Radical discernment is the name I’ve given to the body of skills and practices I’ve discovered over the past decade-plus to reliably help my clients (and myself) heal and prevent burnout, nourish joy, choose priorities, and show up effectively. Radical discernment is the ability to make choices that honor our personal and collective needs.

Today, we’ll focus on the first four elements of Radical Discernment—tracking glimmers, pausing, self-compassion, and tuning in.

Skill One: Tracking Glimmers

Social worker, Deb Dana, coined the term glimmers as a positive counterpart to the more commonly-used word triggers.

Whereas people commonly use the word trigger to refer to a cue—something you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, or think—that prompts feelings of stress or fear, glimmers are cues that prompt feelings of safety and wellbeing.

They’re quick sparks of the feelings you want to feel.

I challenge you to write down the following questions in a journal and keep track of your glimmers at the end of the day:

  1. What brought me a sense of safety, wellbeing, joy, or accomplishment?
  2. What is new-and-good today?
  3. What steps am I celebrating toward fulfilling my goals and/or living my values?
  4. Who or what am I grateful for? Who might I want to say thank you to?

Note: If you can’t find anything or feel exhausted or overwhelmed, think small.

A friendly smile, warm coffee, sunshine—these are all glimmers. By looking for these more often, you will train your brain to find them and the practice will become easier and easier.

Do this simple but powerful exercise each day for the next week, and I promise you will begin to see noticeable change.

Skill Two: Pausing

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes:

Between the stimulus and the response is a space, and in that space lies our power and our freedom.”[1]

When we pause, we create a space between the stimulus and response and access the ability to choose a response that better meets our needs and those of the people we care about.

The pause is the moment of choice.

Admittedly, if it feels like life is charging at you, like every minute counts and you have no time to spare, the notion of integrating pauses throughout your days might sound like something only New Age self-help gurus have time for.

But I’m not talking about going on a retreat or meditating for hours.

Most people are often surprised that micro-pausing (30 second pauses throughout the day) actually helps them:

  • Access a newfound sense of centeredness to help navigate the most challenging moments
  • Expend less mental energy
  • Feel like they miraculously have more time.

This can be hard to start implementing without some helpful reminders throughout the day…

My suggestion is to take a moment RIGHT NOW, and make a sticky note that says PAUSE.

I challenge you to create the reminder(s) now.

Skill Three: Turning Toward Yourself With Warmth and Care

Back when I taught childbirth classes, one of my favorite lessons was about oxytocin, adrenalin, and how love acts as an antidote to fear.

When a birthing person feels loved and supported during labor, fear hormones are neutralized, and labor can progress smoothly.

One of the most effective pain-coping techniques for labor is soothing touch, in part because it promotes the release of oxytocin.

Likewise, to soothe our nervous systems, see through our fear, and make wise choices that honor our needs, we must learn to soothe our nervous systems. One practice for doing that is soothing self-touch.

I invite you to experiment now:

  • Pick up your right hand. If you’re left-handed, please feel free to reverse my instructions.
  • Place the entire palm of your right hand gently on your left cheek and your entire left hand on your right upper arm.
  • Allow the weight of your head to settle into your right hand, gently supporting your head, hugging yourself.
  • Take in the sensations of warmth, of being held, of love and kindness. Notice how you feel.

You might feel silly at first. But if you allow yourself to receive the warmth of your embrace and have enough privacy not to feel too awkward, you’ll probably notice that the touch feels good.

If it’s been a long time since someone held you this way, you might also notice that soothing touch brings up feelings of sadness, shame, or discomfort. If that happens, see if you can greet the uncomfortable feelings with love and kindness, as if they were a beloved child. If it feels too hard, know you can return to this practice when you feel more supported.

Skill Four: Tuning in to Your Body

One practice for embodying our loving witness self and soothing our emotional self is naming what we feel.

fMRI research shows that when most of us find a word that matches our physical sensations and emotions, our amygdalae—the fear center of our brains—become less active and our nervous systems settle.

When we let our bodies know that we’re truly listening and give words to our feelings, it’s as though our bodies feel heard and can relax and offer us guidance about what we really need.

I invite you to click here and print out the Physical Sensations List and Emotions Wheels. Then, look for words to describe your feelings.

See if you notice any changes to how you feel. Sometimes, our emotional self gets louder when it realizes we’re listening. If you get overwhelmed, feel free to stop reading, squeeze your hands and feet, look around the room, taking in details, or do anything else that soothes your system.

With practice and support, your body can begin to relax and share the wisdom it has to offer.

[1] Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2006.)


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