“The only real valuable thing is intuition.” - Albert Einstein
When you did something wrong, or right, as a kid you felt it in your bones. Steal candy and the guilt poisoned your stomach. Give a handmade gift to your mother and your head felt lightened with joy. Those visceral reactions are still within you even if you’ve tamped them down into small little queasy nuggets.
Call it intuition or instinct, it’s not to be ignored. Your hunches make a notable impact on decision making -- in some people that’s a good thing, while in others it seems to lead to recklessness.
David DiSalvo, author of What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, uses research to show us our logic can be untrustworthy. Your brain is your primary source of fear and avoidance. It also over-values peer approval and gives credence to untrue stereotypes. But it’s not as if feelings have some stellar track record for guiding decisions. Dr. Leon Seltzer uses research to argue the opposite case, citing how anxiety, depression, self doubt and narcissism give us triggers for falsely processing information.
All agree, however, that your “guts” are part of an intricate system -- brain, consciousness, feelings, instincts -- and the whole system makes decisions. It’s foolish to believe it’s just your brain. When someone tells you to “trust your gut,” they’re really telling you to consider intuition, instinct and emotion in your decision making. It’s about marrying body and mind, inner world and outer world, in a clear manner before moving forward.
Melody Wilding, professor of human behavior at Hunter College, was interviewed at Fast Company and highlights the essential and intertwined nature of intuition: "Trusting your gut is trusting the collection of all your subconscious experiences. Your gut is this collection of heuristic shortcuts. It’s this unconscious-conscious learned experience center that you can draw on from your years of being alive," she explains. "It holds insights that aren’t immediately available to your conscious mind right now, but they’re all things that you’ve learned and felt. In the moment, we might not be readily able to access specific information, but our gut has it at the ready."
So how do we pair these collective learned lessons of experience with our logical minds? In matters of the heart and head, one needs clarity about the influence of both on decision making. This requires a level of mindful self awareness and emotional intelligence that we should all strive to reach. Body awareness is also key. For many of us, we need to eschew the idea that our physical selves are just daily transport for our heads. Your body does not exist just to get you to your next meeting or hold you upright in front of a computer.
Here are key considerations for decision making that gives credence to guts and brains:
Reflection - The Gut. This is about awareness and assessment. You’re faced with a problem that needs a decision. What was your first reaction about how to handle the choice? How is emotion involved? What would you decide without fear in the equation? How do you feel when you envision the outcome of each different decision? Get in touch with the logical fallacies, your values, your emotions and the biases you may be facing.
Analysis - The Brain. Every decision has pros and cons, constraints and consequence in the short and long term. Consider these things along with considering your past successes and failures and what kind of decision making got you there.
Acceptance - Whatever you decide, acknowledge that you did the best you could with the information you had, both in your guts and your brain.