On Being Inner-Directed

When I was an actor (several lifetimes ago), I realized fairly early on that I was really good at taking direction and pretty hit or miss when it came to coming up with ideas on my own. If a director told me to play a scene as though I secretly fancied the person I was confronting, or I had just been told I had a life-threatening illness, or as though I was scared out of my wits and trying really hard not to let it show, I would feel inspired and things would come through me that made me feel like Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Robert DeNiro rolled into one. When, on the other hand, I was left to my own devices to figure out how to play a scene, I felt more like an 8th grader trying to play a scene from Death of a Salesman as if I had any idea what it was like to be a 50 year old has been who in many ways never was.

More recently, I’ve come to see the same is true in my daily life. When I know what I’m supposed to be doing, I tend to do it pretty well; when it’s completely up to me what to do, I’m flying blind and the results I create in the world reflect that pretty accurately.

In my current incarnation as a business catalyst and life coach, I see the same dynamic playing out within the companies and individuals I work with. When I work with employees, even high-ranking executives, they often easily incorporate the distinctions and strategies that occur to them during our work together. But when I work with CEO’s and entrepreneurs, they often struggle to implement anything as they run through a thousand possible scenarios for what they could do and how things might work out.

The difference, or so it seems to me, is that people who see themselves as employees tend not to question the mission. If their boss says “jump”, they might grumble about it around the water cooler or on Twitter but they ultimately just want help in jumping higher. People who see themselves as leaders (or find themselves in leadership roles they feel woefully unqualified to fill) are often racked by indecision. 

Should they tell their people to jump or to run or to duck or to stand perfectly still?

Should they be pursuing this business opportunity or that one, building a company that’s lean and agile or built to last, following this consultant’s best practice or another of the hundreds that are written about each year?

One of the most extreme cases of that kind of “analysis paralysis” came when I was having my first session with a high net-worth woman with great connections, unlimited possibilities, and no sense of direction whatsoever. When I persisted in  pointing to the nature of inner knowing and decision-making instead of giving her my recommendations and justifications for one possibility over another, she stood up and shouted at me “Just tell me what to f@cking do and I’ll f#cking do it!”

Once cooler heads prevailed, I was able to point her to the possibility of being “inner-directed”, which is to say taking direction from the wisdom within.

We all have the capacity to know what we don’t yet know, see beyond the limitations of our current data set, and be guided by the real-time responsive intelligence inside us.Click To Tweet

We might call this inner capacity our intuition, or instinct, or “following our heart”, but all of these explanations lead us to try and strike a balance between intuition and rational planning or following our heart with following our head. In reality, this intelligence is higher up the food chain than our intellect. A soldier who is continually second-guessing orders is unlikely to survive in battle; a mind at war with itself is unlikely to come up with very many productive or innovative ideas.

Of course, it helps if the person running the show actually knows what they’re doing. And while human beings are remarkably human in their fallibility, this innate intelligence I talk about in my work as “the deeper mind” seems to be plugged into the universal zeitgeist in a way that leads to things unfolding in our favor in ways we would never have imagined and as if by design. As I describe it in Creating the Impossible, it’s 100% reliable and 98% unpredictable.

Chances are you already lean on this inner capacity in times of crisis. We’ve all had the experience of being in so far over our head that we give up trying to work things out in our heads. We throw our problems onto the mercy of the gods, usually to discover that the gods are surprisingly merciful once we get out of their way.

Sometimes circumstance seem to work themselves out, but as often as not the solution to our problems involves our taking some kind of action and comes to mind from out of the blue. In one moment, we have no idea what to do; in the next, the thing to do is so obvious to us that we can’t quite believe we hadn’t seeing it up until that very moment.

This kind of inner direction is always available, and the only reason it doesn’t seem to come as often as we’d like is that we only rarely listen for it and even when we first hear it we often dismiss it out of hand. 

It’s like the old joke:

A mountain climber who finds themselves lost and alone atop a thousand-foot cliff made of ice and nearly blinded by the fog. They repeatedly call out into the wilderness “Is there anybody there?”

When they have exhausted themselves and finally pause for breath, they hear a clear and distinct voice calmly saying “I am here, and this cliff is not as high as it might seem. Take a single step out over the edge and I will carry you safely to the bottom.” 

After a pause, the mountain climber responds.

“Is there anybody else there?”

If you want to experience this kind of inner-direction and guidance more in your own business and life, try this simple experiment:

  1.  The next time you don’t know what to do, stop trying to figure it out, get as quiet as you can, and listen for direction from within.


  2. Whatever direction comes (unless it puts you or others in actual physical danger), take it.
  3. Repeat until it becomes obvious to you either that I don’t know what I’m talking about or that there is something always already available inside of you that knows exactly what you need exactly when you need it. 

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,