How to Discern if it’s Time


When you’re crafting your life with intention and authenticity, there are going to be many junctures – tiny and big – when you aren’t sure what to do. Is it time to take action or is better to wait? My Grandma called this choice point, “Knowing when to fish or cut bait.” It’s a skill set we all need, the discernment between incubation – taking the time to decide if a desire is right to pursue at this time – and being paralyzed by fear. Next time you find yourself waffling and wondering here are some ideas that might help you:

Simply questioning, “Hey it may be time – or not – to get into action” instead of assuming one way or the other is best, is a hugely important. Lots of people either charge full steam ahead, maybe creating a mess, or never take action. Asking, “What is it time for right now?” can propel you to clarity.

Bottom line: Decide to take action or discern more.

It’s also incredibly useful to become conversant in the language of your fears. How does fear show up for you, especially around change, letting go, and creating more of what you want? As confusion? Comparison? A sudden inexplicable compulsion to watch hours of Scandal or organize your digital photos, even the ones you will never look at again? Everyone is afraid of change but not everyone takes the time to learn how their fear manifests, how it pretends to be the voice of wisdom, prudence, or even relaxation. Get curious about what you are saying to yourself and what you are choosing to do with your time during this crossroads. Be gentle and completely avoid beating yourself up. That will feed your fear and shut down your awareness.

Bottom line: Learn how your fear sneaks in and tries to steer your choices. It will still keep doing it but awareness creates choice.

Dismiss thinking there is ONE right answer or that you can know FOR SURE what the best, perfect, ideal thing is to do next. This desire for certainty is universal in humans – it might be hardwired into us as a sort of safety mechanism – and it creates stickiness in your decision-making right from the get-go. I recommend kind self-talk: “Of course I want to know the best thing to do! How human of me. But there are lots of possible next moves, not just one, and I could grow old waiting to figure out what’s ideal.” Gift yourself a couple of inhales and long exhales (longer exhales calm your nervous system, making it easier to think creatively), then ask yourself, “What’s really going on here?” Take yourself for a walk and listen for what comes.

Bottom line: This isn’t about getting it perfect or even right. This is about listening, learning, and trusting yourself.

Your body is an incredibly valuable helper in making decisions of all kinds, especially the “date this guy, take this job, sign up for this degree program” kind. Take yourself someplace calming – maybe the bath or a long drive in the country – and when you notice yourself feeling soft and less uptight, ask your body – not your mind but your body – “Imagine _____ (the option you’re currently considering) is gone, vanished, never going to happen.” Right away your body is either going to relax even more or tighten up. Relaxing is a sign you aren’t ready to take action, tightening up meaning that you are. You will also notice feelings, either relief or grief. Hang out and peer beneath these reactions by asking, “Am I relieved because I don’t have to challenge myself now or because I really didn’t want to do it?” Listen not to your mind but to what your body and feelings say.

Bottom line: Use more than your mind to discern your next move.

Stop asking other people what you should do. Outside input is helpful in the form of facts. For example, “Oh the rent in Manhattan is more than I can afford until I pay off my credit card debt.” That’s helpful in making a decision. Not so helpful is texting your BFF for the 16th time, “Do you think I should take the job or not?” Instead, take yourself to a comfy spot and relax. No media, no reading, no doing. Breathe and relax. Just keep letting go of needing anyone else to tell you the right thing to do. Place your attention in the middle of your brain (weird yoga practice that increases concentration) and ask yourself, with infinite patience, “What do I know?”

Bottom line: Ask yourself first.

Related to asking others is researching past the point of usefulness. Are you researching because you need more factual info or are you constructing a cacophony of noise so you won’t have to hear what you already know you want? Good research feeds your thing, brings clarity and excitement, gives you shoulders to stand on. Too much research drains the color of your thing, makes you feel bloated and defeated and “Who do I think I am?”

Bottom line: Limit your research.

Finally, are you confusing “being in the mood” with desire? Moods are fleeting and ever changing. They are colored by what you ate for lunch, the last post you read on Facebook, how you slept last night. Desire runs underneath mood. It’s the flow of your particular life’s print saying, “This makes you come alive. It may often be hard and scary and you will fail at least some of the time, but go here.” Learn to discern desire by practicing it in small things, “Do I want tuna for lunch or egg salad?” and pausing to really listen. “Do I desire to go to the gym or yoga or for a walk in the hills?” Do this as often as you can and you will quickly start to see how mood runs along the surface of your life and desire underneath. While we don’t always have the bandwidth, freedom, energy, or emotional health to dive past our mood to our desires, discerning the difference still brings huge dividends. Perhaps more than anything, this will help you navigate your truer life.

Bottom line: Practice desire in small things.

Discernment is a skill that will help you live a far more vibrant, authentic life, although it’s not always compatible with modern life. It requires you to slow down, become comfortable with uncertainty, and turn within. It often demands you move when you don’t feel ready or capable. It won’t always gain you the support from your family and friends because they might not understand. Which means, as with all choices on the path of living your truer life, will you choose the familiar, easy way or the way that brings you alive? I suspect you already know the answer!


Jennifer Louden



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About the Author | Jennifer Louden

Jennifer Louden is a personal growth pioneer who helped launch the concept of self-care with her first best-selling book The Woman’s Comfort Book. She’s the author of 6 additional books on well-being and whole living. There are about a million copies of her books in print in 9 languages. Jennifer has been teaching retreats and leading workshops since 1992, and creating vibrant on-line communities and innovative learning experiences since 2000.

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2 comments to "How to Discern if it’s Time"

  • Thank you Jennifer, yes, very important and so simple. Thanks for reminding us to ASK questions, to actually formulate our questions instead of making assumptions. – and then listen inwards, rather than expecting the answer to come from outside.
    How are we supposed to get to inner clarity if we don’t even bother asking…
    I love your final question: “will you choose the familiar, easy way or the way that brings you alive?”