyond just what you were saying. ;-)

            As always, thank you for listening and thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I miss seeing new posts pop up! And seriously, watch that show! It is the best! And, if you want to share your thoughts on it, well, I would be happy to see them!

          • Amy Eden says:

            We’ll have to do this as virtual friends because I saw your post – and now I’m half-way through Season 1 Episode 3 and loving it. (Bittersweet that it’s mom-and-daughter but I – sob, weep – can take it.) Hilarious and real and sweet. I find the moments when she’s torn between being a mom vs. friend to her daughter interesting. Well played.

            Awesome to hear about the ah-ha moments. Yay.

            You’re welcome, always.

            xo A

  5. Peyson says:

    Yay!! :-D I am so happy to hear that you are enjoying it! I am not at all surprised that you were already on episode three… though I am curious to hear where you are now. So… Thoughts? Feelings? Anything you loved, or that you absolutely hated?
    I’m sorry that the storyline hits a bit hard. Watching that mother-daughter best friend thing is a bit rough at times. *Passes tissue*
    For what it’s worth, I find the mother Lorelai to be the more relatable one. She and her mother have a tense relationship and only later… never mind, that would be a spoiler. However, she manages to raise a really happy kid, great inspiration! Yes, yes, I know it’s a show, but you have to pull inspiration from anywhere that you can! ;-) The show is witty and funny and in my opinion always the perfect thing to watch. I’m glad you are enjoying it. Keep me posted!!

    P.S. I wanted to ask you more about that survival mode thing you spoke of a few responses ago, but I really don’t want it to interfere with any Gilmore Girls discussion.

    • Peyson says:

      Hi Amy,

      Sorry, I guess I started using your blog for the wrong reasons (Virtual Gilmore Girls friend), but if you ever want to share what you think about it, feel free to email!

      Hope you are enjoying it!

      xo ~Peyson

    • Amy Eden says:

      I’m sure there’s something very ACOA related in the Gilmore girls…somewhere I’m sure there’s a connection. For instance, the older mother is such a control freak – and her daughter lives her life, at least to an extent, in reaction to that controlling behavior. She says so herself. The older mother character has no connection to her husband that I can see – that’s pretty dysfunctional territory. He’s one of those fathers of a certain generation, who just clears his throat and reads his newspaper a lot. He’s not expected to participate. That’s dysfunctional. And Laurelei is their only daughter – so it’s very much a triangular type dynamic. (I’ve written about that!) so I think one of the things that’s really appealing as that the youngest daughter gets to break the chain, gets to come from a couple generations of dysfunctional people…but be normal and loved. Nobody’s asking her to stuff her feelings, nobody’s asking her to be someone she’s not, and people are being real, making mistakes, and showing affection – that’s all it takes, that brand of honesty. And her mother, who seems a bit self-centered at times, despite that, or in addition to that :-) nevertheless questions the actions that she takes, she questions her motivations aloud – does her daughter want to go to Harvard or did she want her daughter to go to Harvard?
      It’s rich territory.
      I got to episode 5, I think and then it started to feel too familiar and I started to notice the show structure a little too much :-) probably a side effect of being an editor and writer.
      Thanks a million for the tissues!
      Now, regarding surviving or surviving mode – what’s the question?
      There is so much to say. I think victim identity overlaps with survival mode sometimes. There’s also the prostitute archetype, which I also wrote about on this blog, which survival mode also overlaps with. I don’t think any of us live in survival mode every minute, every hour, or all the time – I try to think about it as a gray area, as cyclic. If a person is in survival mode, it’s going to be hard to make long-term plans and give much thought to other people. Because survival takes up most of the persons energy. A person in survival mode will tend to gravitate towards things that are immediately gratifying and emotionally soothing. Short-term gain.
      When I am in survival mode, one of the hallmarks is when I make bargains with fate, time, or life – or justifications, trade-offs for things. So, a mode of wishing and hoping and waiting and thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking – rather than taking action, even if I don’t know how an action will take shape or end up.
      Tell me more!
      xo A

      • Peyson says:

        I have this overwhelming urge to send you like 20 clips showing great ACOA examples within the Gilmore Girls, but for now I suppose I will resist. There are definitely situations that scream dysfunction, while at other times there are moments where they show the healthy way to come out of those situations. One example that may or not make sense, but I feel like I always go after unavailable men. There is one monologue done by Lauren Graham (Lorelai) that shows her explaining how it felt being with this unavailable guy and why she needed to let go. My explanation doesn’t do it justice, so if you want to see the clip let me know. It’s a good one. If you ever return to it, I suggest watching seasons 5-7, 5&7, or just 7.

        I loved your explanation of survival mode. It was awful to be able to see myself and my current situation in it, but it was a good explanation nonetheless. How did you get out of that pattern?

        Hope all is well,

        P.S. Seriously though, I am so tired of seeing myself in these posts. I want to be a normal person already!!!

        • Amy Eden says:

          Going after unavailable men. Oh, boy, you’re spot on there. And how she needed to let go – YES, please. Send clip.

          Step one for me of getting out of survival mode was seeing it, seeing what “survival living” was and how it showed up in me, my actions, and my life (not in the life of others). I had to do a thoughtful inventory around that and truly, deeply OWN it. That was the first step. And also deciding that I was done, completely done, feeling the anxiety and other sensations in my body that were connected to survival living – dread, fuzzy-brain. Because without seeing it — what would I be “fixing”, you know? I began to take action in various things, making decisions, saying ‘no,’ and all that… then the thing that made it “click” was feeling the feeling that I felt when I was in thriving mode. It was a distinct “clean” feeling. A lightness. And that guides me now. (You know how you sense when an issue has been dealt with completely – the argument is over, the understanding is there, and you’re satisfied with the result? That feeling, that sense is just a sense within.) Just like the “clean” and light feeling of being in thriving mode is a sense, a feeling. It’s not a signpost, it’s a sense. If you get to know that feeling, it’ll guide you through life. Your mind won’t necessarily stop messing with you always, ;-) but what you feel in your body will always be reliable and true.

          I don’t know if you have had anxiety attacks ever, but a book that helped me when I used to have them helped me to tune-in to my body and learn the physical sensations of going down the wrong path — tight arms, a burning chest. “From Panic to Power,” was the book. Once I learned to identify the early bodily sensations that led to the build-up of a panic attack, I could divert it from happening. Similarly, with action/victim mode, you can learn to steer away from the ‘fuzzy head’ feeling before the boulder rolls down the hill and realize, “Ah, that’s the feeling I get when I’m about to do something survival-y or victim-y, Thanks body for the heads up.” I now know that I need to take action and make a decision for myself.

          xo A

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