What is Self-Led Decision-Making?

In a nutshell, Self-led decision-making involves making decisions from within our core (values, dreams, strengths, wisdom) rather than external influences (social pressures, family expectations, putting everyone else first)…or fear. Ugh, fear!

Sounds great, right? But how is that done? Let’s dig in.

Inevitably, all of us will face important decisions in the near future. Perhaps it involves moving, beginning college, getting a new job, selecting a school for our children, going back to work, how much to work, changing careers, whether to prioritize your career or your partner’s, the list goes on. If you are like most of us, there are many factors to consider, including our values. Often those values…or our desires…are in direct competition with one another. This makes decision-making hard and confusing and often leaves us with a sense that there is no way to win.

The Self, and The Parts

Internal Family Systems (IFS), a therapeutic model, says that within ourselves, we have a family…or “parts”. Each part represents a different aspect of the Self. Remember the movie, Inside Out? It’s kind of like that, but instead of feelings, there is a family of parts that have different roles such as the part that is hypervigilant, the part that wants to have fun, the part that we feel we need to keep hidden (exiles), the child part, and the part that is ready to put out a fire (or perceived crisis). When we are flooded or otherwise reactive, we allow the loudest part(s) to control our lives – often overriding or competing fiercely with the other parts.

Self-led decision-making involves recognizing and navigating the different perspectives and motivations of “parts” within ourselves. These parts often have tunnel vision – focused on their own concerns and fears and lacking a broader understanding of the whole self or the larger context of our lives. When a dominant part takes control, we may make decisions that do not serve the entire system (our whole person) well.

The result can be fear-driven or risk-averse choices, limiting our ability to see alternative paths.

Acknowledging and Making Space for Our Parts

To address this, a Self-led decision-making process involves acknowledging these parts, creating a space for them to express their perspectives, and facilitating a negotiation process where the Self considers the concerns of each part. Putting these perspectives on paper allows for a clearer, more detached view, facilitating the identification of pathways that accommodate the concerns of different parts.

Here is an exercise to give you a taste of this process:

Think of a time when you reacted to a situation in a powerful way and at the moment you lost your ground, perhaps reacted with anger, or perhaps passively in a people-pleasing sort of way. See if you can step outside of yourself and observe like you are watching a scene from a movie. 

Close your eyes and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you observe? Describe the characteristics.
  • How do you experience this person? 
  • How do you feel towards this person?
  • What is he/she trying to achieve?
  • What are they feeling in their body?
  • What thoughts are passing through their mind in that moment?
  • What are they afraid will happen if they do not react in this way?
  • What are they longing to hear?
  • What are they longing to feel?

As you get to know this part, can you offer compassion? What happens as you do so? Can you offer any reminders to this person that will help them gain their footing in that moment?

By engaging with these parts with compassion, we can help them to make room for the other parts within us. This helps the Self (our whole person or core essence) tomake decisions that may feel uncomfortable for some parts but involve a commitment to addressing their fears and concerns along the way. This approach aims to integrate and balance the motivations of various internal parts, leading to decisions that better serve the entire system.

You Can Practice With Us

Heartswell will be hosting a Self-led Decision Making workshop on Saturday, March 9th, 2024 from 1-4:00 pm with Jennifer O’Sullivan. You can sign up here to join us, practice identifying your parts, and learn to make Self-led decisions.

Many therapy services address only your thinking and often miss the breadth of your pain and the fullness of your being. At Heartswell, our practice integrates yoga, meditation, and mindfulness to heal the mind, body, heart, and soul. We are accepting new clients for virtual appointments or in-person at our offices in the Arlington, Virginia area. You can schedule your free consultation today.