In moments of weakness or temptation, I make thoughtless and suboptimal decisions. How can I avoid that fate? I frequently return to using my heart as a guide for my mind. It sounds simplistic, but it works remarkably well.
My fear of missing out on fun activities with my growing children is a case in point. It often provides opportunities to aim for, as well as fail at, heart-based decisions. The most common source of friction is the tension between wanting to be there during the fun times; feeling obligated to participate; and fulfilling my family’s expectations of being present.
Sometimes these things don’t gel with my life at all. I suffer from motion sickness and have repeatedly learned that boats are a no-go zone for me. Each time I am on vacation near a body of water, I remind myself that I must not agree to go on a boat. Despite my usual rigor in sticking to this strategy, last summer the temptation was too strong. My husband had arranged to sail to a fancy restaurant in a romantic port town overlooking the ocean. I wanted to go! In anticipation of a two-hour trip, I took an anti-motion sickness pill and put on pressure-point wristbands. Transferring from the water taxi to the moored sailboat on choppy waters got us off to a rocky start. Soon after setting sail, I started retching into a flimsy plastic bag. After the third time, we turned around to drop me back off at the harbor. The dream of the idyllic lunch was over. The detour made it impossible to reach the restaurant in time for our reservation. I ended up being the source of my children’s missed opportunity for a special experience.
Whenever I think about that doomed attempt for fun at sea, I still reel from a feeling of deep regret. This miserable experience helped me dial in to the ingredients for making better decisions: knowing and listening to myself. A little voice inside did caution me to skip the excursion, but I overrode my instinct. Following my gut would have prevented me from literally suffering in my gut.
During our most recent ocean-side holiday, I readily sat out the 5-hour snorkeling tour. I had a gnawing feeling that I was missing out on an epic fun time that excluded me. I was afraid that my children would be forming memories of a joyful day on the water, while my memory would be that I sat in the hotel alone. I toyed with the idea of playing the martyr and guilt tripping my family.
Summoning the courage to let go of the experiences that did not suit me, and connecting with the compassion to accept things as they are, were possible when I opened my heart. Though this was challenging, I intended to be in the moment and embrace my time alone. There was no shortage of fun solo activities. I read a terrific book without being interrupted, fell asleep on the beach, and even made an appointment at the spa. The unexpected reward was discovering that I enjoy being by myself. A little “me time” should be part of every good vacation.
When we let go of the things that are not meant for us, another door opens. A new experience becomes available. Follow your heart to make the most optimal decisions for yourself. The door that opened for me was not an earth-shatteringly good time, but a peace and knowledge that my wellbeing deserves to be my priority. When I am well, everyone in my family wins.
Mila Atmos is a columnist whose work has been featured by The Huffington Post, Quartz, and Medium.
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