Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we imagine the life we want, and start making the choices, both and small, that will help us live that life.
The podcast in which we gain perspective by being curious about ourselves, and asking the questions that will actually help us move forward.
The podcast in which we look at life and death as two intertwined and related issues, because giving some thought to what we want our death to look like will help us to make the most of the lives in the moment.
My name is Lily Fields, and I’m going to be your Fairy Godmother for the next half-hour or so. In this episode, LiElla Kelly, Death Doula and your Wicked Stepsister will also make an appearance. She needs to talk to you about something pretty wicked, but I’m pretty certain you need somebody to talk to you about it.
You see, in today’s episode, we are going to be talking about making Wise Decisions, which believe me, is not a topic I have all figured out. That is exactly why it is one of my Ideal Life Themes.
What Ideal Life theme, Lily Fields? Oh…that? That’s you. My listener. I like to imagine you as a Southern Belle. No particular reason why, just that I like to think that you are charming and full of whimsy.
What was your question again? I seem to have lost my train of thought.
What is an Ideal Life theme, Lily Fields?
Right! First, I want to dig back a bit into some of what one of my favorite internet strangers has deemed my “rather epic ideas” (by the way, that is probably the biggest compliment I have ever received, and I will wear it as a badge of honor until the day I die. If I ever make merchandise, there will be a bumper sticker saying, “Rather epic ideas.”
Here it is: first, I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that each one of us exists for a purpose. Some purpose that was written into existence long before we were ever born. I don’t understand how it all works, and I’m not sure that I even want to. I simply choose to believe that my life has purpose, that your life has purpose, and that while we might not ever know or fully understand that purpose, we can discover the blueprint for it.
The blueprint is like a treasure map. Because, secondly, I believe that each one of us was equipped for our purpose long before we were born, too. Our passions, our desires, our interests, our character, our relationships are part of what make us who we are.
The trouble is that, at some point in our lives, we lost sight of the things that made us sparkle. We lost sight of our passions, our desires and the things that made us unique, sometimes we buried those things on purpose, out of duty or out of embarrassment because those things didn’t allow us to blend in with the crowd.
As life came in and intervened, we became more and more dissatisfied, and the farther we got from the things we loved and that made us feel alive, the less we content we felt.
For me, it was a cocktail of post-partum depression, midlife crisis and the onset of menopause that shook and stirred me enough to start looking for another way to live…a way that would be in harmony with the blueprint for my life.
It took a two-fold shift of perspective to seek out that life: I decided to start imagining what my Ideal Life would look like–and who I would have to be in order to live that Ideal Life. I also started living with my death in mind. That is, “What do I want the people I love to say about me when I’m gone,” and make it one of my life’s goals to live in such a way that they actually remember me that way.
I studied my answers to the prompt, “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…” and discovered that nineteen themes rose to the surface. And so I undertook to, every single day, answer four questions: What is working? What isn’t working? What do I need to think about? and What do I need to do? I look at one theme each day over three weeks.
Right now in the podcast, we are in the middle of a series about those Ideal Life Themes, me, trying to make the argument to you that these themes are universal, and that you would do well to start considering them, too.
Did that answer your question?
Yes, Lily, I think it did. But aren’t you just making siloes out of the different parts of your life by doing this?
Oh! Funny you should mention siloes. No, actually. Because, if you would do this with me, I want you to imagine each of the Ideal Life Themes as a circle. You could look at it individually, sure. But it becomes more meaningful when you overlap the different circles. Like, we have previously looked at the overlap between parenting and sexuality. Or parenting and keeping a clean house. This complicated Venn Diagram is the blueprint for your life. The more places that overlap, the more those particular themes are interwoven into your life, and usually, the more you will find yourself preoccupied by those areas.
Taking the time to thoughtfully consider how we want those areas of overlap to look like will help us make better decisions in every single area of our lives.
That is why our theme today is Making Wise Decisions. It is an individual theme, one unique circle of my Venn Diagram that overlaps literally every single other circle. I would tend to think that it is the central circle around which all the other circles hover to varying degrees.
As I have been pursuing my Ideal Life, I have come across many times when I have needed to make a decisions. And pray as I will, rationalize as I can, weigh the pros and the cons or follow my heart, I have often still been at a loss as to how exactly to make the right decision.
That is how I ended up with yet another set of questions that help me pursue wise decisions, taking into account my Ideal Life, what I want for it and who I want to be in it.
We’ll talk about all that in a little bit, but I want to digress for a moment and take some time to answer some listener mail. You’ll see, I think it will help us as we move forward on the topic of Wise Decisions.
Housekeeping: Letters to Lily
The email said this: “I like the idea of the Ideal Life exercise, but I can’t seem to make it work. I keep telling myself that I’ll start tomorrow, and then tomorrow never comes.”
I have three quick points that I want to use to answer this question: 1. Your why. 2. Mise en place and 3. A journaling app
When it comes to starting any habit, it’s always easy to relegate it to “tomorrow.” That’s why for any habit, and especially for the Idea Life exercise, it’s important to bring that new habit into the “now.”
This means, knowing why you want to start a habit, really, clearly articulating the why.
One reason you, or I, or anyone might want to start thinking about our Ideal Life is something that LiElla told us about many many episodes ago: Research tells us that one of the greatest regrets of the dying is that they did not live according to their values or not having pursued their dreams.
The Ideal Life Exercise helps us put legs on our dreams, and it gives us a regular check-in on them. It also helps us define and hone our values and how they fit into our lives.
We can bring the satisfaction of a life well-lived into the now, by choosing each day to pursue that Ideal Life.
So concretely, how does that help this listener form a habit of doing the Ideal Life Exercise?
Well, another way to bring it into the now is by preparing in advance for the time you will spend doing your Ideal Life Exercise…like, the night before…like NOW, even. I call this doing mise en place, which is just a fancy french way of saying, “Putting things in place.”
Preparing your space, getting your coffee maker ready and getting out your favorite mug, maybe a candle or something else that will make this feel like a special moment. Even…getting out your notebook and your pen and your box of Kleenex… Even, writing on the next blank page of your notebook the next day’s date and the Theme you will be thinking about. Even writing out the four questions.
Bring the activity into the now, as much as you can, without actually doing it. The goal is to create anticipation around it for yourself.
This preparation itself can become a kind of routine that A. Helps you wind down in the evening, since it signals that you are getting ready for a new day, and B. Builds the anticipation of a quiet moment of caring for yourself and being alone with your thoughts.
If you are new to this, it can be challenging to know what theme we are supposed to be working on when.
In a few weeks, you will be meeting my real life flesh and blood sister Poppy, and she has a thing or to say about planners and calendars and habits and routines. Suffice it to say that it would be amazing to have an Ideal Life notebook, with the questions pre-printed and space for reflection. Or an App. That would be cool too! Maybe one day we will!
But for now, I created recurring events on my Google Calendar with the name of each theme. Yes, it took some time to set up the recurring event for once every three weeks, but once it was in place, I didn’t have to think about it anymore. I like to check the next day’s theme the night before, so I can already start thinking about it.
Since 2018, I have been using a journaling app called DAYONE, which, although it doesn’t allow the immediacy and satisfaction of seeing pages and pages filled up with my handwriting, it does allow me search for key words in my thousands of entries. For someone who used to trudge around with 5 different notebooks, this has lightened my load considerably. Yes, I do still have one little real-life notebook and a to-do list, but it is a far cry from the bag of books I used to carry around with me.
Using a journaling app for the Ideal Life Exercise means that I can easily return to the day’s theme from the last cycle…or the cycles before that. This is important, because it allows me to have a global view on the progress I’m making.
All right…I won’t go on now about this, but I did just want you to know that I know you have questions, and we will get you some answers. Today, I want to encourage you to start thinking about your why, by asking you what you would most regret about your life if you were to continue on the same path you are today.
Throughout the episode, we’ll be coming back to this idea of “bringing it into the now”. I think you’ll get some more answers as we progress.
In my Ideal Life, I make Wise Decisions
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:
- thinks before she speaks
- does not commit lightly
- thinks about the unwanted consequences of a bad decision
- is not swayed by urges and impulses
- trusts herself to make good decisions
- forgives herself when she makes a wrong decision
As I read that list out loud, I realize how very basic it all sounds. It’s almost kind of embarrassing to think that I had to articulate those thoughts into Ideal Life statements.
But, remember last week, when we talked about Gravitas…that mysterious aura of grown-up-ness that many of us feel that we lack? Well, Making Wise Decisions is definitely one element of Gravitas.
The ability to think through what could possibly happen if I make–or don’t make– a decision and how I could feel in the future as a result of this decision means I am bringing the consequences of the decision into the present. It’s not foolproof, but if I do it when faced with a decision, I can make it in a fully informed way. We’ll talk about that in a second.
The not being swayed by urges and impulses piece and the thinks before she speaks part? I wish I had an easy fix to present to you today for those, but I think we need to present a couple of other topics before we can fully embrace them. But as a teaser for those upcoming episodes:
When we get to Habits and Routines we will find some solutions for the urges and impulses part. We will talk about automating the everyday decisions, and how this helps us prevent decision fatigue. Decision fatigue makes us susceptible to giving in to impulses and urges. The more we can turn the easy decisions into habits, the more heart and headspace we have to be rational and less whipped around by our emotions.
As for learning to think before I speak? Well, there is definitely a Relationship aspect to this, as well as a Marriage aspect to this. Truly, I believe that speaking our minds is critical for our Mental Health, but there is an important relational element to this–and often I need to nourish a relationship before I start speaking my mind, so that difficult conversations can be seeds planted in a healthy garden. Like I said, we’ll talk about this another time. But speaking before I think it is like planting a shade plant in full sun, or planting a cactus in a place where it rains all the time.
So this week, I want us to take a look at the “Thinking through the consequences of a decision” piece, which I believe is one of the keys to learning to make Wise Decisions.
Bringing it into the now
Kairos. Opportunity. In the ancient Greek world, Kairos was illustrated by the image of a woman with long flowing hair, hair that was blown by a great wind at her back…so all of that hair was blown forward in the wind.
If an ancient Greek wanted to “seize her” (I’m using air quotes here), they would have to do it while she was coming towards him, because once she passed him, he could no longer grab her hair.
The idea is that there is an opportune moment for everything, and that once opportunity passes, we can no longer seize the same one again.
At the very least, the image is bold, although I’m not sure I’m interested in dragging some woman around by her hair. But I do believe that opportunity is fleeting, and that seizing it requires us to be able to recognize it and quickly make good decisions that will help us seize it without regret.
Knowing what we want our Ideal Life to look like helps us make decisions–that is simply a fact. Some decisions, some opportunities are obvious because of how perfectly they fit in with the blueprint for our lives.
Others are not so obvious…or they require an investment of our time, talent or treasure (the three precious elements that make up what we have to offer in this life), and weighing the pros and cons of seizing an opportunity can be challenging.
Each one of us has our own experience with decision-making. Some of us are doers and just go for it, and end up getting along just fine. Or, if it doesn’t work out, we just change course and don’t experience any regret.
Others of us are paralyzed by the decision-making process and end up missing out on opportunities because we are afraid to make a wrong decision. Eventually, we will end up regretting that we didn’t seize an opportunity, because we didn’t know how to make the decision in the first place.
Some of the decisions I regret the most are the ones I never made–the opportunities I just let pass me by because I didn’t know how to seize them–or worse, just didn’t know how to choose.
Making a decision to refrain from doing something is not the same thing as letting an opportunity pass by. In both cases, we might regret it. But if we make a conscious choice to not do something, it is a regret that is easier to manage.
It is less painful (not to say that it is easy!) to forgive ourselves for making a wrong choice than to forgive ourselves for letting an opportunity pass by. Simply “not seizing an occasion” is nebulous, and more difficult to face. This regret can become a kind of discomfort that reaches its fingers into many different areas of our lives.
If this speaks to you, then I want to present a series of questions that can help us stop regretting decisions–I hope they will be questions that will help you out of your decision paralysis.
I’m going to set the stage and use the example of a decision that I needed to make a few years ago. At the time, I needed to decide whether or not to send my youngest scalawag to school in both the morning and the afternoon, or if I would keep him home in the afternoons. Either way, I had to inform the school of my intentions, and I felt a kind of decision-phobia.
As I have told you before, I went through a post-partum depression, and at the time I needed to make this decision, I was in the middle of this depression. You do not need to be depressed to experience decision-phobia. But depression doesn’t help us see clearly to make good decisions.
There were pros and cons of both decisions, and I was particularly flummoxed about what I should decide.
Okay. So, that is our example. Here are the questions:
First Question: What is the decision?
It seems so basic, I know. But we need to cut away the emotional parts and simply spell it out. What exactly are we deciding, factually?
In the example, the decision was, factually, “Do I keep my youngest home in the afternoons or not?”
Given my state of mind at the time, what my post-partum brain was saying was, “This is a question of your mental health. This is a question of letting someone else raise your son. This is a question of you abandoning your little boy so you can do things that you want to do.” But none of those thoughts were factual; the decision was whether or not I would keep my son at home in the afternoon or not.
Second Question: What will the result of the decision lead to? Why?
This is a kind of the “pros and cons” part of the decision making process, but without the emotions. If I make this decision, what will the result be factually? Why is this important?
In our example, one of the results would be allowing my littlest to nap at home instead of at school, a place where he didn’t sleep well.
Why was this important? Well, I was often hearing from his teacher that his behavior became intolerable in the afternoons, and I knew that he always became agitated due to fatigue. He was often getting in trouble in the afternoon, and no one likes getting in trouble. This was impacting his overall impression of school…he was starting to say things like, “I hate school.”
Keeping him home had the potential to alleviate all of this.
However, quite factually as well, making this decision to keep him home would eliminate the already few hours I had to work in the afternoon–and working was what made me feel alive in the midst of my post-partum depression. So by making this decision, I was going to be losing one of the few things that gave me any joy in the midst of my mental health struggles.
Keeping him home had the potential to worsen my mental health problems.
The Third Question: How do I feel about this?
The question “how do I feel about this” allows us to be a little irrational. Our fears are often irrational, and they can be real obstacles to making decisions. Giving ourselves the space and time to consider them robs them of their power.
So unflinchingly walking towards our fears, within the context of this exercise, can help make them less scary.
In our example, I was afraid that my kid, at his young age, would already hate school and have a negative attitude about formal education. He was too young for that. Education is critically important to my husband and myself, and I couldn’t imagine raising a child for whom school would be a struggle.
Also, I was afraid that my mental health would suffer. I was afraid that by taking away something I loved, that is, my work, that I would be making my depression worse. (Which, incidentally, it did, but that is a story for another day.)
Fourth question: Under what circumstances will I regret this decision?
This question is of the utmost importance. This is where we bring the decision into the present: by imagining the consequences. Here, we can do a “worst case scenario” analysis in a controlled, safe way.
For me, the worst possible scenario was that my youngest son develop an aversion to school because he, at his tender age, felt like he was always getting scolded and getting in fights with his classmates. I would regret it terribly if he ended up dropping out of school one day, because he hated school–especially if this could have been avoided by simply keeping him home in the afternoons when he was little and still needed his naps.
I also would regret keeping him home if my mental health continued to decline. I would regret it if my depression caused me to harm my son in any way–which was something I truly feared could happen.
Fifth question: What part of my life is being fed by this decision? What part of my life will suffer from this decision?
This question sends us back to our Ideal Life themes…that beautiful Venn Diagram that makes up our lives, and all the overlapping circles that make it up.
Our decisions touch multiple of these overlaps, and articulating the parts that will be positively and negatively effected allows us to prioritize the impact.
There would be a net positive impact on my Parenting were I to keep my littlest home in the afternoon. The long-range prospect of raising a child who liked school brought me a lot of joy. Seeing that I could help him like it by simply better by keeping him home in the afternoon for that school year was a small sacrifice that could head-off bigger problems in the future.
This is where I was able to articulate my Why. I was keeping my son home in the afternoon, in spite of the impact it could have on my mental health, because the long-term result held the potential to bring me future joy.
Articulating a decision, especially a decision that is going to have an impact on our mental health, in terms of the potential future joy it can bring us helps us give active, enthusiastic consent to circumstances we might not entirely love, circumstances that might even immediately complicate our situation. Putting the future joy into words gives us a reason to hope. And let me tell you from personal experience, in the face of depression, hope for anything can be hard to come by.
The sixth question: What are my next steps?
What do I need to do to officially “make this decision?” Who do I need to inform? It’s one thing to make a decision in our hearts and our minds, another to put rubber to the road. Taking a deep breath and making that phone call, or sending that email, or making that appointment…those help us make the decision final.
Actually taking those steps can feel like an enormous relief.
In our example, I met with the school’s director to tell her I would be keeping my littlest home. That was all I needed to do officially. Unofficially, I needed to prepare myself psychologically for losing those work hours. I needed to grieve the potential for progress. I know this sounds so small a thing to grieve, but it is part of the process I needed to go through in order to fully embrace the decision.
And our very last question: How am I going to celebrate this decision?
As you know, I believe in celebrating everything. It can be a tiny little thing…a froufrou drink at your favorite coffee shop or taking a long bath. But taking the time to acknowledge and reward ourselves builds positive mental pathways. That takes time, but consistently rewarding ourselves in a small way helps make decision-making less scary!
Just as an aside: after I made that decision to keep my little one home in the afternoons, do you know what happened? His teacher got COVID and there was no substitute. So he had to stay home all the time anyway. After one week of everything being back to normal, the whole school closed for several more weeks, so my other scalawag was home, too.
So I lost way more than just my afternoons. In many ways, I feel like the small grieving I did of my work time enabled me to accept these school closures with more grace. My mental health did not suffer the way it could have, because I had already given myself dozens of reasons why the boys getting to be home was a healthy thing for their development.
Wicked Stepsister: Wise Decisions
If you are someone who needs to study a decision from all angles, you probably like to hear what a professional has to say on the subject. Some of the hardest decisions we ever have to make are those surrounding end-of-life–for ourselves and for those we love.
Considering those well in advance of actually needing to make them can take a load off for everyone.
LiElla Kelly, your wicked stepsister, is also a Death Doula, meaning that she accompanies people who are facing end-of-life issues.
One of the most important decisions you will have to face, should it come down to it, is who exactly would be in charge of your care if you become incapable of making your own decisions. Did that make sense? Well, LiElla talks it about better than I ever well.
So…LiElla, the floor is yours!
Everyday we make decisions. Some are easy, some are…not so easy. What should I have for breakfast? Which shoes should I wear? Easy. We may not even have to think about those choices. But when decisions have the potential to change our lives or shape our future, things get a wee bit more tricky. Add to it the fact that many of us experience a bit of paralysis when it comes to decision making. Some of us feel so inadequate when it comes to making good choices that we even download apps to assist us. But we know what making a good decision feels like. It just makes sense and it feels right. We usually arrive at that feeling once we’ve gathered information and weighed the pros and cons.
In Episode 17, I talked a bit about things we do just in case…wearing our seat belts, changing the batteries in the fire alarm and Advance Directives. Let me remind you what an Advance Directive is. It’s a written statement of your wishes regarding medical treatment. It’s made to ensure that your wishes are carried out should you be unable to communicate them to a doctor yourself. It is only used if you are in danger of dying and need certain emergency or special measures to keep you alive. It allows you to make your wishes about medical treatment known. One of the components of the Advance Directive is the choice of your Health Care Agent, sometimes called a Proxy or Surrogate…and this is a big decision. I cannot overstate the importance of your choice in this matter. Careful thought is required. Afterall, this person is going to interpret your life and death wishes. It’s a weighty responsibility, choose wisely.
You’ll need to gather information and weigh the pros and cons.
Let’s start with the basics. Clearly, your agent should know you very well. They should know your preferences. They should know how you think, what you value and the things you would consider when making a decision. How about their temperament? How are they in a crisis? Can you imagine them calmly listening to a doctor as options are presented, asking questions when they don’t understand something or need more information to make an informed decision? Would they be able to communicate well and reassure your family members?
Those are the basics, but let’s dig a little deeper. Not only should your health care agent know you, there are some serious things you need to know as well. For example, How would they describe their current health status? If they have current medical problems, in what ways, if any, do they affect their ability to function? What is their philosophy on who should make the final decision when it comes to medical treatments? Should a doctor make that decision or should patients have the final say, even if the doctor doesn’t agree? Do they understand and respect your religious background and beliefs?
So many things to consider. And there’s a bit more. What about those people who might not be good candidates? Like your parents. If you’re considering one of your parents as your agent, ask yourself this: If I document a decision that could lead to ending my life, would my parent be able to honor that decision? The same could apply to siblings or close friends. You have to trust that they will be able to speak to your wishes, even if it’s not the decision they personally would make. They are speaking for you, not for themselves.
Before you fill out your Advance Directive, take some time to consider these questions and any others that fit your own personal values, then choose the health care agent that feels right for you. If time goes by and situations change, as they sometimes do, revisit your decision and make the necessary changes. Your choice isn’t set in stone.
And one last thing to keep in mind, even though topics like these can be difficult to discuss, it’s wise to plan for the future, it’s wise to have discussions and it’s wise to share your wishes with your loved ones. Remember, talking about death won’t kill you…I promise.
Thank you so much, LiElla. You have really given us some food for thought. I will put a link to your website in the show notes, so our listeners can take a look at the resources you provide for many of those end-of-life decisions.
We might not like to think about the eventuality of our death, but I truly believe that, as with everything else, bringing it into the now means we can anticipate and prepare for it in a serene, healthy way.
All right. Let’s take a minute to review the four questions we ask for each of our Ideal Life Categories, on the theme of Making Wise Decisions.
What is working?: Are you feeling good about a decision you made? Great! How are you going to celebrate that?
What isn’t working?: What is the elephant in the room that will require a decision? Are you feeling regrets about a decision you made in the past? It is okay. No one is judging you but you. Forgive yourself.
Things to consider: If you are in the process of making a decision right now, maybe you need some encouragement or some help. Who can bring you the clarity you need?
Things to do: Do something. Make a decision. Something small, even, but get the ball rolling.
Listen, I know that this hyper-analyzing of the decision-making process might only really speak to 10 people in the whole world. But I really want you to understand something:
Letting others make important decisions for you, or simply not making any decision and letting the opportunities pass by, is setting yourself up for a lifetime of playing the victim. By not positively making a decision to do or to refrain from doing, you are not taking ownership of your life.
You are not a child who needs someone wiser to make decisions for you. You are not a victim who has no control over your decisions. We all make mistakes, we all do things we regret. Thus is the nature of life. But owning these mistakes helps us learn from them, so that in the future we make better decisions.
Be active about your decisions, and making them will become easier. I promise.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your Fairy Godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking Points: “To do or refrain from doing, that is the question”, bringing the decision into the now, making wise decisions about end-of-life when you are well.
Episode 23: You’ve Got a Choice is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “Spiritual Life.” The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!
Learn more about LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, on her website and blog, Leaving Well…The Blog. or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.