Relationships

A Trick for Making Decisions

A Trick for Making Decisions

My friend Brenda is, quite possibly, a psychic genius. She has a knack for calling at just the right moment with just the right words. A therapist by trade, her guidance is always remarkably sound. A few weeks ago, we were catching up when she dropped another truth bomb…

“When it comes to making decisions, I always ask myself: Does it feel expansive or contractive?” she said. The idea was first written about by life coach Marie Forleo.

Expansiveness feels light, powerful, exciting. To me, it’s like the sensation you get after a workout or when you’re “in the zone” doing something you love. When you can’t wait to get started on something, there’s a good chance you’re feeling expansive.

Contractive feelings exist at the other end of the spectrum — heavy, tight. Perhaps it carries with it a sense of dread or secrecy. You can also sense it physically — are you hunched over? Is your jaw clenched? Do you feel like you’re stuck in molasses? If so, your intuition may be telling you it’s a no.

These words were so simple and so helpful.

Many times has a well-meaning person urged, “trust your gut.” But practically, it can be hard to decipher what, exactly, your stomach region would like you to know about a certain situation. Is that intuition… or indigestion? When framed in the context of “expansive” vs. “contractive,” your inner wisdom suddenly feels easier to interpret.

But what about when something feels expansive, but also scary? “Feeling afraid is actually a good sign,” Brenda said, “Because it means you’re leveling up.” This, it turns out, is the holy grail.

Since then, I’ve applied this advice to choices big and small — from what to eat for dinner to whether to take the book I’m writing in an entirely new direction — and have found it works every time. A week ago, I got an offer about a potential project that, on paper, sounded great. But as I considered it, my neck tensed up. I didn’t want to jump into it. In fact, I didn’t even want to respond to the email! Despite feeling pressure over what I “should” do, it was clearly a no. Realizing this felt like such a relief.

So the next time you find yourself at a crossroads, try it! I would love to hear how it goes.

A Trick for Making Decisions

Do you have any tricks when it comes to making decisions? Are there any choices you’re grappling with right now?

P.S. Five words that changed everything and an anxiety trick.

  1. I work with leaders–many of whom have a really hard time making decisions. So I put together a rubric for them with 4 questions to ask themselves. (The first question is does this excite me?). But I love your “expansive vs contractive” question! What a great litmus test.

  2. “trust your gut” has always felt flawed to me since different people carry their tension and anxiety in different parts of their bodies (chest, stomach, etc). I recently realized that I clench my jaw really tightly when I’m stressed or anxious, even when I’m asleep! Ooops.

    The “expansive but scary” feeling exactly describes how I felt every time my husband and I had a conversation about moving to the coast. We finally did it about 7 months ago and it was the best decision! I definitely don’t think that the “right” decision is always free of any nerves, so I’m on board with this idea! Can’t wait for my next big decision so I can really try this out, haha

  3. Dana says...

    My favorite foolproof ways to make decisions is “will I regret it more if I do it, or if I don’t do it?” It’s easy to put myself in each situation and see how I will feel. For example, do I I want to go to this party? I picture myself at the party and it’s really lame. Then I picture myself staying home, but then finding out that the party was in fact really fun. Which will I regret more?

  4. One that seems to cut right through indecision is to flip a coin. “Heads means I’ll do this and tails means I’ll do that.” It doesn’t matter which answer you get (and you can ignore it) but you will either feel a sense of relief or a tightness at the outcome and you will know. :) (Same concept, but a different way to flush the truth out!)

  5. Junie says...

    This helped me put a name to my expansive + scary feelings and accept a big job offer & promotion yesterday! Thank you 💖

    • I’m so excited for you, it’s going to be AMAZING! Good luck ❤️

  6. “I made the best decision with the information I had at the time.” I don’t struggle as much with decision making (I’m a copywriter by trade like Peggy, haha) but I sometimes feel guilty/bad about the outcomes. This simple statement puts things in perspective for me,

  7. Nade says...

    I would say that the worse decisions of my life were those with expansive feelings. I am so sorry I made them

  8. Julie says...

    Pretty sure this just helped me decide whether or not to have a second baby. It’s a miracle trick! Thank you so much for this.

  9. Vanessa says...

    I recently finished Mary Adkins book, When You Read This, and one of the characters commented “I think regretting is a way to believe (incorrectly) that we have control over life. We get to feel like if we had done something differently, things might have turned out better. But that’s just as easily not the case. Maybe if we’d done things different, things would be even worse.” p. 150

    I have been mulling that over because although I do believe that any path is as good as another some days, I sometimes also have regrets about my decisions. And I can just never tell – is it best, is it worse? Luckily I make decisions easily and live with them pretty well on the day to day.

    • Fía says...

      Really loved this quote Vanessa – thank you!

  10. Maywyn says...

    Great post, thank you. I will put those words to use.
    Making general decisions, I sometimes toss a coin. The results make me feel clearer about my choice, no matter what the coin says.

  11. Amanda says...

    I read this recently and I keep thinking about it. It’s a little woo woo because it’s Deepak Chopra, but…

    “If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another. The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.” -Deepak Chopra

    • Anon says...

      Wow. This is so helpful for my indecisive brain. Thank you!

  12. Maddie says...

    For most of my adult life I have flipped a quarter to make important decisions. I always assign each side of the quarter with one of the decisions that needs to be made. When I flip the quarter, I have an immediate reaction as to what I hope it lands on. That guides me to what my decision should be. It hasn’t failed me yet. I made major life decisions with the method and I have zero regrets.

    • Oh, I love that!

    • Maywyn says...

      It is wonderful to read others toss a coin!

    • Marie says...

      So good to read! I do exactly the same thing and felt sometimes a little bit strange …

  13. Hannah says...

    On her Happier podcast, Gretchen Rubin (author of The Four Tendencies) likes to say “choose the bigger life.” For example, when she was pondering whether or not to get a dog for her family, even though she knew it would cause more work at times, she “chose the bigger life” and went for it. A different variant of “expansiveness”– I don’t think a constrictive option would prompt you to think in such a way.

    • Joaquina says...

      I love this, thank you for sharing. It feels more specific (?) than the expansive/constructive method.

    • Jennifer says...

      I really like this. I think the constrictive feeling for me could really just be fear.

    • CEW says...

      Might be great advice for some – not for me! I’ll just stick to pros and cons lists… and taking the occasional leap of faith. :)

  14. Megn says...

    Author Tara Mohr explained two types of fear from biblical Hebrew in her book Playing Big that I found is a helpful internal reference, similar to contraction and expansion:

    “Pachad is “projected or imagined fear,” the “fear whose objects are imagined.” That, in contemporary terms, is what we might think of as overreactive, irrational, lizard brain fear: the fear of horrible rejection that will destroy us or the fear that we will simply combust if we step out of our comfort zones.

    There is a second Hebrew word for fear, yirah. Rabbi Lew describes yirah as “the fear that overcomes us when we suddenly find ourselves in possession of considerably more energy than we are used to, inhabiting a larger space than we are used to inhabiting. It is also the feeling we feel when we are on sacred ground.”

    • agnes says...

      That is fascinating, thanks for sharing Megn. “the feeling we feel when we are on sacred ground”; I love the image.

  15. Allison says...

    First time I’ve ever commented… but I had a boss I really liked and was resigning from the job. He was very supportive and said he understood and then told me how he makes decisions, and it’s always stuck with me. (this was about 23 years ago). He said, “I know exactly what I want my tombstone to say about me. I want it to say ‘John Smith was 1, 2, and 3. For example, a good father, a great husband, provided well for my family, was kind, etc.’ (he didn’t actually tell me what his three were). So when I have a decision to make I think about how the decision is going to impact each of those things. Sometimes, the decision has no impact on any of them, and I realize it doesn’t really matter what I choose. Sometimes, it very clearly impacts one of them significantly, and then the choice is obvious.’ I always thought it was a great piece of advice, and a good exercise to go through to think about what three things you’d want said about you on your tombstone.

    • Sarah says...

      What a great way to live according to your values. Thanks for sharing.

  16. I personally believe that putting yourself in a situation to experience contractive feelings is one of the best ways to grow and learn. Our instincts are based off of our core self. What happens when that person isn’t who we actually want to be or our goals don’t specifically align with where we are at.

    You need to experience situations that you may dread to become the person you don’t dread.

  17. Holly says...

    This is perfect timing! We are deciding on moving back to LA for 5 years for my husbands job or staying in the UK (forever?). We love both choices and it’s been so hard to figure out what would be be best for us and the fam but ‘contractive’ and ‘expansive’ makes so much sense to me and helps with clarity!

    • Joaquina says...

      Ooooh what a tough choice! I can tell you that L.A. has changed so much, we are really struggling with the homeless issue, housing costs, and insane traffic :(
      I may never leave CA but man the idea of living in a cool town in the UK sound so lovely. Best of luck!

    • Victoria says...

      Came here to say what Joaquina said is true, but LA isn’t all bad! It also has tons of cool events to go to, cultural activities, gorgeous weather and lots of outdoor options, and access to so many other fantastic places in Southern California. Best of luck in your decision – sounds like either option would be wonderful.

    • L&L says...

      Also in a similar position re: Washington state vs Colorado. This post could not have better timing.

      PS: would love to know how to receive notifications of responses to my comment instead of getting hundreds of comments in my inbox? is there a way?

  18. Sarah says...

    The toughest woman I know, my own mom, says “make your decision and don’t look back”. It’s so empowering, especially when you realize that maybe you could have made a better choice. We can’t let our heads stay in a land of what if’s for too long. Sometimes we just gotta keep on keeping on.

  19. A) I am ALWAYS here for a post featuring Mad Men images.

    B) I love the idea of tapping into the physicality of the decision making process. While you do have to sort thru what may be healthy vs. unhealthy fear, I think we can go hone that awareness of what is diminishing us and what is expanding us. Love.

    C) My mom once said (though I think she got it from a Pastor) that when faced with decisions, ask yourself “is it wise?” Which is not “what is right or wrong” because that seems so overwhelming but just “what’s wise”… somehow that has made the next steps for me in any direction I’m heading all the simpler.

  20. I absolutely love this. My grad school advisor taught me, on the other end of the spectrum, that there are very few *bad* decisions—many different paths can be a good decision depending on what you make of it. His phrase sticks in my head and I told it to one of my students today: Make the decision. Manage the consequences.

    • Jo says...

      I like this!

    • Amanda Metzler says...

      I really like this as a general guidepost, Rebecca!!

  21. Amy says...

    Assuming that either decision could be the “wrong” one, my mom has given me the advice to consider, “which wrong decision would you regret more?” which has been helpful for me.
    She must have said that 20 years ago when I was in college, and I still think about it!

  22. Love this. On a smaller, day-to-day scale, I’ve been thinking about the dichotomy between Numbing vs Nourishing and how I spend my smaller moments. Ahem, Instagram.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love that.

    • Diana N says...

      Love it!

  23. Johanna says...

    I’ve heard this before and I can’t remember where. I used it with my high school students a couple of weeks ago. I saw their eyes light up as I described both feelings. It’s super helpful. Thanks for sharing again.

  24. Maggie says...

    I mean I usually use a magic 8 ball, so.

  25. Bevin says...

    If it’s not a “100 percent yes,” it’s a no.

    • Anon says...

      Oh wow! I am so amazed at people with such decisive personalities! I mean, if I had to be a 100% sure about anything – I mean literally anything – in my life, I would probably do absolutely nothing! Haha! I just have a personality that sees and needs to consider a range of options from a range of angles (a perceiver in the Myers Briggs). If it sounds hard, it kind of is! Lol (…Though it also has its pluses, too, for sure).

  26. I believe the idea of expansive vs. contractive decision making is from Maria Forlio’s new book, which she’s touring on now. There’s a lot of press on this going around, and I’m 100% in support of using this framework! Glad to see it trickled down here too.

  27. Emily says...

    the part about how vague it is to trust your gut made me think of the short story by BJ Novak and when I looked for it online to share here, I found it in…. an old COJ post!!
    with all the gravity of making life decisions – this is a bit of humor to enjoy!
    https://cupofjo.com/2014/05/the-best-no-brainer-advice/

  28. Emily says...

    Maybe ask whether all these things are actually expansive for your kids?

  29. Ariana says...

    This is interesting because the concept of something being expansive (and expansive inherently meaning “better”) to me is unnerving. The Gretchen Rubin quote about the bigger life doesn’t feel right to me either. Maybe it’s just the phase I’m in as a new mom, but more and more I’m finding myself getting drawn to smaller things and a “smaller” life. It’s all relative anyway, right? Also, and maybe I’m saying this because I’m currently working through my tendency to fall into zero-sum thinking, but I think it’s worth celebrating the gray spaces. Sometimes decisions fall somewhere between contractive and expansive and that’s perfectly okay.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i think being drawn to smaller things and a small life IS expansive to you! that seems to feel good and right at this stage of your life. (congratulations on your little one!) i don’t think all expansive things need to be about bigger projects, etc. it makes me think of mary oliver, the poet, who would write about walking in nature and gardening and dogs. like this beautiful poem:
      https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/133.html

      “I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
      into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
      how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
      which is what I have been doing all day…
      Tell me, what is it you plan to do
      with your one wild and precious life?”

    • Lindsey says...

      I will echo Joanna’s response. I have lately been leaning into my very ordinary life. I think sometimes about my career and what could’ve happened with it had I not chosen to stay home with my son—I am a great writer and an even better editor and was an associate editor at a regional magazine when I got pregnant with him. Some day, maybe, life will hold those things for me again. But for now, the biggest expanse is not that but reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Teaching my son to write the letter E. Going on nature walks together. Of course, I’d be doing those things if I worked as well, but spending whole days with him was the right choice for me. It’s ordinary and boring and it expands my life beyond measure right now. Anything that intrudes on that—even though it may lead to a “bigger” life—feels stifling.

    • Sequoia says...

      The decision to become a mom, to stay home for awhile, have breakfast with my husband, go to the farmers market (or Berkeley Bowl when that doesn’t work with my schedule), make seasonal meals, go to story time in the mornings and swim lessons in the afternoon. To tackle my recipe list, to see my mom nearly everyday after years away. This is the bigger life right now. I’m the most important person to my husband and son and I’m taking better care of myself than ever before and if my heart is any indication then this was definitely the expansive choice. Bigger is always a numbers game.

    • Crystal says...

      @Ariana, @Lindsey, @Sequoia, you have perfectly summed up the best days and overall feeling I had of staying at home with my son. He is off to kindergarten this year, and I felt internal pressure to find a job or a part-time job so I don’t look like a lazy bum, but actually I have been filling my time quite productively and I feel like this time is so nice, not being rushed, walking him to school, picking him up from school. I treasure my tiny moments with him more as he grows older, because these unrushed moments seem rarer the older they get. I am so glad I stayed home with him looking back even though my retirement fund is nought, my resume looks like a patchwork quilt….

  30. Heather Cosby says...

    My dad taught me a trick that has helped with so many decisions when I feel paralysis. He told me, “When you’ve weighed all the options and there’s still no clear choice, just flip a coin. If you’re happy about the result, great! If you’re disappointed by the result, you now know which choice you really wanted all along, so go ahead and make it.”

    • freya says...

      Dads are so smart.

  31. Marie says...

    A friend suggested the 10-10-10 idea once when I was struggling with a choice. How do you think you’ll about (given choice) in 10 minutes? 10 days? 10 years? So, in 10 minutes I knew I’d feel confident. In 10 days, I knew I could be feeling more shaky. But 10 years? Proud of myself. You can play with the times (10 seconds? 10 months?), but it always helps me keep perspective in my indecisive mind.

    Love the “expansion and contraction” feelings, “space and grace,” and so many other ideas too. Definitely coming back when needed. Thanks to all!

  32. Kim says...

    Once read (maybe somewhere here?) that even after doing due diligence, weighing pros and cons and talking it out, if you’re still having trouble deciding between two things: take a job/don’t take a job, make an investment or don’t, follow a whim or don’t, flip a coin. If your first emotion at the result is relief, that’s your choice. If, on the other hand, it’s disappointment, then the other choice is for you. At the very least, it’s a great way to gauge your feelings without too many variables clouding your emotions.

  33. Susan says...

    Love this!!

  34. Amanda says...

    I just rewatched the entire Madmen series having watched it the first time a decade ago. I remember how that show allowed me to escape my highly anxious and active mind (it transports you like none other) and once again it did not disappoint.

  35. How serendipitous to see this today! Just this morning I was offered a job which is both exciting and terrifying. On the one hand it’s gratifying to be wanted, and the job sounds fun and challenging…then my mind start saying “maybe too challenging?” I’m having a hard time resisting the whole imposter-syndrome feeling since this job would be a big step up in responsibility from my past work experience. (I practically tried to talk the interviewer out of offering me the job–LOL.) They call it a “comfort zone” for a reason, and I’m feeling very uncomfortable. Leveling up is scary!
    So, thanks for this–it was exactly what I needed to read!

    • Ags says...

      Go for it! You’ll do great.

    • Ashley says...

      You’re going to do great! Good luck!

    • Congrats on the new job! Those ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) need to be crushed!!!! Well actually become curious about them, and try to understand how they use to serve you. Then decide to give the megaphone to your inner champion and not that inner critic. You got this!

    • Rocketgirl says...

      I did exactly this 3 years ago. Jumped straight from a staff level to a VP level (also with 3 kids, the youngest was 1 yr old). Honestly, looking back, I had (and still have) so much to learn, but challenge is so much better for our brains than stagnating doing something we are totally comfortable in. It changed the whole course of my life, and was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I asked myself at the time which life I would want to look back on when I am old. The added bonus was that all the hard decisions since then have been so much easier. Making that one empowered me and took away the fear of the unknown and replaced it with anticipation. The one other thing I often do, is I ask myself what I would tell my kids to do. Should I push hard for a raise? What would I tell my daughter to do? Then, no matter what, I grit my teeth and go do it!

    • Alexandra H. says...

      Melissa – congratulations! How exciting and scary. In regards to my career, I find that I try to run toward these uncomfortable moments (big job, asking for a raise, etc., advocating for myself); it’s usually when I grow the most. Best of luck!

      Rocketgirl – just a note to say you are awesome. And what a great story, way to go! Love the reflection on what you would tell your daughter.

      Final note on this thread, love women empowering women!

  36. Jenn says...

    As someone whose default answer is no, often to my detriment, I disagree with trusting an instinct to say no as some sort of gut reaction. I have many regrets about decisions I made by not pushing through my fear and conservative nature.

    • agnes says...

      I think it’s very difficult to feel the difference between fear of failure and fear of challenge; always wait before making a decision. I would wait at least for a week.

    • Elise says...

      I agree! I know myself well enough that this approach would not work for me — most change feels scary. I need to push myself and amp myself up to even begin to feel “expansive.” But I get that this would work for other personalities.

    • Pauline says...

      same here! What I tend to do is to disconnect the decision from my fear by asking myself what a protagonist in a story I could be writing about my situation would be doing or what I would do if I wasn’t afraid.

  37. Anna says...

    Six weeks ago my relationship ended (including 3 stepchildren I adored) and due to the circumstances (I moved my life to live with him in an isolated place) that also meant I no longer had a home nor my job.

    It’s now feeling like time to make some decisions. I really like the expansive / contractive frame of thinking. I also like thinking that I just need to make the next right decision for me, and then the next etc. I tend to think too much!

    I know this ‘rug-pulled-out-from-underneath-me’ situation is temporary, and things will shake out for me. But what about when there are many options for big life decisions and I’m not sure where to start? Wonder what Brenda would tell me?

    • Anna, as I read this, my hand flew up to lie on my heart; I do not know you, but my heart is with you.

    • JS says...

      I just wanted to say good luck! I split from my ex three months ago and I truely feel liberated. Just take baby steps and only deal with the decisions you have to right now. You will thrive!

    • Jess says...

      anna, so sorry about all this upheaval you’re experiencing. If I were to offer you advice, it would be to take it one decision at a time. do one step after the other. Don’t try to connect too many things, like “if I do A then that would mean this for B and then C would have to be that…”.
      Make a call on A and allow yourself a deep breath after that. Then reassess in a couple months if you want to stick with A or not. Maybe by then you’ll feel more settled and things will look different.
      Wishing you all the best!

    • This is a huge change as you know and making decisions in this state may not be with your actual best interest at heart. After you’ve had time to process and your mind has settled then you can start seeing and thinking clearly. Then….clarity comes first. Making a decision to decide on the big vision you now want for yourself. Then breaking that down into doable manageable chunks. While throughout it all staying confident that you can achieve what you want, and only can impact the things you have actual control over.

    • Rebecca says...

      I don’t have a great answer for you – but when I went through a tough break-up this quote seemed to sum it up well for me (and made me giggle at the same time) – “This too shall pass, it may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.” Sending you lots of love!

    • Hi Brenda, I am so sorry. When my marriage suddenly ended (by complete surprise to me), I was completely unmoored. I too had moved to be with him and lived in a different country than my country of origin, etc. I decided to “stay put” (as far as decisions other than divorce went) until I felt I was in a more stable place. In the end, I stayed here and slowly rebuilt my life without him. It was a long, painful process, but, with time, I found the pain lessened and I was eventually happy again. Brenda, I am wishing you all the best in this difficult season of loss and change.

    • Anna says...

      Just wanted to express my gratitude for your responses, thank you :-)

  38. Sandra says...

    That is definitely something that I’ll be thinking about, but I’m not sure it will work with me. Being responsible feels contractive. Selling the house, quitting jobs, and traveling the world feels expansive, but that’s how you end up middle-aged with no 401K.

    • Maggie says...

      Yes so true but being old and poor feels contractive! Maybe think of it long term?

    • Deb says...

      Dip a toe in the water rather than dive bomb right in?

    • H says...

      Does it though? You are already thinking that the world-traveling option is contractive from your perspective of the future. That’s the thing, whether it is expansive or not for you.

    • Kristen says...

      Same here Sandra! It’s a conundrum!

    • Cara says...

      I don’t think you have to go 0-60 with the “sell the house, quit the job, travel the world thing”. Maybe start with the “one big trip per year to a country you’ve never been to”.

  39. Kari says...

    I’ve always struggled with the idea of “trusting your gut.” What does that even mean?! What is my gut saying?! Until my old housemate said to me, “Let peace be your umpire.” Sounds airy-fairy – and I’ve now realized this phrase comes from a few different famous Christian preachers – but it really helped me tap into my gut. No matter how scary or daunting the choices be, I realized I ALWAYS feel more at peace with one option or way forward. Turns out my gut really is telling me something!

  40. Kim says...

    I like this.
    However, as a parent I wonder how this would work in my day to day decision making process. Like, I absolutely detest being over-scheduled or have five places I need to be within two hours, etc but extra ballet classes and volunteering at the fun run seem expansive decisions for the kids, even while they are contractive for me. What’s a parent to do?

    • Angela says...

      I don’t have the answer by any means, but for me I would look at the big picture. “Is this good for my family?” We are really starting to delve into the world of kid activities, but I want our home to be our actual home base and our family to be together, rather than running in a million different directions. I know it is going to make for some tough discussions in the future, but I hope my kids see they are part of a team already. Just like there are a million fun things to do on a Sunday afternoon, but we all really need that day to be home and get prepped for the week ahead.

    • Alex says...

      Seriously. This is a question i’m wrestling with. Someone, do tell!!

    • Annie K says...

      Great question!
      My kids are little (3 yrs and 6 mos) but I find myself dreading the school years for this reason.

      Right now it’s easy to justify doing very little for the sake of whole family harmony…the babes are none the wiser! But how do you do that when they’re bigger people with opinions and desires? How to balance all that? It makes my head spin to think about it.

    • Michelle says...

      Hi Kim! My brain keeps returning to your comment because this is something I have struggled with too and really, really had to grow. For me, I feel like a good parent when I am disciplined, patterned, stable because I feel that gives my kids a secure stage to launch expansive, experimental lives. Yet, I must admit, like you said, sometimes it feels so contractive to remain measured and predictable for them.

      I feel like in America, our society hammers home that mothers need to be selfish, and then later promotes “couples vacations” and “girls weekends” as a way to cope with the constant responsibilities. But for me, those short little bursts of expansive living always feel so hard to get to and rather commercialized and inauthentic too.

      Then I read the book Bringing Up Bebe, which is written by an american journalist/mom who moves to france and journals french parenting. It was eye opening to read this book because I was able to visualize a new model for parenting that seemed expansive to me and that seemed authentic and that I could fit into my everyday life. It was such a healthy counter position to my intuitive mindset, and it included real, fresh ideas for me on how i could live expansively every day, while also raising creative, curious, well-mannered kids.

      My biggest takeaway from the book was an affirmation that French moms often repeat to themselves and to their children: “I’m in charge here.” I say this to myself a million times a day now to remind myself that my kids dont run my life. I run my live. I am the adult.

      So much of this means saying “no” to them, to my spouse, to my community. No to extra ballet classes. No to the fun run. No to overscheduled mania. Yes to long, drawn out family dinner. Yes to hot showers and time to lotion. Yes to walks around the neighborhood. Yes to not watching my kid’s pratices so I can read a book with tea. Yes to slow parenting because it is what makes me feel like I am living the most expanisve life within the contractions of family life.

      I really hope my journey might help. Know you’re not alone and that I feel the same way and struggled with this balance so often.

    • Kat O says...

      Maybe take on SOME things that are expansive for kids/contractive for you, but not EVERYTHING. Volunteer at the fun run, but skip the additional ballet lessons (or whatever). Also, kids need unstructured time too – some of that stuff might not feel as expansive for them as you think! Talk about it, and prioritize.

    • Mariana says...

      You’re touching a sensitive point here: our decisions often weigh on others. It would be so much easier to chose if one had to think solely in individual terms but that is seldom an option if you’re in a relationship and/or have kids. Personally, I try to find a balance between what’s important to my kids and what I need to do to preserve my own well-being. Not easy, that’s for sure.

    • Kathy says...

      Gosh, I identify with this so strongly! I try to “aim for yes” to all these things, but have to check in with myself and ask “Is there a strong chance I will ruin this for them by being a ball-of-stress downer?” My youngest is starting to develop into a homebody and I feel so much relief. =D

    • Becca says...

      I’m totally with you on this one, Kim.

    • Katie says...

      I’m going through something similar right now. It’s time to apply for something called Destination Imagination (DI). It’s a commitment for sure, and we already have soccer and 100-mile club. I think it would be fun though, and I could drop 100-mile club and soccer in a heartbeat. We get plenty of outside time, so I’m thinking we could do DI for this year and see how it goes.

    • Kim says...

      Hey everyone, I love the responses! Thank you all so much for your thoughts, suggestions, and the pats on the back in solidarity! It’s all very appreciated. I was curious if anyone else struggles with this stuff. I’m so glad to see that others do, too.

      This is a topic I find myself constantly thinking about, because I am on the introverted side. I LOVE being social and can turn it up and be the life of the party. I adore activities, but ….it just all drains me so much. I am very careful about how I schedule myself and our family, and my two kids- nearly 4 and 5. My eldest just started school and there is just. so. much. So many emails. So many events and committees and after school forums for parents, etc. I have given up the notion of being an uber involved parent, because that would probably actually kill me (I kid!)

      I am also pretty lucky that my 5 year old is so much like me. He enjoys school and is interested in everything and everyone, but he also needs and asks for his “quiet rest time.”

      Anyways, thanks other COJ readers! It’s nice to know a lot of us have the same struggles with parenting and being a person.

    • Kelly says...

      I want to jump in a little late here and recommend the book “Simplicity Parenting.: The book really makes a strong case that kids NEED unstructured, family, boring time. I am only just now dipping my toe into this world with my kids (4 and 2) but its crazy to me how much pressure there is already to have them in soccer, swim lessons, music class, dance, gymnastics, etc.
      It’s too much. What kids really love, and need, is routine and a safe space where they can let their imaginations roam. And what I need as a parent, as a person, is some time to do the things I love to do, too!

    • Mina says...

      I struggle with this as well. So much. We have 3 kids and have tried to stay sane by deciding that everyone gets maximum 1 sport, 1 art (music, dance, art class) and swimming (life skill). But since soccer is 2 or 3 times a week and we couldn’t get them all into swimming on the same day, we have a ton of stuff going on all the time. No-one wants to skip any of their activities but we all feel like we’re running in a hamster wheel… I don’t know that there is a perfect solution to this kind of challenge, and maybe therein lies the answer. But it’s sure not easy to know if you’re doing it all right for yourself and everyone else!

  41. Kristie says...

    I wish I knew this 15 years ago! When I was fresh out of uni, I had a job as an assistant in a creative start up. My boss was charismatic and inspiring, and she had no problem asking for what she wanted. However when it came to her asking things of me, I had no confidence to say no. So many times I would commit to things with dread – Yes I’ll pick up 2 tonnes of bathroom tile in the city during peak hour in your expensive van that I have never driven! Yes I’ll help the contractor debubble the concrete being poured for your house renovation today! (I was a creative media/ marketing assistant to be clear!) I would say to my mum how guilty I felt if I ever did say no. She would reply, is it a true guilt or a false guilt? True guilt is where there is harm done or you are in the wrong. False guilt is just that, false! I wasn’t going to hurt anyone by saying no, I really don’t want to help with your home renovations or pick up your dry cleaning on my way to work. I wish I knew and had the confidence to choose the expansive choices then!

  42. Interesting! This has got me curious about the different ways we all interpret our choices.

    I recently, within the past year, have gotten in touch with how to know whether I’m avoiding a difficult decision because of fear, doubt, or distaste. If I fear it, I can work to overcome that trepidation. If I doubt myself about whether I can actually accomplish whatever this decision requires of me, I can also work to overcome that! But distaste will never change: if I don’t like the idea of it now, I never will. My body usually demonstrates this in a number of physical ways (tightness, nights with plenty of sleep but feeling like I got no rest, and migraines).

  43. Nicole says...

    Hmm I don’t know if this would work for someone who fears/struggles with change. Any change that is big. Like a breakup or going for a new job. For me, even if that’s the right decision, my reaction is mostly dread and fear. Talking it out with someone (therapist, friend) to help lend some rational feedback is always my helpful choice

    • Alyssa says...

      Nicole – just want to say I 100% agree with your comment. I struggle with anything that involves change. I’m getting better but it’s impossible to determine my feelings about something, even if it’s good change. My boyfriend and I are talking out moving in together and I waver between “this is a wonderful next life step” and “I love living on my own and could never have a roommate for life and be happy!”

  44. Agnes says...

    I’ve always seen myself as quite decisive – this is making me think about how I come to decisions so easily! What comes to mind is that for me, there is always a ‘best’ out of the options I have in front of me. I feel like I can see the ‘best’ thing out of any group of options pretty easily. Best will be different for everyone, which is why I don’t solicit much advice around decisions either. Sounds arrogant haha but truthfully I’ll be the one to live with my decisions, not anyone else, and we all carry our own prejudices. I’m happy to live by mine and be responsible for my own choices – it’s a privilege.

  45. Karin says...

    The expansive statement is from Marie Forleo-you’ll see it in her new book. I also like “the no’s protect the yes’s” A lot being written on this topic these days around intuition vs fear-how to know. Grateful for so much information to help guide us

    • Lee says...

      I was just about the write this! Credit should be given to Marie Forleo for this phrasing.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh we had no idea! will research this now, thank you!

  46. Andrea says...

    I love this. My Dad told me something similar, but in his own way. When I went to him a few years ago for business advice, he said something that stayed with me – he said, “Just make the decision that sits best with you with the problem in front of you. Don’t let your mind turn one decision into twenty – if we do this, then this might happen…what then? None of that nonsense. A car can drive 2000 miles only seeing 50 feet ahead the whole trip. Just take it one decision at a time.” It always reminds me to take a breath and not get too far ahead of myself.

    • mym says...

      50 feet at a time. that’ll be my motto from now on. thank you!

    • Jane says...

      I love this.

    • Sheila says...

      My dad gave me the very same advice years ago during a challenging and scary time, and I have come back to it so many times since. Dads!!!

    • Rose says...

      That is great advice! Something to think about!

  47. Lauren E. says...

    I am very much struggling with the balance between my family and the life I grew up with, and my husband and the life I’ve created on my own. They’re very, very different and I relate to both of them but as I grow older, I feel so much more content and like myself with the life I’ve chosen. But it’s so, so hard. Being around my family now feels SO contractive but what about familial obligation? They’re still good people, and they’re still my family and I love them, but being around them has become so hard.

    • Stacy says...

      Maybe reframe as a values-based decision: “Does spending time with my family feel expansive *in light of my values*?” If I have the value of being connected to family, I’m living into that by choosing to spend (some) time with them, even if the actual time spent can be stressful.

    • Nat says...

      Being around my family now feels SO contractive = absolutely my situation. Love them very much but I just like myself better when I’m in MY life, not so much around them. It makes me a little sad but it also brings me joy to know that I’ve become my own person. It just gets complicated once you have a kid because everyone wants to see the kid. I just continuously reinforce boundaries in the most loving and respectful way possible, and do my best to remain aware of what I want (or don’t want) in my child’s life. So grateful that my husband and I are on the same page on this.

  48. Laura says...

    Although it may not apply to all decision-making situations, I ask myself this question: “Is this how I want to spend my time?” That gives me the answer I need.

  49. Elle says...

    What an excellent tip! Thank you for thinking of sharing this. Looking forward to trying it. This may become the superpower we all need…

  50. Lesley Costello says...

    When making big decisions, I always go back to Gretchen Rubin’s mantra–Choose the bigger life.

    • Anu says...

      Came here to say exactly this. It’s served me well.

    • Jo says...

      I’ll have to look it up. What does “choosing bigger life” mean?

    • Kat says...

      Yes Lesley, I came to comment the same thing!

    • Claire says...

      Yes, I was going to say the same thing. The “choose the bigger life” mantra helped concrete the decision to try for one more baby when we were so sure we done. I can picture there might be a few fist raised “damn you Gretchen Ruben” when I’m so sleep deprived and up for the 5th time in the night.

    • Diana says...

      I receive Gretchen Rubin’s daily emails and I had not yet heard about “choosing the bigger life,” so I just googled it. I wanted to share this little paragraph in the article.

      “I try to avoid false choices. Often, we try to make difficult decisions seem easier by boiling down our choices to two clear paths, when in fact, there may be many paths from which to choose. If you’re thinking of giving yourself a choice between two options—”Should I stay in my current job full time, or should I quit to write the novel I’ve always to write?”—ask, are those the only two options? Are there other options that I haven’t considered?”

      This really resonates with me and I’m sure it will resonate with someone else out there.

    • Kristin says...

      Yes! I try very hard to live by this motto.

    • Diana McNeill says...

      Lauren E.’s original comment inspired me so much that I went out and got a new job! I chose the bigger life! This is truly an example of Cup of Jo’s reputation–“come for the blog, stay for the comments.” Thank you internet friends!

  51. Emily says...

    I guessthe grass is always greener. I yearn for someone to help me make decisions and support them. Being single can be so scary making big decisions alone. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all decisions.

    • Alison says...

      YES Emily. Being single and making big decisions alone is very scary especially for someone like me who is always thinking “what if…”.

      I was just offered a new job in a different state (I’d be moving from CA where I’ve lived for 10 years to CO). I *think/thought* I wanted to move out of the Bay Area but now that the actual offer is on the table the whole thing seems SO scary and I just don’t know. I was able to put off my decision for a week and the potential new employer is flying me out there this weekend so I can see how I “feel”. I truly believe in following your gut and tapping into your intuition but fear can cloud this for me. I’ve been joking to all my friends that someone just needs to tell me what to do.

  52. Meg says...

    I’m a highly analytic person, and I tend to rely on facts and data instead of intuition. When making a hard personal choice, I tend to over-analyze possible outcomes while searching for “the right answer.” Sometimes what works for me is: telling myself there is no right answer! All you can do is think hard then pick a direction and run with it! It helps to remind myself that I’m a smart, strong person who has weathered many storms and so I’ll be able to handle the consequences of whatever decision I make.

    • Lia says...

      This is me to a T.

      One of my best friends is wise beyond her years and full of aphorisms. My favorite is “when there is doubt there is no doubt.” For the longest time I thought it made no sense but I found myself hearing the words daily when making small decisions and realized it is genius! I also love to tell myself “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” As (recovering) type A perfectionist this advice hits the spot and I say it to myself daily. Now I’m the one imparting these word of wisdom to others these days!

    • Kat says...

      Yes, it’s not like there’s a right and wrong choice, there’s just the choice we make. When I fall too deep into an analytical pit and worry about making the “right” choice, I remind myself of this quote from Cheryl Strayed (based on a Transtromer poem) about the choices we don’t make: “We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

  53. agnes says...

    Well, thank you so much for this! i try to follow my intuition as much as I can, and when you’re on your own it’s easier but I feel that with a family, my intuition is not as clear as it used to be. I love the image of expansion; I’ll look for that, from now on. I’m (we’re) about to move from a smal idyllic place to a capital city, and as crazy as it sounds, the thought of moving back to the city makes me feel like… expanding !
    Time is helpful to make a decision, but also, the dreams you have during the night and the kind of rest you get can really help you understand if it’s a good direction… Can’t wait to read the comments!

  54. Julie says...

    What a great topic for the beginning of libra season! We’re quite the indecisive bunch. Lol
    I can always tell how my body is responding to a decision I’ve made by this same way… but sometimes it occurs to me a little too late!

  55. Sarah says...

    I’ve been watching a lot of Brene Brown combined with a leadership retreat recently and it occurred to me I often jump into response mode in an effort to prove my knowledge or worth (imposter syndrome much?) I’ve kept a Post-it note on my laptop to remind me to stop and ask the following three questions before reacting: What more do I need to learn and understand about… this situation? The people in this story? Myself? It’s remarkable how much better I handle any given situation when I take the time to add a little “space and grace.”

    • Kate says...

      This really resonated with me today, Sarah! Thanks for sharing :)

  56. Emily says...

    I’ve always loved thinking about which decision leads to a bigger life, however you define that. It’s helped me (and my husband) make many choices that were intimidating in the moment, but ultimately worked out very well, for us as individuals, as a couple, and as parents.

  57. Elizabeth says...

    What an empowering framework! And per usual, I love Caroline’s choice of visuals.

  58. Lisa says...

    Great advice. Bookmarking this!

  59. Alison says...

    My grandfather always told me to flip a coin to decide then check in on how I felt with the decision. If I got heads but suddenly felt disappointed it was a gut check to go the other way. But if I got heads and thought “Oh thank god” I knew the coin had made the right decision.

    • Eve says...

      I do a version of this and swear by it. Essentially I take away the choices and pretend one is firm, and then assess how I feel about it. I don’t use a coin because sometimes there are three or more choices (picking a baby name comes to mind). I’ll now try to notice the expansive/contractive feelings associated as well.

  60. Ruth says...

    This is kind of a heavy response to this question but I separated from my husband this summer in a very intense, highly charged manner. It had been a long time coming, but it was still so hard to get to the point – and I was so indecisive, because although the couple issues ran deep, we have two young children and lots of reasons to want to make it work (including a religious upbringing and very strong – and restrictive – sexual and marital norms). Anyway, he very recently came to me asking about the possibility of working toward reconciliation, and while part of me really did feel the pull of the intact family (and a certain comfort in conforming to the norms I was raised with), it also very much felt like a prospect of moving back into a cramped box I had been trying – miserably – to live in for a long time. Separation is incredibly painful, and limiting in certain ways, and really scary, but overall it has also been freeing and revitalizing, and that in itself has been clarifying. To confront the reconciliation prospect and to find myself recoiling from its confines was also (further) clarifying. So the expansive vs. contractive point today resonated very much!

    • Katie says...

      I needed to read this so badly today Ruth, thank you so much for sharing ♥️

    • Pamela Hamer says...

      What a brave decision, Ruth. And what a way to model courage to your children.

    • Lara says...

      Your story made me think of something i have been experiencing for a while . I have been dealing with anwiety for probably six years now but i was only diagnosed in january . My best friend has been walking with me through it all even when i didn’t know what was wrong . We had ups and downs together in this friendship and very recently she announced to me that she couldn’t take it anymore .

      Anxiety makes you feel very very low sometimes . It makes you irritable ,angry , frustrated ..people don’t want to be around someone that can be very negative . After her annoucement i sat down on the flour , my eyes full to the brim not knowing if i was relieved , let down or some third thing . I suffered of being sick and i don’t know if i would be able to handle being left behind by my closest friend .
      Separation is hard to consider and even harder to experience . I am sending you big hugs .i know it isn’t much but sometimes it makes us feel less alone and looked after xoxo

    • Faith says...

      I’m in a similar situation, yet still stuck in the painful period of indecision. Thank you for sharing your story. ♥

    • Eli says...

      Thank you for sharing Ruth. I separated from my husband in July (my decision) and he has been trying to convince me we can reconcile and make things work. I haven’t felt the full recoil of the thought of going back to him, but I find myself analyzing our normal – the periods of “happy” but isn’t really happy and the periods of fighting. It reminds me why I left.

      “The cramped box I had been trying – miserably – to live in for a long time.” I keep coming back to the feeling I had been living with for over a year, and this is a very good way to describe it. I can FEEL the anxiety flare up when I picture it.

      It is so terrifying to leave, to have to make that decision on my own and only for myself (thankfully we do not have children to complicate matters). Every so often I wonder, “Did I make the right choice? Should I go back to him?” but as I find my freedom and my voice, set boundaries and stand up for myself – I am fully rewarded in knowing that I DID make the right choice. Not all decisions are so clear, nor does the expansive v. contractive thought process work. The anxiety of leaving him and our life caused me to lose 20 lbs in about a month (I didn’t have 20 lbs to lose). Only as I grow, does the expansive feeling of what I have done for myself show up (and it isn’t very often, but in little bits and pieces).

      Sending you lots of love and prayers that whatever you choose to do, you will be happy and healthy, as well as your children.

  61. Bee Hogan says...

    I like the advice of “If I say YES to this, what am I saying NO to.” Because, you can’t be in two places at once, so by agreeing to one thing, it means that you are basically saying no to something else. It’s a good way of keeping your priorities in check! :-)

    • agnes says...

      I love that! thank you, great advice. This comment thread is so helpful!

  62. Oh! I like that. While I have felt all of those things, I’ve never been able to articulate exactly why they felt wrong or right.