You and your broccoli
How many times have you had to make a big decision and postponed making it for as long as you can, for fear of being wrong?
I hate having to make such decisions—decisions that could change the course of a life, simply by having an option win over another. Frankly, having options is often a greater hell than having none. When you have no choice but to go for one thing, then you simply go for it, no quibbles, no questions asked. But throw in even just one other option, another path in the road, and you find yourself in the middle of things, burdened by having to make the right choice. You might as well be Atlas carrying the weight of the world.
Some people in this situation seek signs to point them in the right direction. For example: If X happens, then it means I should go for Option A. If Y happens, then I should go for Option B. Now this decision-making technique requires a kind of faith that the universe cares enough about your life’s trajectory that it would bother dropping hints exactly according to your specifications. I do not have that kind of faith, and so I do not believe in signs, at least not external ones.
I believe in a different kind of sign, one that springs from within. Some call it intuition. Others call it “gut feel.” A couple of writers call it “broccoli.”
The metaphor, as cited by writer Anne Lamott, comes from a Mel Brooks routine featuring a psychiatrist who tells his patient: “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.” The broccoli here stands for something in each of us that knows what we really want and where we should be heading. It’s more a feeling, really, than a thought; more a gentle whisper you hear only when your mind is still, rather than a resounding proclamation derived from a full-length debate in your head.
Somehow, your broccoli already knows the way. But its voice is often drowned out by other voices within and without—voices of fear, of doubt, of self-criticism, of other people, of society. It is often very difficult to separate these other voices from the genuine voice of your broccoli, and sometimes you may lose it entirely in all the chatter.
But there are ways that may allow you to recover and hear your broccoli again. Take a walk. Go where you can be still and undisturbed. Sit and breathe. Unplug: Resist checking your e-mail and social networking accounts even just for a weekend. Take an afternoon to watch how frantic city people bustle to and fro, or to see how clouds leisurely drift across the sky, or to note the contrast between the two. Often the silent solitude you experience in these activities is enough to do the trick.
But at other times, you need someone else to coax your broccoli to speak up. To hear its voice, sometimes you need a wall to bounce it off on, which usually takes the form of a person who loves you enough to listen to you rant as you go about the weeding process necessary to allow your broccoli to resurface. You often start by asking this person for advice, although, as Marquis de la Grange pointed out, “When we ask advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice.” You’re actually not looking for someone to make the decision for you; you’re looking for someone to back you in the decision you’ve made in your heart, to affirm and validate the voice you’re not quite sure you should follow (or even exists, in the first place).
So if you do talk about your dilemma to someone, note how you reason about each option, or how you structure the problem itself. If your listener is sufficiently keen, he or she is bound to pick up on these subtle signs indicating that you already know what to do, and that he or she just needs to reflect to you the decision you had made even before you started asking for an opinion. Case in point, a conversation between me and my mother about a dilemma with which I had been grappling:
“So right now you’re just waiting for their response to your decision?” she said.
“No, no,” I said, a tad exasperated that she wasn’t quite listening to what I had been saying. “I haven’t told them about a decision yet.”
My mother, disbelieving, said: “Why not?”
“I’m still thinking things over.”
“You’re still thinking things over,” she said slowly. “But in your heart you’ve already decided.” She then got up to leave the room. “Unbelievable,” she muttered as she walked away, a tad exasperated that I wasn’t quite listening to what I had been saying.
I laughed as I watched her go. My mother knows my broccoli too well.
Carla Marez P. Peruelo, 25, teaches psychology at Colegio San Agustin-Bacolod.
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