Try the 'As If' Mind Game
It Will Help You Make Those Tough Decisions
I have been debating whether to have a second child. Can I handle it? I discussed my conflict with a colleague. She's a single mother, and when she faced the decision of whether to adopt a second child, a social worker friend of hers made this suggestion: Take a day and, from the minute you wake up till the next morning, live your life as if you chose to adopt the child.
My colleague spent the day with the emotional ramifications of that life-changing decision. She really tuned in and listened to how she felt when she lived that day "as if." Did she feel light-hearted and happy or guilty and regretful? She felt joy. She knew it would be hard, but in her heart and soul the decision felt right. The next day, she reversed the experiment and lived as if she said no to the adoption. Her heart felt heavy and sad; the choice felt wrong. At end of this exercise, she knew she was meant to adopt the child.
The "as if" technique can be applied to any major life decision, including the many high-stakes, complicated and emotional choices we face as caregivers.
Why does this little mind game work? All of us have an inner truth. Deep down we know what is right for us. However, this inner voice is often drowned out by a chorus of:
"You should …"
"Good people do this …"
"Something horrible will happen if …"
The "as if" day focuses on finding the answers you have inside you and tuning out exterior voices. When we listen to our inner voice and know we are making a decision consistent with our values and feelings, we can better battle the dragons of caregiving: guilt and regret.
The "as if" technique is private, as are most decisions we make. Despite all the advice we may receive, we all basically face the results of our choices alone. Plenty of people will advise me on whether to have a second child. But I'm the one who will have to live with that choice.
Here's how to have an "as if" day:
Step 1: Choose a major life decision you are struggling with. Is it whether to move a senior to an elder care facility? Whether to move a senior in or out of the home? Whether to take that vacation you planned even though your ailing father would rather you not?
Step 2: As you go through the "as if" day, be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself: Do I feel relieved? Do I feel a sense of dread? Do I feel I made the right choice?
Step 3: Choose another day and live as if you made the opposite choice. Repeat Step 2.
As caregivers we face many difficult choices. The magnitude and emotional terrain of these decisions can be overwhelming, leaving us paralyzed with fear. When we make a painful decision against our inner voice, we are left feeling shaken and guilty. We torment ourselves with doubts. We blame ourselves for outcomes beyond our control.
I believe we have the answers inside us. Deep down we know what to do - what is right for us. The "as if" technique is one way to tune into your own truth and find the strength and answers within.
Postscript: I think we will try for that second baby! In addition to the "as if" technique, I remembered my years of talking to countless seniors. I never encountered one who wished they had fewer children - or spent more time at the office!