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Problem-Solving and Purposeful Action: Seeking Guidance from Within and Without


It’s April in central Ohio, snow flies, and I have no heat. My thermostat contains a poltergeist, or so it seems. Two days ago I woke up, turned up the heat, fed the dog, went for a run, and returned home to a still-cold house. I began to push buttons on this programmable thermostat, which I found incredibly challenging because the cue words are not very helpful: “hold,” “clock,” “done,” “screen,” and the like. Yet when I pushed certain boxes, these boxes disappeared and new ones with different words appeared. I can picture the tech guys who invented this piece of equipment laughing and imagining people like me staring blankly, confounded by the puzzle.


I walked downstairs to make certain the furnace actually has electricity flowing to it. It did. I returned to the green screen and pushed some more buttons, and finally the furnace kicked on … but only briefly, and then it shut down and did not come on again. I have no idea what I actually did to cause this brief period of the furnace working.


How many times in life do we take all kinds of actions, like pushing buttons on that screen, without any idea of what will happen? It can seem so random, confusing, and maybe a bit frustrating. Then there’s the moment we stop and seek guidance. This may show up from lots of places. We might seek out help from a book or expert. Sometimes we do what we can to address the issue and hope to find answers, knowing that even if we mess it up further, we can clean it up too. At other times, we may get inklings or even clear intuitive messages about what we should do.


Yearning for a crystal ball and the least amount of ambiguity possible, I find guidance in the form of what I call downloads. Others would name these inklings, gut cues, or intuition. At times I seem to be bumping around in the dark or flying by the seat of my pants. While unnerving, it’s also incredibly freeing to be operating without certainty or a tightly constructed plan. It seems I can change my course at any moment, choose a different action, and take a moment to listen to my core needs and connect to my larger vision of thriving and creating a life I love.


In the process of letting go of belongings we don’t need, we often need to hold them and think about whether they should continue to be part of our lives. Sometimes when I hold a belonging in my hand, though, I really don’t know whether I love it or not or whether it brings me joy, a twinge of resentment, or some strange mixture of happy and sad. How then do I decide about its fate?


Right now four family games stare at me from the bottom of a bookshelf I can see from my work space: Cranium, Bananagrams, Apples to Apples, and Whoonu. These games all say family fun. And we did have a lot of fun playing these games together as a family. But that phase of our family life is over. My daughter lives in her college town, my son resides in California, and I am single. My attachment to these games anchors me to a joy of the past. Seeing them now just makes me sad.


I’ve noticed that when I take action from a place of clarity connected to a deeper purpose, I often get a result I desire. Sometimes I act from fear or someone flatters me, and I find myself with results I do not want. In those situations, I feel remorse and quickly work to change course. I continue to ask myself, What do I really need in my life going forward? As I solve problems or make decisions, it’s getting easier to take a purposeful action and allow myself to be guided by a wiser place within me, rather than be duped by fear or flattery.


Almost two years ago, I signed up with a self-publishing company because of a persuasive appeal and the fanfare of dream fulfillment. I did not thoroughly research this company. My heart got touched and I jumped. It was not a healthy leap. The good news is that I never submitted a manuscript, although I did lose money that I cannot get back. In contrast, just two weeks ago, I signed on with a self-publishing company after talking to the CEO on the phone twice. On gut instinct, I had responded to his invitation in the concluding chapter of his book. He had encouraged readers to email him regarding any questions they had about self-publishing, promising that he would call and answer these at no charge. I did and he was true to his word. After honest and authentic conversations, I asked to sign on with his company.

When your mind, gut, and heart are in sync, you can take simple, small actions every single day, and they will lead to results. You can begin living a great adventure even when there’s no heat in a cold house. Sometimes you have to call in an expert, and sometimes you need to listen deeply to your intuition.


Today I take small actions and let myself be guided from within and without. For a moment I feel the tightness in my chest and the lump in my throat as I hold the family games. I load them in my van and sell them at a used bookstore. I call my handyman to ask him to take a look at my thermostat; he quickly discerns that it simply needed three AAA batteries. I feel grateful for room on a shelf and heat on a cold April day.



Here are some ideas for cultivating the guidance of your gut, heart, and mind:


  • Consider meditation or other ways that allow your mind to find quiet. Focus on your breath, or maybe sit quietly. “Unplug” for a few moments. Take a walk outside and listen for the birds and other sounds of nature. Silence seems to allow deeper truths to emerge.
  • It can help to engage all five senses in any given moment, especially when you need to quiet some of the “noise” inside your mind. What do you see, smell, taste, hear, and feel? Sometimes the chatter in your mind can be so insistent that you forget to taste the food you are eating. Consider shifting your focus to your senses, maybe one at a time until you can engage all five at the same time.
  • If you are struggling with something or someone, consider interrupting your own pattern by stopping, walking away, excusing yourself to use the restroom, or placing the interaction on pause. Sometimes I ask the other person to “hold that thought” and excuse myself so we can both take a breath. Return to the conversation with a commitment to listen, if possible, or set another time to dialogue when calm can prevail.
  • Deeply listen to another person from a silent place inside of yourself. When your mind starts to interrupt with ideas you want to speak aloud, check back in with the person who is actually speaking rather than the thoughts firing in your mind. It can take practice because the mind often wants to chatter at us constantly. Eventually, if you keep tuning back in to the other person, your mind will quiet.
  • Consider writing down all the chatter in your mind, especially when you are agitated or struggling with someone or a challenging situation. Then read the words you’ve written and ask yourself, Is it true? Are you certain? Maybe what you’ve written is your version of the “truth,” and there could be other perspectives. Take a moment and tune into your gut. What does it know?
  • Notice when you make interpretations of things, spinning things rather than staying with what actually happened. Sometimes reality may not match your perception. Ask for other people’s points of view. You may be surprised to hear that there are unique points of view from each person you ask.

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