Red Light, Green Light...Yellow Light?

July 22, 2013

Photo courtesy Balazs Szoke

Do you remember playing the game “Red Light, Green Light” when you were a child? One person is the stop light and the rest of the kids line up on the other side of the yard. When the stop light says, “green light” and turns her back, the other players advance toward her. When she turns back around and says, “red light,” anyone caught still moving is out. The stop light repeats this until either someone touches her or all the other kids are out.

It would be nice to have such clear signals in grown-up life, wouldn’t it? Someone or something to tell us “green light”—go forward, or “red light”—stop. Other than literal traffic signals, life is seldom that explicit. Occasionally, our desires and responsibilities neatly align, and we see a clear road ahead. More often, we must develop not only our own internal signaling system of red light, green light, but also a functioning “yellow light”—“use caution”—when making decisions. I want to talk about the importance of that yellow light.

When a decision looms or an exciting opportunity presents itself, yellow lights can keep us from rushing ahead too fast without thinking. Perhaps we’ve decided to focus on a specific goal, or we’ve committed to simplifying life and reducing our activities. After consideration, we may choose to stop instead of go forward. On the other hand, a yellow light might also keep us from automatically saying no when that opportunity arises. Some of us, myself included, can be too cautious—braking when we should step on the gas. Pausing at a mental yellow light, instead of slamming on the brakes, can open our cautious minds just a crack to let in new possibilities. Yellow lights keep us from saying yes or no automatically.

Just as when we approach a yellow light while driving, we must make a decision to stop or go forward. We can’t pause there indefinitely. Our internal yellow lights should be just like that: pauses while we make our decisions, not excuses not to make those decisions.

So how do we develop a healthy internal signaling system? Basically, by asking questions and paying attention to the answers. What will be the consequences of going forward or not going forward? Is this the right thing to do? The right time to do it? What are our bodies telling us (“gut feelings” are called that for a reason) while we consider our options? The more we listen, the more we can trust ourselves.

I believe we’ll live happier lives if we live more intentional ones. Becoming more aware of our inner green, red and yellow lights is one way to do that.

How does your intuition speak to you? Do you follow your own inner signals?

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  1. There is no try. Do or do not.

    So says Yoda.

    I happen to agree. I think the more we're in touch with our true selves the less we need yellow lights. Or perhaps the less we depend on them. We either know to go for it or not. Or to perhaps wait for another time to go for it.

  2. Laure--I agree--when you know your true self, the pauses aren't as necessary. But if you're in some confusion about that true self, the pauses help clarify.

  3. Interesting reflection.... I'm still mulling over it!

  4. Claire--Thanks for taking the time to visit, comment and think about what I wrote! It means a lot to me.