Did you know that, on average, you make 35,000 decisions every single day? That is a lot and feels overwhelming! But decision making doesn’t have to be that way. If we shift our focus from putting off decisions, putting pressure on them, or ignoring them and we turn our focus to the next right thing, the whole decision making process will be more fun and less intimidating!
Emily Freeman is the founder of an incredible movement called The Next Right Thing. She has a book and a podcast around this theory of focusing on the next right thing in front of us and the power that has in our decision making. Give yourself permission to stay in the moment and take action on the next right thing! (Like listening to this episode, because it is a GOOD one!)
In This Episode Allie + Emily Discuss:
Advice for mama’s of teenage girls (because we all need it, right?)
What The Next Right Thing movement is, where it all began, and how that phrase will help you in your decision making.
Practical steps you can take when making decisions, even in those mundane, day to day decisions.
What unmade decisions do to us and the power they hold over our lives.
Mentioned in this Episode:
Allie’s Courses (Use the code PURPOSESHOW for 10% off!)
This conversation is all about decision making and staying present as you focus on the next right thing and I have the perfect freebie that will support you as you shift your perspective in this direction!
Phone Settings For Our Present Life walks you through what phone settings I have set up on my phone and a less extreme alternative for those of you who might not want everything turned off. It tells you exactly what to do in your phone, and also a lot of the heart behind why you might want it like that. Why I think it’s important and where technology maybe should be in our priority list.
The less distraction you have from your phone, the more present you can be to make those every day decisions. Because 35,000 decisions every day is a lot! So don’t miss out on this free PDF. I know it will help you take action, feel more present, and do the next right thing.
Mom life. We are surrounded with the message that it’s the tired life. The no-time-for-myself life. The hard life. And while it is hard and full of lots of servitude, the idea that motherhood means a joyless life is something I am passionate about putting a stop to. I’m on a mission to help you stop counting down the minutes till bedtime, at least most days. I want you to stop cleaning up after your kid’s childhood and start being present for it. Start enjoying it. I believe in John 10:10 “that we are called to abundant life” and I know mothers are not excluded from that promise. Join me in conversations about simplicity, minimalism and lots of other good stuff that leads to a life of less for the sake of enjoying more in your motherhood. I’m Allie Casazza and this is The Purpose Show.
Hi, beautiful friend! Oh my gosh. This conversation that you are about to listen in on is life-changing. If you will really just quiet your mind and give this interview, which I can’t even call that, it was a conversation, an amazing conversation. If you will give this your focus, oh my goodness, it will shift your perspective, change your life, and give you some really simple keys to simplifying your decision-making process, finding quiet in the midst of your very full life.
If you’re listening to this, you are likely a mom or a very busy woman and you need this. I needed this. It was so good. This was one of those rare podcast conversations where I was shifting around in my seat because it was so good. It was moving me and had me thinking, really thinking, and it was just so good.
Emily Freeman is my guest today. She is a beautiful soul. I was so happy to sit and talk with her. She is the author of The Next Right Thing, which is a book that’s actually based on a podcast she started, which the podcast is also called The Next Right Thing. I love listening to her podcast. It’s one of my favorites. It’s one of the only ones I actually do listen to. Emily really has a good personality. She’s very pointed when she speaks and she gets to the point, which I like. I just really liked her.
Her book, The Next Right Thing is simple, soulful practices for making life decisions. Emily talked a lot about decluttering your soul and your brain, and uncomplicating the art of making decisions day-to-day. Not big life decisions but day-to-day, because the average person makes 35,000 decisions per day. Obviously this is something we need to be talking about and looking at.
Emily is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author. She’s an incredible soul and this conversation is worth giving your time to. So let’s welcome her and enjoy this conversation, ladies. I know I did.
ALLIE: Hi Emily! Welcome!
EMILY: Hi Allie! Thanks for having me here!
ALLIE: Yeah, I’m so excited to talk with you. I’m super excited to get to know more about you and introduce you to our listeners. I think that we have a lot of overlap in the things we talk about and that’s always super exciting because I feel like you get me and I get you.
EMILY: I feel that way too.
ALLIE: Yeah, I’m excited. Okay. Before we get into all the other things about the amazing book that you’ve written, which I read in one sitting yesterday.
EMILY: So impressed.
ALLIE: It was so good. I made space for it because it was so good. I just want to learn a little bit about you and have our listeners connect with who you are.
So tell us about, tell us about you. What’s your personality type? Do you know what you are on the Enneagram and all that good stuff?
EMILY: I do. On the Enneagram, I identify with Type 4. I probably lean more towards the 3 wing, but as I get older a little bit, I’m finding more 5 tendencies in me a little bit. My sister’s a 5 on the Enneagram, so I kind of get that space too.
I don’t even think I identified really as maybe a creative person until maybe college or after college. I didn’t see myself that way. But as I’ve gotten older, that part of me has come more fully alive and I think has always been there, but I never really gave it a name or gave myself credit for being creative, which I actually believe everybody’s creative. Creativity expresses itself differently in different ways in each of us.
I think when people listen to my podcast and then they meet me in real life, I think they’re surprised that I laugh really loud and talk pretty fast and I’m a little kind of sillier maybe than they expect. Because the podcast is a little more contemplative and slower paced because that’s the purpose of that show. While that is me and that’s my personality, you know there are different aspects and facets of personality that come out in different places.
ALLIE: Different settings. If you’re in a person-to-person social setting, you get an energy that’s different than when you’re sitting at your desk talking about your work.
EMILY: Right. Exactly. And that’s kind of what it is. And I think in general, I feel most like myself when I’m writing and when I express myself through writing, but I feel most alive when I’m communicating with people or speaking or using my voice to say words, even if it’s just with other people in a small group setting or even on a stage speaking at an event or something. That wouldn’t be my preference to do that a whole lot. But when I do it, there is a certain sense of fulfillment I think that comes in those moments.
ALLIE: I love that. I’m the same way. I really don’t like speaking when I’m planning to go speak somewhere, but once I’m on that stage, something happens where I come alive and I’m like, “I need to do this more.” And then I’m like, “Well, maybe not.”
EMILY: I’ve never heard anyone say it that very way. I feel the same way. The hardest part of my job is prepping to speak somewhere. But then once I get up there, it doesn’t feel hard at all compared to the prep. Sometimes I’m like, “Am I doing this wrong? There’s gotta be a magic way that I haven’t figured out.” But I don’t know if there is. I think that’s just part of the job,
ALLIE: I think so. I’ve never heard anyone else really say that they didn’t love speaking either. I think people do it because they love it and they’re good at it, but not a lot of people are really willing to push themselves past their comfort zones, I think. And I am. So that is that for me. I will only take the ones that are super worth it because I don’t like it very much.
EMILY: I love it. I totally resonate with that.
ALLIE: Tell us what is your absolute favorite thing to do when you are by yourself?
EMILY: Well, I love being by myself, so that’s a favorite thing all alone. I can spend a lot of time just looking out the window, which sounds so boring, but I live a lot of life in my head, so having the space to actually stare out the window. A lot of times I will go back through journals that I’ve written in, old journals from years ago, and reflect on things I’ve learned or ways I’ve changed or the way our life has changed. That can be really life giving for me to sort of see patterns and to spend some time in reflection. Also reading when I’m alone. I’ll either watch a show I love or spend some time with a book that I love. Lately I have been craving reading more fiction because I haven’t been reading a lot of fiction and so I sense that itch to read a really good story.
ALLIE: I go through really long seasons of not reading it at all. fiction, when it does come into my life, it’s a happy escape from the norm. Regular books, nonfiction books, they don’t do that. You’re thinking about your life as you’re learning this new thing. It’s just when the fiction has a special place.
So, tell us about your family.
EMILY: My husband John and I have been married for almost 18 years now and it’s gone by really fast. That’s weird because I remember when my parents were married for 18 years, you know? That’s so weird. We have three kids. We have twin girls who are 15, they’re in 9th grade. And then we have a son who is almost 13. He’s in 6th grade. This was a big year for us, first time middle school for our son and then first time high school for the twins. Lots of transition, but they’ve made them fairly smoothly. And so, we’re navigating interesting teenage waters these days with our family, which has been really a gift, but also it makes you realize, “Wow, we’ve been parents for 15 years. We still don’t really know what we’re doing a lot of the time,” because we’ve never been parents of these kids at this age. It’s always learning and staying on your toes.
ALLIE: Do you have any advice for those of us with girls that are…my daughter’s 10, so setting the stage for those teenage years? What would you say has been helpful and that you think you did well?
EMILY: That’s a great question. A lot of times it’s the things that you don’t realize and you might just do naturally and they don’t feel like a big deal. But I had a mom tell me once that people always commented on how close she was with her teenage girls. And this mom said, “It started with the Barbies. I would play Barbies with them or play the games that they wanted to play when they were young.” So then as they grew, it was really normal for them to just let her into their world.
Though I’m not the best Barbie player…I was when I was younger and was actually playing with them, but as the girls have gotten older, one thing is they have each other. They’re twins, so they do a lot of that themselves. But being around and letting them know that I was present. I think I discount the value that that has.
When I look back and I think, “Oh, I should have had more serious and intentional conversations with them about A, B, C, you know, about all these really big important issues.” And maybe that would’ve helped, but I don’t know if they would remember, but I guarantee you what they remember is time spent and just me being around.
And I think that’s sometimes a filter through which I make decisions about work or travel or whatever…there are seasons when I’m not able to be fully present because I am traveling or working. But then when I’m home, I’m trying to be all there. I think that really goes a lot further than we realize.
Maybe 10 years from now I’ll look back and remember, “Oh yeah, that was important,” because when I think about my own relationship with my mom, I don’t really remember specific conversations or “lessons” that she taught me. But I do remember her presence and I remember her just being there. And I think that’s really important, and I think a lot of times overlooked.
ALLIE: Yeah, I love that. Your kids have always gone to school?
EMILY: Yeah, they’re all three in public school. Charter School for a couple of years, but mostly they’re in the public school.
ALLIE: I love that, cause we homeschool our kids and it’s not out of a love for homeschooling. That is for sure. It’s just the flexibility of schedule because we like to bring the kids with us when we travel for work. But a lot of the time when I talk about being intentional and making time and being present, people – mothers – will blame it, “Well you homeschool, so you’re always together.” And I am always trying to get a conversation with somebody who does not homeschool and has that because I don’t think that’s it.
I actually think it can make it harder because you think, “Oh we have all day. We’re always together. There’s lots of opportunities for that.” And it actually slips by even more. I love that you said that and that your kids go to school. It’s not a lack of the availability of time. I think it’s what you do with the time you do have together.
EMILY: Right. Yeah, that’s a great point.
ALLIE: Okay. So, you are the host of The Next Right Thing podcast, which I love because it’s short, pointed. It’s one of those shows that if I’m listening…sometimes I just want silence because my life is loud and my kids are still really little and my oldest is 10 so I’ve got a 4-year-old, and lots of boys, so it’s very loud…but sometimes I want to listen to something while I get ready and it’s perfect because the episode is done by the time I finish doing my makeup or putting my hair up or whatever. It’s easy and pointed. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like the podcast is really short and pointed and bite-size perspective shifts and the book is still not super long or anything, but just really beautiful and a little deeper.
I really love the way you wrote this book. It’s amazing. And it’s also called The Next Right Thing.
When I immerse myself in an author, I’ve been looking at your website and I followed you on Instagram and read your book in one sitting yesterday, so I have to remove myself and, “Wait, for somebody who does not know any of this, let’s start from the beginning.” What is the next right thing, this movement you started? Tell us what it is about or if you want to share where it started for you. Anything that you want to give us the 101 of The Next Right Thing.
EMILY: Well, that phrase, “the next right thing,” it’s certainly not one that I came up with. It’s been around a long time and has been said by a lot of really smart people over the years.
The first time I remember hearing it was when I was in college. I was a transfer commuter student at a school locally here. Because I was a commuter student, we had to fight for parking. I had to get to the school an hour before my first class started just to find street parking. I also learned to be a really great parallel parker by the way, so I can whizz into a parallel parking space, no problem.
But I would get to school early and then there was nothing to do because there wasn’t a smart phone back then and no podcast to listen to. So I would listen to a little radio show that was about 15 minutes. It was like one of my podcast episodes. It was called Gateway To Joy and it was hosted by author Elizabeth Elliot and she would often quote a little poem that was called, “Do The Next Thing.” It was kind of sing-songy. It stuck with me because as a 18, 19, maybe I was 20 by that time -year-old, that was really powerful for me because it’s the time in your life when you’re looking at the future and you’re looking at all of it at once and it can be overwhelming to say the least. And so that little small encouragement to just do the next thing, do it with prayer, do it consistently, was really helpful for me. It kind of just lodged in the back of my mind all those many years ago.
But then as I’ve grown and started writing, I find when I look back over books I’ve written and blog posts I’ve written over the last decade, I find that phrase here and there, “just do the next thing” or “do the next right thing” in my own writing, just kind of tucked away.
It was only about two or three years ago when I had a big decision to make that I started recognizing how this unmade decision that I had to make had a lot of power. And I think that’s true across the board for a lot of us that unmade decisions hold power. They hold our attention. They keep us on our toes. They can have the power to wake us up to God, to friendships, to communication or whatever. Or they can also have the power to shut us down. To procrastinate. To put the decision off. To delegate it to somebody else. That’s a lot of power that unmade decisions have.
A lot of us want to go ahead and make the decision and we want to be done with it. Others of us, we’ll drag our feet.
It was sort of two things happening. I had this decision to make, but then on the inside level, my inner life, I was looking at how that decision was informing my relationships and the way I related to God and to people. That’s when I started to think, “Oh, this decision-making thing. There’s something to this. I want to explore this.” And I thought it would be my next book because I’m a writer and that’s what I do.
So, I started taking notes on the decision-making process and how this unmade decision was causing me to question some things and solidify other things and how my own spiritual formation was becoming a real big part of this decision-making process. But as I tried to write it as a book even after I made that decision, it was so stubborn and did not want to be a book. It was the worst. I tried to force it into an outline; it would not do it. Finally, long story short, I decided maybe the medium that this idea wants to come to life in is not in written form, but in spoken form. That’s when I had the idea to explore this idea of decision-making and doing the next right thing in a podcast.
What should I call it? Decision again…how about I just call it “The Next Right Thing,” because that’s the phrase that has always helped me approach decisions a little bit in a more friendly way and not such an intimidating way.
If it was “just do the right thing,” I think it’s like, “Well yeah.” But that’s kind of intimidating and we don’t always know what’s right, but when we put that word “next” in it, I think that makes it a little more approachable. We can usually access the next thing that’s right in front of us, even if we’re not quite sure what the exact right thing is to do.
So, that’s kind of some background. That phrase has stayed with me and I’m sure will continue to stay with me for the rest of my life because this “next right thing posture” has really changed not only how I make decisions, but also how I move through my day in everyday life.
ALLIE: Yeah, absolutely. So, what does that look like? Maybe give me some examples because I’m curious about the mundane stuff. You say we make 35,000 decisions a day. Is that right?
EMILY: That’s what I hear. I’ve looked it up in many different places and that’s the number that keeps coming in. Isn’t that crazy?
ALLIE: And you know, in my personal day-to-day life, I’ve been working through when to apply grace to myself and went to keep pushing because I’ve been finding myself feeling really exhausted and done for the day very early in the day. And I’m like, “Okay, I’ve been trying…do I need to move my exercise so it’s not in the morning? What is it that I need to do?” And reading this book…I intentionally left it for right before I interviewed you so that it would be fresh…in reading this book, I’m like, “Hold on 35,000?” I know my life, I know my job, I know how many people are on my team and I know my kids are always with me, so I’m just gonna assume that I probably have more than the average person.
EMILY: I think you probably do.
ALLIE: I was thinking, “You know, I think it’s that.” I think it’s just the constant like that. What is the New York Times article about decision fatigue?
EMILY: Yes, it’s a real thing.
ALLIE: I don’t really know what to do with that information, but it helped me feel like it’s okay. It makes total sense. I’m constantly being talked to and some of that quiet I have control over (like with my phone) but a lot of it I don’t. Like with my kids, they’re here and I don’t want them to feel, “Don’t talk to mom. She’s going to be pissed or whatever.” I want to be there, but it’s just exhausting. And little things like, “Yes you can have applesauce or are you going to have slides at your presentation at this conference?” I don’t know…things like that. It’s just constant. So, I guess my question, messily, is what do you do with that in day-to-day? What do we do with that information? What does this next right thing look like lived out in those mundane things every day. And is there a way to avoid that exhaustion that I’ve been going through?
EMILY: Well first I would say to answer your question, I think that you showing grace to yourself is always the next right thing. Because it sounds to me like your personality, I can totally relate with it, probably you might never be a person who needs to totally push herself because it sounds like you naturally push yourself. You probably need to intentionally not push yourself sometimes, especially in your life stage. Man, that’s so tough.
But as far as the mundane things, it’s such a great question and I gotta tell you, it’s in the mundane things where The Next Right Thing concept is the most helpful for me because I will literally wake up in the morning and maybe I’ll have a little morning routine that I can rely on, which is really helpful, actually small, short morning routine.
But after that, sometimes I’m like, “Uhh,” and I’m literally spinning in my living room. Where should I start? What do I do first? Because everything feels like it has equal importance. When someone says, “Well, do the most important thing first,” it’s like, “Well guess what? It feels like there’s 20 of those.” Everybody else has their own idea of what’s “important.” So, choosing one I think is helpful.
That whole idea of “the next right thing” sometimes is, “Okay, go take a shower.” And then I get out of the shower and it’s like, “Okay, now what’s the next right thing?” I’m going to listen to this podcast while I do my hair, okay. Giving myself permission to stay in that next right thing while I’m in it, knowing that I’m going to have the opportunity to ask the question again in 15 minutes. And that helps.
It’s like a weird mindset-magic that happens for me personally when taking a shower is my next right thing and I let that be my next right thing for 15 minutes. Then I can be in the shower and it almost feels like time expands because I’m not spinning in my mind about, “Well I’m taking a shower now, but really I should have been making the grocery list and running out to the mailbox,” rather than forcing myself into spaces where I can’t be all at once because we can really only do one thing at a time, even the best multitasker among us. We might be doing many things in succession really quickly, but you can’t chop an onion and peel the oranges at the same time. You can do them really quickly, but it’s one at a time.
But giving those activities a little bit of bumper room in between each other by asking the question, “Okay, now what’s the next right thing?” And trusting yourself to choose. If there’s 10 things and you can’t figure out which one’s most important, then there isn’t an answer there. There isn’t a wrong answer. Just pick one.
I can’t tell you how many times I have not done that and I’ve looked back on my day and been like, “Wow! I got nothing done, but I was working all day long.” Because I was frenetically switching, task switching, from half an activity to half an activity and it wore on my energy. It made me grumpy because I didn’t finish anything. And I felt like a failure even though I was just as tired or maybe more tired than I would have been had I just chosen three things and finished them to completion, and then gave myself permission to say, “What is your next right thing.”
And the final thing there is let the next right thing sometimes be it’s time to close the day. It’s time to be done with work today or whatever the thing you’re working on. That is a valid next right thing.
ALLIE: I love that so much. Yesterday, I was frustrated because I was faced again with that feeling of, “I’m feel tapped out. I feel like I will not be able to even cook dinner and deal with my…and that’s when it’s a trigger…when I’m thinking, “deal with my family.” That’s not how I want to come to the table at the end of the day, you know? I was feeling like, “There’s no way.” But there’s all of my task list (Emily was like “20 things left”) and they were big things. I just reached out to Hayley. She’s my right-hand man. She helps run the company and I said, “I just don’t know what to do.” And she was like, “Well, none of these things are pressing right now. Why don’t you just be done for the day?”
Why do we give ourselves this fake urgency? Because I assigned it to today, a long time ago when I was just putting my tasks in Asana, I was like, “Well, this task needs to be done today.” I think it was funny cause I laid on the couch, I just laid there like a Zombie vegging out for a second. And it was like how often do we do that to ourselves where it is so unnecessary and it’s so urgent, but we’re are the ones that have the power to say this is not urgent anymore? It’s just one of those novel concepts. It’s so obvious, I think to certain personality types.
EMILY: It is and I love that you pointed out that you reached out to Hayley because number one, I think we all need a Hayley in our lives, whether we’re writing or whether we are just running a household or whatever the thing is. And too, looking back, that was your next right thing, was to reach out to her and to let her be a co-listener with you to your own energy and your own life. And for her to say, “I’m going to be a “no” mentor to you right now. It’s time for you to say “no” and close the day.” What a beautiful next right thing that you did without even realizing it. I think that’s so great that you have her and that you know, “Okay, when I’m at my wits end, I’m going to reach out to Hayley.”
ALLIE: I think sometimes we just get stuck in our own heads and we can’t have that aerial perspective over our own life because we’re just muddled. It just gets messy.
Hey sweet friend! I’m interrupting this incredible conversation that I’m having with Emily because I wanted to let you know that I know when I’m having conversations like this on the podcast, it really gets me thinking. It really gets me inspired.
This was one of those conversations that when we were recording, I just really felt alive. I felt really excited. I felt super inspired. I was thinking to myself, “I need to make sure that I come back and listen to this episode myself later on.”
Those recordings are rare, but when they happen, I feel like I’m on fire inside. I get so amped up about what we’re talking about. I think that happened here with Emily because well, first of all, she’s amazing and this conversation is so good, deep, and just extraordinary. And I think also because there’s crossover with what I talk about, and I’m passionate about this, so it really gets me excited for you guys.
What I wanted to do is just draw attention to a freebie that I’ve created in the past for you guys that has become a fan favorite. People love it. It really deals with something that you wouldn’t think is really deeply impacting your day, but it is. It deals with your phone settings.
I talk often about how I have my notifications basically turned off in a lot of ways. They’re really turned off. I don’t get my phone vibrating, making a noise, or lighting up when I get a text message. I don’t have social media interrupting my day. My phone is a side note. It’s extra so I’m living my days focused on what’s in front of me, on my family, on my work, on whatever it is that I’m doing in real life that day. I don’t think that technology should be able to tap us on the shoulder and interrupt our actual, real life whenever it wants to.
I talk a lot about that and I have this free download called Phone Settings For Our Present Life and it literally walks you through exactly what phone settings I have set up on my phone and a less extreme alternative for those of you who might not want everything turned off. It tells you exactly what to do in your phone, and also a lot of the heart behind why you might want it like that. Why I think it’s important and where technology maybe should be in our priority list.
If you’re interested in getting that, it’s totally free. It’s just something that I have on my website that I thought would be important and helpful to draw attention to while you’re listening to this episode.
To get that for free, go to alliecasazza.com/shownotes/111.
ALLIE: I love something that you talk about in your book, how unmade decisions will smoke out things that we’re addicted to, like these hidden addictions. Not like addiction to alcohol and addiction to other things, but addiction to needing clarity or needing the approval of other people before you make a decision. Can you kind of unpack that for us? I just thought that was so astute and wise. I’ve noticed it in my own life when I’ve had to talk through things. Can you talk about that?
EMILY: It’s such an interesting thing to think about because it’s very meta to think about how we make decisions, because usually we don’t think about the process. We just either do it or we don’t do it. When I think about decisions that that give me the hardest time or the ones that I’m procrastinating on, that’s what I think our decision making and the process can begin to smoke out those addictions that we don’t even realize are there.
For example, sometimes when I’m putting a decision off, the reason is because I’m afraid of the people I’ll disappoint one way or the other. If I make this decision, these people are going to be disappointed. I make that one, I’m going to let these people down. Sometimes it’s just perceived. I’m just afraid I’ll let those people down. It might not even be real, but it’s a fear of that.
And that can be an addiction to really deeply caring what people think to an unhealthy degree. Or it could be, I put something off because I am addicted to my own comfort. Even just buying a plane ticket. It’s like, “Uh, I don’t like the feeling I get when I’m having to make a decision that’s definitive. I leave at this time and I get back at this time.” There’s something in there that, though it might just be a quirky thing that we do, there could be something in there if we listened to our life that we realize could unlock a deeper issue. So, it’s like these surface unmade decisions can actually inform something that might be happening beneath the surface.
And another thing, I think when we put decisions off, a lot of times and you mentioned it, it’s because we are addicted to a sense of clarity. We think that until I know everything there is to know, and until I feel a perfect peace, I will not move. But in reality, a lot of times the peace and clarity come on the other side and it’s once you finally make the decision and walk into the foggy future, that clarity begins to reveal itself to us over time.
Sometimes we’re never sure if it was “right” or not. We just did the next thing we need to do at the time. That addiction to clarity, if we’re waiting to feel clear, perfect peace, man, we might be waiting for a really long time.
Marie Forleo talks about clarity comes from engagement not from thought. Sometimes we think, “Well, if I think this through every single possible outcome that could come from this decision, then I’ll have clarity.” But her point is a good one in that a lot of times it’s engaging with the decision, engaging with our life, that actually brings the clarity to us as we move forward, even as we’re carrying some question marks.
ALLIE: As you’re talking about this, I’m just thinking about people who struggle with anxiety and I’m wondering do you have any experience with this helping ease just regular anxiety? Does that even make sense? This is not in my notes, this is an unformed question, but how does this affect people that struggle with being anxious in those little moments, unexplained anxiety?
EMILY: Well I think that’s a great question and first of all I think sometimes we feel shame when we have feelings that we can’t explain. Anxious feelings or fearful feelings.
And I just want to point out that feelings are always valid. They might not always tell us the truth, but they always give us information. So if we’re feeling anxious, pay attention, you might not be able to explain it, but it can be a red flag of something that could be really helpful to know. But it’s okay if you can’t explain it. I think paying attention to those triggers when we do feel anxiety and maybe getting beneath that and asking yourself why.
Another thing in an anxious place, especially when it comes to decision making or something I’m being asked to do, try to put into English words what you are afraid of. Sometimes fear is a smoky enemy, but when you get down to it and you put it in English, it loses a lot of its power because you realize, oh, I was afraid…just general fear, but when I put it in English it’s like, “Oh no, actually, I’m afraid that I will miss my daughter’s performance.” There can be really specific things. Once you have that fact or that information, you might be better equipped to deal with the thing you’re actually afraid of and saying it out loud can help loosen some of the power.
One question I like to ask myself when I’m feeling stuck in a decision is am I being pushed by fear or am I being led by love in this decision? And looking for the fear and the love in decision making can be really informative. It might not always help us make the next decision, but I think it can give us a lot of information about, “Okay, oh I am afraid. Well why is that?” Asking the question beneath the question when it comes to fear.
I know sometimes even just asking that question, “Oh, am I making a decision out of fear or am I making a decision out of love,” sometimes that alone is enough to help us know maybe not the whole decision, but at least our next right thing.
ALLIE: That makes so much sense. I love that.
You talk about naming in your book and I also really loved this section. You have those two core principles about choosing the next right thing and having sole minimalism, which we will totally dive into. I might be wrong; I think this was the next section. I actually marked this section that I wanted to read so that you could expand on it. It’s so good and you lead into it with saying “put into English words.”
You say in the book, “sometimes indecision is the result of a busy schedule or a hesitant personality. Other times it’s because something within us remains unnamed and we simply don’t have enough information or self-knowledge to move forward. Without a name we can’t be specific and there’s nothing fear likes more than nonspecificity.”
I just love that because it’s true on so many levels. And I think you just touched on it with the anxiety question a little bit about like, well, what is it? Because it’s either going to be a little ridiculous and you’ll realize that, “Oh well, this thing isn’t going to happen,” or it could totally happen, but you now can take steps to protect it or help it not happen.
Can you talk a little bit more about that naming? Examples that you have done or anything that you could help us see more clearly that in our day-to-day life?
EMILY: I think it’s a great question and I think it is an important part of the decision-making process that’s often not talked about and overlooked. We go straight from, “I have to make a decision,” and then we jump straight into whatever the decision is without taking a little time to listen to our own life. Part of that listening process is putting a name to some things.
I’m trying to think of a good example. I share the story of the Writebols in the book where Nancy Writebol, who was diagnosed with Ebola virus when she was a medical missionary. During that time, I saw a news brief where she and her husband, after she was better, were giving a news conference about her experience.
She and her husband shared a lot of the difficulties, a lot of the fear. They thought she wasn’t going to make it at one point, but she pulled through and they talked about their faith. They talked about the hope that they had in God. But that there were also some hard times.
I was on the elliptical at the gym when I was watching this news conference and I was listening. At the end of it, it was so interesting because the news commentator summed up the news conference with the Writebols and she said how beautiful their story was. She said their’s was “a narrative of joy.” I had to take my earbuds out and stop the elliptical because first of all, I thought that was such a beautiful way to say that, “a narrative of joy.” But it was also really counterintuitive to call that a narrative of joy because they were talking about her recovering from Ebola, this terribly life-threatening sickness.
And I thought, you know what? The “narrative” is the keyword there because each plot point in their life when she was on that bed and very sick and her husband couldn’t even go in the room because it was too dangerous, that was not joyful. That was dark, filled with grief and probably a lot of fear and anxiety. But when they look at the whole narrative of her life and even of the experience, the whole thing, they could name that narrative as one of joy, even though each plot point was not joyful.
When it comes to my life, oftentimes I am tempted to look at the plot points and call that the story. And I can get stuck in a difficult day or difficult moment, an argument or relational disagreement, a work setback. And I can say. “This is hard.” And I named the narrative hard, difficult, fearful, anxious, wrong, discouraged. Rather than letting that day or that moment be a plot point in a larger story, a larger narrative. It’s an example of taking a step back at your life and seeing it for what it is on the whole. It doesn’t mean that those plot points aren’t to be named. They are.
Sometimes I think we rush too fast. I think we can do both. We will either wallow in the difficulty and refuse to see the narrative that’s bigger, or we feel shame for feeling the difficulty. So, we will rush too quickly to the joy or to the hope. Or when we see someone around us struggling, we will be uncomfortable in their struggle, so we’ll rush them to a narrative of joy, but they need to be in that plot point and name it because we cannot heal from what we do not name. And don’t confront.
I think a lot of times we’re walking around with a lot of woundedness and a lot of things from our past, decisions that we’ve made, that maybe we regret but we haven’t named it regret. Instead maybe we are living under a banner of disappointment or whatever the thing is, but we didn’t trace it back to a certain decision at a certain time in a certain place. Call it a plot point but don’t make it the whole narrative.
Making that differentiation between a plot point and the narrative has been really life giving for me and has freed me up to let the hard things be hard, but not to let them define the whole story.
ALLIE: I love that. I love it so much. It’s such a perspective shift. If you can do it now before a really hard thing happens, then you’re going to be equipped with that when it does hit. I have a really dear friend that I grew up with that she was fostering a little boy and he actually ended up getting murdered by his birth mom. It’s this awful thing. I’m watching everybody around in our lives try to get them where they wanted them to be faster. We’re seeing these people that we all love in pain, in incredible pain, that really none of us understood because that’s a very unique trauma. No one had gone through it. And naturally, you don’t really know what to do. But as I went, I flew out there, and I sat with them, I noticed people were uncomfortable with their discomfort and wanted them to just feel better.
It was exactly what you’re saying, rushing them to get into that narrative that makes us feel better. Like, “Oh, you’re not in pain anymore. I’m so glad you got through that. God is greater.” And it’s like, they’re not there yet. They’re really upset. I learned so much about that.
But I love that you talk about that for ourselves too. Not forcing and not rushing that clarity, and that knowing of this is what’s in my story. You don’t need to know sometimes. And that’s so hard for my personality, but so true.
EMILY: I so get that. I shared this story, you might have read, but I had some back pain and I went to get a massage. My mother-in-law was like, “You need a massage. I’m going to pay for that.” I’m like, “Eh, okay.” But when I went the massage therapist, she told me, she said, “Actually, which side of your back hurts?” And I was like, “It was the left side.” She said, “Well, I actually noticed more trouble in your right side.” So immediately I’m like, “What does it mean?” You know?
I was like, “Well, tell me, what does that mean that it’s the opposite side? And I kind of freaked out like, “Oh great, I have a whole back that’s troubled.” She very calmly answered and she said, “Um, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just information.” And I thought, oh I was trying to rush to an explanation, but she was making, forcing me to be satisfied with information.
And sometimes that’s all we get. We don’t have an explanation or a diagnosis. But sometimes naming it and seeing it for what it is and letting let that be enough. That might be all we ever get. And like you said, it can be super hard and frustrating, but it still can be helpful.
As we move forward, especially with people who are in trauma situations, like you mentioned, the more comfortable we get with carrying our own question marks, I think the better friends we are to those who are living in a giant question mark that none of us understand. We can more quickly and empathetically identify with where they are and let them be in that space. Which I think is where a lot of people need to be sometimes for an amount of time that we might not be comfortable with.
ALLIE: Yeah. The whole idea and the philosophy behind doing the next right thing is really a beautiful way to live in a really beautiful way to show up for others too. It’s not just about us.
I do want to talk a little bit about the soul minimalist idea that you present. I think it’s in the second chapter or something. It’s kind of like a crux of the whole point of what you’re saying. I love that you call it soul minimalist because that’s what we talk about here on The Purpose Show is minimalism in all different forms.
I saw that it was in the Table Of Contents and I was tempted to jump to it, because as a minimalist and one of the teachers of this, I’m like, “I don’t know what that even means.” I feel like I’m out on some secret and I want to know.
It was so beautiful the way you talk about it, so I want you to explain what that is, what you mean by that and how you practice it.
EMILY: Well, Joshua Becker, who writes about actual minimalism in his books and on his blog, Becoming Minimalist, I heard him say once that minimalism is not that you should own nothing but that nothing should own you. I think people who practice minimalism in their homes and in their lifestyle, you want freedom. You want to not have things so much that it’s overcoming you. That it becomes the boss of you rather than the other way around. And so, he talked about how we often have regular input of things into our homes, but we don’t always have regular output.
And when I heard him say that, I thought, “Oh wow!” Because I’m always thinking of the inner life, I thought how that is also true on the level of my soul. When it comes to the interactions that we have everyday, deadlines that are put on us or that we put on ourselves, emails that we get, conversations with people, family members and friends, and strangers, that is constant input to our psyche, to our soul, our mind, our will and emotions. And we carry that stuff around. Especially when it’s difficult. We carry that stuff around. Our souls are very sticky and all that stuff sticks to us. It’s constant input, but we don’t have a regular practice, many of us, of output.
In fact, many of us don’t even realize we’re carrying stuff around all day, every day. And we also wouldn’t even know how to get rid of it if we tried. And so, this idea of not owning nothing, not emptying your insides, but having none of that own you, can apply in the inner life as well as the outer life.
For me the way that practice can be brought into my everyday life in reality…What does it look like to become a minimalist on the soul level? The same way decluttering is to our home. For me, silence and stillness is to my soul. That really literally looks like some intentional time when I can get it, or during my morning routine, I’ll sometimes set my phone for just a couple minutes, sometimes 10, usually 4 or 5 minutes, set it, hit start. And that time is just a time for me to sit in stillness and silence.
Sometimes I will name, silently, some of the things that I’m carrying. Usually for me, it’s an interaction with someone that rubbed me the wrong way, or a way I felt dismissed in a conversation, an argument that maybe I had with my husband that morning, a way that I was short with my people. I will name that and then imagine releasing it into the presence of God, but doing it without an agenda.
What I’ve said so far is a lot more than I usually do during that time of silence. That’s one way of releasing, but sometimes it’s just silence for the sake of silence and letting that 5 minutes of silence be my next right thing. Knowing that when the timer goes off, it will go off. Sometimes it feels like it’s been 20 minutes; sometimes it feels like it’s been 5 seconds, but it will go off in five minutes. Problems aren’t necessarily solved and the world isn’t necessarily changed. But I am a little better prepared to face my problems and to enter the world because I have cleared a little bit of space on the inside.
I don’t understand it fully. I don’t know fully the science behind it, but I do know that when I’m able to do that I feel a little bit more like myself and a little bit more able to confront the day with some space so that those things are not owning me because I’ve recognized them and I’ve spent some time in silence to let them go.
ALLIE: I love that so much. It’s so true and it’s funny to me that mindfulness and meditation is this hot topic right now and it’s like this is biblical. This is this idea of being quiet and not always filling your every second with noise and grabbing your phone, or whatever it is, is not new. It’s just affecting us at a much deeper level because we need it so much more, I think. People are really grabbing onto it. Just being still and being quiet.
I think that for Moms, what I always hear when I talk about this is, “Well, how do you find the time when there’s always somebody there?” I think that, and I want to know what you think too, but I think that sometimes silence, it doesn’t have to be perfect silent, perfect stillness where you’re on the floor and there’s no one. Sometimes it’s just a quiet moment.
I know you mentioned, I don’t know if it was in the book or podcast that you mentioned but, the walk to the mailbox or you wait one extra second before you get out of the car and wake your baby up from their nap in their car seat. Little things. I mean is there anything I’m missing in terms of busy mothers trying to find that stillness?
EMILY: I think you said it so well Allie. I think that can be a great first step practice is if you can’t even find 5 minutes, and sometimes we can’t. I mean, I had twins, two babies at once. I remember the relentless, it was almost like there was no one big decision. It was just 10 million tiny decisions. And I didn’t know if I was making any of them right. It was just so hard. And those five seconds you get alone are so sacred and sometimes you feel like, “I need to take a shower.” When you finally get that time, you want to spend it doing something that feels really life giving.
Quite honestly, silence doesn’t feel life giving to all of us all the time. We don’t see an immediate benefit. It’s a slow work. If we don’t know exactly what’s going to come of it, sometimes it can feel a waste of time. So instead of maybe doing it that way, doing exactly what you said, have it be an unconventional spiritual practice of almost playing a game of finding the silence, the natural silent moments in your day that already exist in your day. You’re not recreating the wheel.
It could be walking to the mailbox. It could be, like you said, sitting in the car for five more seconds. And letting it be five full seconds. That can actually go a really long way.
If someone is there and helping you with the kids, let them be there. Don’t stay in that room. Leave the room. Leave the house if you can. If you work outside the home, maybe you’re able to get to work a few minutes earlier than everybody else and just take that time to be silent time.
I think that we all have silent moments in the day, but we tend to fill them with something else just because the truth is, it is a lot easier to stay moving and to stay distracted than it is to be still and to be silent. It just takes a lot of intention.
I never want to make it sound like this is easy, but I think it is worth it. It’s a slow work and it is a reteaching of ourselves, of the values that silence can have in our lives. It can really begin to nurture us in ways that the distractions and the noise just aren’t able to do.
ALLIE: Yeah. So, so good. I mean, gosh, so good. So, The Next Right Thing, the book is out?
EMILY: It’s out. It came out April 2nd.
ALLIE: Good. Awesome. It’s so good you guys! And I love the minimalistic look of it. It looks really cute on my coffee table.
EMILY: Good. That’s the goal.
ALLIE: I mean if it can’t be in an Instagram photo, why do you even write it?
EMILY: Why would you even write it? I completely agree.
ALLIE: Okay, so guys, I’m going to link in the show notes to this book, and to the Emily’s podcast. It’s so good. And so short. I think the average is like 10 minutes, 12 minutes per episode. So short. And just pointed and good.
Other than that, where do you show up online? Where do you want people to go and find you?
EMILY: Yeah, I love Instagram. You mentioned Instagram. I’m at Emily P. Freeman there. That’s probably where I spend most of my time online.
ALLIE: Okay. Thank you, Emily! This was so good. I really appreciate your time.
EMILY: I loved it. Thanks for having me!
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