flock of whooper swans flying in formation

If you ask a pilot how he navigates, how he knows which direction to fly, GPS will probably appear somewhere in the answer. After all, there are no signs in the sky. I’ll admit, the GPS is a wonderful invention, but it’s useless if you lose electrical power in the plane. That’s why most planes have a basic compass mounted near the windshield. It’s a simple thing, white markings on a black ball that rotates freely in a clear, plastic housing. If the GPS fails, you can count on the compass to ensure you fly the right direction. But even the best compasses can give wrong indications. If you have magnetic interference near the plane’s compass, perhaps an electronic item close by on the dashboard, you may get a false reading.

Planes aren’t the only things that have compasses. We do too. Some may call it intuition or instinct; others may call it a higher power, but all of us have an inner compass that helps us reach the place in life we are meant to be. This compass—or inner voice—gives us guidance, tells us what is right for us and what is not. But too often, our chaotic lives generate so much interference—distractions, endless mental chatter, packed schedules—our natural ability to follow that inner compass is diminished. So what can life travelers do to get the most out of their internal compasses?

Here are a few ideas to help you reduce the interference and target what is right for you:

Stop and listen – When our lives move at the speed of light, we often don’t stop to pay attention to our inner compass. In the movies, while trekking through the jungle or desert, how often do the heroes whip out their compasses while still on the move? Hardly ever! They stop to get their bearings. Take time each week from your busy schedule to get your bearings. Find quiet locations that sustain you, places where you can better hear that inner voice. Nature is a wonderful place to break free from the chaos. Find a bench in a tranquil park. Scope out a wooded trail on a local greenway, one where you can perch on a log under vast green canopies and be still. Wait, watch, and listen. Soon the haze will lift, allowing you to tune into that inner place that knows what to do.

Learn to quiet your mind– This one is similar to the previous item, but it deserves its own category. You may stop and listen, but if endless chatter dominates your mind, you won’t hear anything else. Many would call this meditation, but I believe that word intimidates some people. I don’t think it’s the concept that intimidates, but rather that meditation is perceived as difficult to master, so some may think, why bother? Novices often envision sitting for hours with an erect back and hands folded in lap. That’s fine if you can do it, but it’s not a firm requirement to receive benefits. Simply pick a few times a day to clear your mind, to let go of the mental noise that parades through your head. Some complain of thousands of thoughts that vie for attention. In my case, it’s just a few nagging thoughts that monopolize my mental space, ones that play over and over again like a broken record or an annoying song you can’t shake from your head. When I quiet my mind and jettison that endless loop, what I’m really doing is clearing a landing pad for the answers I seek. A side benefit is I often get new ideas and big picture concepts that descend upon that open space as well.

Stop listening to what other people say is right for youMost often these are people close to us like a parent or a friend. But even total strangers sometimes want to tell you what you should do. Practice tuning these people out. I’m not saying you shouldn’t consider other people’s advice. I’ve just found the people who give the best advice are not the ones that tell me what I should do in a situation, but those that tell me what they did in a similar situation. When conveyed that way, I’m on the outside of the situation, hearing one person’s approach to it, rather than being told what to do. Deep down, you know what is right for you; others don’t. Let them worry about themselves.

Flip a coin – This may sound frivolous at first. But when I’m faced with a tough decision, confused between opposing paths, and my inner voice seems drowned out by too much life noise, I will flip a coin: heads for one path, tails for the other. One of two things happen: either the coin will land on one representative choice and I’ll feel instant relief or it will land on the other and I immediately have the urge to flip again, to make it two out of three. If I feel that desire to flip again, I know that the other choice was the right one. By no means am I saying that a coin toss should determine vital life choices, but how you feel after the coin decides is a good indicator if that choice is right or not.

Ultimately, you must have confidence in your inner compass. Most of us know it lies within, but some of us are a bit rusty using it. Try the methods above to get in sync with this wonderful gift you possess. Use it to remain true to your course and, in the end, true to yourself.

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