Stop analyzing. Do this instead.

Posted on Mar 8, 2020

happy clapping

You don’t know what to do.

You’ve been thinking, considering, weighing pros and cons… Overanalyzing.

There’s an easier way.

Your body is a decision-making tool. Pay close attention to your physical sensations (especially during life transitions) because they are rich with information and can direct you to what you most need.

The simplest approach I’ve found is The “Shackles” Test developed by Martha Beck.

How to know your right next step

In Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny, Martha Beck writes about a simple way to add more fulfillment to your life. It doesn’t require you to have any answers upfront, and it’s more accurate than using your mind alone.

Imagine yourself doing a certain activity. This could be anything from a task on your to-do list to a new career you’re considering. As you vividly imagine this potential future activity, notice how your body feels. 

Then ask yourself, does this feel more shackles on or shackles off?

Shackles on feels like a lack of freedom, trapped or constricted, like being shackled to a prison cell. 

Shackles off feels free and expansive.

Does this feel more shackles on or shackles off?

This is a physical feeling, not a mental analysis, and how it shows up in the body varies from person to person. 

A simple example, no analyzing.

Here are two simple examples from my life.

I could make a smoothie. What would that feel like? There’s some tension in my shoulders as I think about the amount of time it will take. I smile and feel warm in my belly with pride. It’s fun to watch the ingredients transform in the blender, and once it’s done, I’ll enjoy the sweet flavor in my mouth. Overall, this feels “shackles off” for me.

I could make pesto with my overflowing basil plants. Yes, I enjoy eating pesto, and I don’t want to waste good herbs. But when I listen to my body instead of my mind, I notice very tense shoulders which feel like they’re curling in. My throat is tight and dry. My heart has sped up. I feel a nervous energy in my gut, like I’m trapped. Despite the logical reasons why I think I should want to make pesto, this feels “shackles on.”

Practice this technique today

Write down all of your current to-dos.

For each item, vividly imagine doing the work to complete that task. Then answer these questions:

  1. What specific sensations do I notice in my body? Where?
  2. Does this feel more shackles on or shackles off? (If you’re not sure, try breaking the task down into smaller steps.) 

What did you notice by doing this exercise? What surprised you?

And how can you make your to-do list more fun? (remove something shackles on, add something shackles off, improve a task…)

Take it to the next level

This technique works just as well for big life-changing decisions as it does for mundane everyday decisions.

What if you approached all of your action with a constant awareness of how freeing the action feels?

What if you chose every day, with every action, to do what feels more like freedom?

What if you chose every day, with every action, to do what feels more like freedom?

Beck says this is all you need, really. Just keep doing what feels more shackles off, and you’ll create your ideal life without having to analyze or plan much of anything.

Get your free guide

If you enjoy this technique, you’ll love Love Monday: An Agile Framework for Career Dev. Get my free introductory guide for a sustained boost of clarity, confidence, and momentum. Click here to get it now.