We hear it constantly in leadership books and speeches for entrepreneurs “Follow your gut feeling!”, “Listen to your intuition!” yes, this type of advice is motivating and can inspire you to fist pump in the air and “chase your dreams”, but when that dose of magical motivation wears off, and you are standing at a figurative cross road, pondering the very literal consequences of your next decision, how often do you abandon your intuition and go back to your habits of second guessing your gut feeling?
In this blog, my objective is not to be inspirational but instead, I seek to justify to all the rational thinkers, why going with your gut feeling is often the best strategy.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift” – Albert Einstein
It is my hope that after reading this blog you will start to hone in on your gift of intuition because it can and will, bring you closer to your own definition of success and who better to guide you there, than you?
The science behind trusting your gut feeling
The human brain, is the most sophisticated organ on the planet. Period. It has significantly evolved from the primitive brain of our Neanderthal ancestors (I often wonder just how much when I see men drooling over a pretty lady in the street, literally, forgetting to breath). I like to view the brain as an onion, with layers, upon layers, that have developed over time. The middle of the brain is the oldest part which I will call the “primitive brain” and the outside layer of the onion, the “prefrontal cortex”, is the newest part of the brain.
The prefrontal cortex
The prefrontal cortex, the newest addition to the brain, is essentially what makes us so sophisticated. The prefrontal cortex is often referred to as the “rational mind” and is responsible for things such as logic, critical thinking, learning and language. It is basically the part of the brain that as you are ruminating over which path to follow tells you to doubt your gut feeling because there is no place for such fluffy thinking in the business world.
The basal ganglia
The basil ganglia is directly connected to the brain stem which is the most primitive part of our brain. This part of the brain is responsible for how we survive and has been on the earth for over two hundred million years, whilst the prefrontal cortex scarcely a hundred thousand. The basal ganglia is where your feelings, emotions, memories and instincts are stored and is often called the “subconscious mind”.
According to Charles Duhigg ALL decision making takes place in our subconscious mind. In contrast, all learning takes place in our prefrontal cortex. The relationship between these parts of the brain is as follows; we learn new behaviour in our prefrontal cortex and when it becomes familiar to us, we move this behaviour from the prefrontal cortex and store it, as a habit, in the basal ganglia. We do this to free up space in our prefrontal cortex, so that we can continue to learn and take in new experiences. This explains why you don’t have to actively think about how to walk, drive or even type.
The power of gut instinct guidance
In essence, your basal ganglia or “subconscious mind” is an archive of all your past experiences and learned skills, which then developed into habits. I like to view it as an internal regulator which keeps your thinking and acting in a manner consistent with what you have said or done in the past – holding you accountable to your values. So, the beauty of your gut feeling and why it is so powerful, is that when you’re making a decision that feels right, more often than not, it is based on sound logic and stored previous experience. You just don’t realise this at the time.
Have you ever had a bad feeling about a person? You can’t rationalise why but you just feel something is wrong. Chances are you were right about the person. How is this so? Well, gut feelings are products of past experiences and it’s highly probable that something said, or done by this person triggered a red flag for you, based on a prior social lesson you learnt, but since forgot.
Gut feelings stem from your past, first-hand, experiences – they are not mere fluffy feelings. They are why people know within three of four seconds if they like a song, know within five seconds of walking into a shop whether they will buy something or not (even though they may drag you back to the shop some three times before committing to the purchase…mother!!) and know within 30 seconds of meeting someone new if they are attracted to them or not.
Trusting in your gut instinct is trusting in you..
All of your accumulated knowledge, from the books you have read, places you experienced, to the people you’ve met, all gave you a vision (or at least clarity) about what you want and influenced you to be where you are today.
Business owners – you, and only you, had the unique collection of past experiences and present knowledge encouraging you to take the leap and transform your vision into a business – I’m willing to bet you did this because it felt right, at the time. Based on this, it logically follows, that you and only you, will continue to have a good sense about what your business needs to fulfil your vision. Trust that your intuition, an embodiment of your experiences, feelings and knowledge, is guiding you in the right direction. And if it doesn’t feel right, listen to that feeling.
So, the next time you need to make a decision and feel something driving you in one direction over another, don’t ignore it. Your primitive brain may not be as articulate as your prefrontal cortex but it is older, wiser and infinitely more understanding of who you are as a person, based on your past experiences and in my view, worth taking the time to listen to.
I will leave you with this quote;
“You will never be able to follow your own inner voice until you clear up the doubts in your mind.” – Roy T Bennett
Whilst gut feelings are crucial, it is important to recognise that without a clear vision they won’t be accurate. In my next blog I will be explaining how you can bring clarity to your business or career vision..
For more information on this topic read Brian Foley’s useful article on gut instinct here. Image curtesy of Pathdoc on Shutterstock