How Do I Decide What Is Right For Me? (3 Quick Journal Exercises to Try)

In pursuit of magic | How do I decide what is write for me

The stories we tell about ourselves are not often all that helpful. One story that we can all get tragically stuck in is the ‘not for me/for me’ dichotomy. Let me illustrate:

Example A

You see someone leaving a relationship and making a new start alone. You say, ‘I’m not built to be alone; the single life is not for me / the familiarity of coupledom is for me.’

Or, maybe:

Example B

You see someone releasing a creative project, or living a creative life. You say, ‘I’m not creative; creative projects are not for me / practical things are for me’.


Of course, these are all perfectly fine things to decide about oneself (and we are all the final experts on our own selves) IF (and it’s a big if) they are true. 

Problems arise when these scripts about who we are cease to work for us. Or if, tragically, we begin to see that they never worked at all.

Issues lurk if the foundation of the ‘not for me’ thoughts is low self-worth and a lack of self-belief and if the ‘for me’ scripts are simply borne out of habit or social pressure.

We can abandon ourselves when we stick with unhelpful, inaccurate scripts out of misguided beliefs or fear. We also make it nigh on impossible to make the right kinds of decisions for our lives – decisions that may not be the easiest or the most glamorous or the quickest to achieve, but that will be true for us. 

If you find you are often asking yourself the question How Do I Decide What Is Right For Me…

Try these three simple exercises in your journal to help you come to more aligned decisions.

  1. Write a list of things you may have consciously or unconsciously been saying are not for you. Keep an open mind – these aren’t ideas you have to give up, but it will be interesting to get the lay of the land.
  2. Next, write a list beside it of things that you have been consciously or unconsciously believing are for you.
  3. Finally, write a ‘what if’ list. Pick a few of the items from lists one and two (e.g. ‘City living is not for me, marriage is for me, being a writer is not for me, travelling is for me’) and flip each self-concept on its head. Write these as questions and then right a short response. For example:
What if marriage *is not* for me?

I’ve always held up marriage as my ultimate relationship goal, but if I put that down for a moment I can see that a relationship is so much more than a legal document or big ceremony. I see that I’d rather have fulfilling and nourishing encounters with others, where we both feel free as well as held, and that maybe marriage does not have to be a part of that.


What if a creative career *is* for me?

If being creative was for me I might have to arrange my life very differently – and that is scary but also exhilarating. I might have to prioritise different things and accept I might not earn as much. I might have to risk some embarrassment in admitting this to friends and family – but they also might surprise me by being supportive of my dreams (they love me, after all). I think I’d wake up each morning feeling full of possibility. I’ve always thought a creative career is a wacky goal, but maybe it’s much wackier to live life in half measure.


This isn’t to say you have to give up any of your self-concepts if you don’t want to. You may find that some of them are very robust and worthwhile; the point is simply to investigate a little deeper.

Deciding what is right for you is often simply a case of removing the word ‘right’ from the sentence:

What do you believe is for you? What do you believe is not for you?

Are these beliefs true? Are there truer beliefs available to you? What would life look like if you aligned with those truer, perhaps scarier, but also more exhilarating beliefs? 

Start there.

M x

On noise & how we find ourselves in silence

finding-yourself

Between the ages of seven and eleven, every school day for thirty minutes after lunch break, came my favourite time of day: silent reading. The aim of this, I suppose, was to help us coast into an afternoon of sober studiousness after our raging exertions on the playground. The real delight was: we got to read whatever we wanted. Even books from home were allowed (my heart would soar at the thought of thirty engrossing minutes of Jacqueline Wilson.)

I adored this time, and of course I still do adore reading. Yet, I see now that reading is not real silence. Ultimately, we were being encouraged to fill this silent time with another kind of noise—the very special noise (but noise nonetheless) of books.

And I wonder now: where was the silent time for our own young voices to emerge, unsullied, and announce themselves to the world?

We live on a very noisy planet (literally, we are sending out ever-expanding radio waves into space.) German philosopher, Heidegger, would call the totality of this noise “idle talk” or “chatter”—and it defines much of our existence. This noise is not just radio. It’s opinions, facts, Facebook, the Sunday paper, Netflix… It’s our culture—that messy, raucous thing we are all deeply entrenched in—telling us what to do, what to think, what to be.

What happens to us in silence—real silence?

Some of us get anxious—it can be nice being told what to do, think, and be. Why? Because it lets us off the hook. It lessens the burden of responsibility for ‘Making It’ or for getting life right. Even though—and I know you’ve heard this before—there is no right.

In silence, some of us feel regret, fear, hopelessness…

…and all those other sensations where we remain trapped in the past or recoil from a potential future.

Yet, what we can also find in silence is possibility. Possibility for authenticity—even if it might need a little excavating. Chinks of light where you might catch a glimpse, sometimes a very profound glimpse, of yourself at your essence.

We find ourselves in silence. [Tweet it!]

I encourage you to find some silence. Real silence. I encourage you to feel those uncomfortable feelings that come with the territory; to face them, even momentarily. Then, fill this silence with noise of your own making (words, wisdom, aspirations.) I do this by writing.

And, finally, be open to finding yourself, over and over—there, on the blank canvas of silence.

The Story of Happiness

happiness-is-a-story

Last week I wrote about how the self – our identity – is considered by many psychologists to be a kind of narrative; that the self is a story.

I briefly mentioned that, if our own identity can be seen as a story, then certainly our sense of happiness might be seen that way too.

But, to suggest such a thing, don’t we need to get to the heart of what happiness is? It seems obvious, but have you ever tried to pin down exactly how you conceive of happiness? Few of us do, and as a result it can remain abstract and half-considered, despite the hunger to pursue it that defines much of the western world.

A History of Happiness

“Since we all of us desire happiness, how can we be happy?” asked Plato in 380 BC, and – despite varying definitions of across cultures and eras – this fascination endures today. In recent years, the science of positive psychology has sought to define and measure the assorted shades of happiness, with varying success. Perhaps that is the real seduction of happiness: that we can’t quite define it in truly fixed terms because it is as intricately woven and unique as our DNA.

Is happiness simply an emotion, or a state of being? Is it a gift, or a skill? Does it rely on quality, or quantity? And what does it look like? Is it big, or small? Loud, or lightly whispered? Does it sparkle, or sigh?

Happiness is a tricky mistress; because everybody
 seems to classify her differently, and sometimes what we think will make us happy doesn’t quite do the job in the way we’d hoped. This is why it can be helpful to try to define (and, perhaps, regularly redefine) happiness, because the more sincere the definition, the more it can serve us; offer us a reason for being; be our mission should we choose to accept it…

A good way to begin to conceptualise your own story of happiness, is to think about what you stand for.

What kind of happiness do you stand for?

John Lennon famously said, in regard to his politics, “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Similarly, if your happiness doesn’t stand for something – if your idea of it is vague, or simply inherited from others (the media, your culture etc.) – you might find you’ve being accepting mediocre and unfulfilling versions of it. Maybe for you happiness is political; maybe you believe in a universal basic income, or a share-economy. Maybe happiness is freedom: from the dreary office cubicle or student debt.

Far be it from me to supply you with a narrative for happiness, the task is yours and yours alone. Yet, if you’ve ever pondered “will [insert person/job/object here] make me happier?” then it stands to reason that you should have a clear (albeit evolving) definition – a story – of happiness. How else could we ever hope to glean authentic answers to such questions?

One of my favourite definitions of happiness is this one:

“Happiness can’t be reduced to a few agreeable sensations. Rather, it is a way of being and of experiencing the world—a profound fulfilment that suffuses every moment and endures despite inevitable setbacks.” — Matthieu Ricard

 

I think I’m pretty happy with that as my ‘story of happiness.’ What about you?

Try It: Write the Story of Your Happiness

If you want to explore your very own story of happiness – to begin to paint a clearer picture of this oft elusive seductress – as always: I suggest you write it out. Start a blank page in a journal or notebook, and begin with the words:

Happiness is…

Then, without stopping, editing, or censoring yourself, write for five minutes. Inevitably, you’ll have been carrying around some definitions that you’ve inherited but that may not suit you anymore, and in my experience the longer you write, the further you get beyond these ‘stock’ answers. You might find it helpful to write a ‘Happiness isn’t…’ list too, if you sense you’ve got some pretty stubborn definitions to shake off.

This ‘free-write’ doesn’t have to make much sense, think of it more as a cleansing ritual: a way to rinse away any particularly sticky or stale stories. You may even choose to do the exercise two or three times. As I say, the longer you write, the clearer you usually get.

My hope is that, eventually, you’ll strike gold, and by that I mean you’ll get a definition that makes you think, “hallelujah, that’s it! That’s what it’s all about!” It might be as succinct as a few words, or a long and elaborate manifesto, whatever feels right. Keep going until you get there.


Share?

If you want to share a snippet of your story – or a favourite quote like mine – I’d love to see it! You can either post it in the comments below, email it to me megan[at]meganchayes[dot]com or share it on Instagram with #happinessisastory and tag me @megan.c.hayes so I definitely won’t miss it.