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Gut feel: How suitable for decision-making?

How do I know if it is the right choice? I hear it quite often from friends, family, clients. Same way I have asked this question to myself a good number of times. How does someone actually know if what they are doing is the right thing to do at that moment? After having addressed the idea of perfect timing last week, I believe you will relate with where this theme is headed.

To answer short and sweet: You do not know. To know something is to perceive it as a fact or truth. Hence, there is no way to know for sure before you go through the experience or event in question. Of course, I would like to provide you with a longer and more detailed answer. Hopefully, something you can take with you after this reading and reflect upon, if not putting it into practice short after.

Let us consider a daily life example, one you can probably relate easily. You are shopping at your favorite store looking to buy a new sweater. After identifying the model you like, you find your size. This sweater comes in different colors. How to pick from a myriad of beautiful tones? If you are the indecisive type, it will probably take you 5 minutes and the opinion of your spouse or a friend. If you are used to make quick decisions, your brain gives you a couple of unconscious cues and you go with your favorite color or the latest in fashion trend.

Even if it takes you an additional 5 minutes to decide, it is still a fairly quick and uncomplicated process. Why questioning yourself so much when it comes to larger life choices? Yes, you can argue that going with the blue sweater instead of the grey one does not have a live-or-die consequence to your life or to someone else’s. Albeit my undeniable agreement, let me challenge your thought process here.

It is more about the underlying truth than the process itself. What do I mean by this? Each of us has their own method to come to a decision. For some people it involves a pro and con list, while for others dissecting all the angles and connecting all the dots it what matters the most. For some, the opinion of others takes precedence, whereas for others their own preferences dictate the outcome. This is what I call The Process. Regardless of the applied method everyone comes eventually to a decision. Even when that decision involves taking no action. Do not fool yourself, taking no action is a decision in itself. Just not one taking you closer to your goals.

Now, what it is also different though exquisitely unique lying behind that decision is YOU. You have a unique set of traits, experiences, strengths, abilities, beliefs, values, that make you who you are. Underneath this portrait lies your instinct, your gut feel, your core. This I what I call The Truth. This truth is yours and no one else rather than you have the key to unlock it.

What I believe happens to the most of us is that along our journey we get disconnected to our truth. The world’s turmoil and everyone’s noise become louder and we slowly forget how it feels to be in touch with that core part of ourselves. Our brains keep making the day-to-day decisions based on our programming and past choices. In other words, this means that there is less space and freedom to make renewed and bold decisions, when we keep relying on the same old patterns.

How can we change this pattern? How can we reconnect to our truth and make decisions based on what serves us best, trusting our gut feel to lead the way to fulfillment and success? Go through the 4 strategies below and let me know which ones – if any – help you reawaken your inner trust.

1. Understand the message: For some people trusting their gut feel sounds too much esoteric. Something associated with black arts or carrying a heavy load of emotions. Others want to trust their gut desperately, always to react in disappointment when it does not lead them where expected. It is important to clarify that your gut feel is not part of any magical power that you either are born with or not, nor the answer to all your questions. Though it carries a message if you were curious enough to listen. Called gut feel due to a typical stomach discomfort or pain caused usually by fear or anxiety, it does not deny its cognitive side. Your brain is active all day long collecting and processing information, including from all your experiences – positives and negatives – acting as a huge data base for future use, also influencing your decisions. Your gut feel acts often as a sudden urge giving you hints to something your brain is trying to communicate, but it has not been yet fully processed into your conscious awareness. Be curious and listen to the message behind that tingling feeling.

2. Observe and measure: If you are having a hard time trusting your gut feel, give it a bit of time. Start by observing your behaviors and reactions whenever you have that physical sensation or urge to act without an apparent reason. Take the time to decode the message behind and assimilate what your brain is trying to tell you through your body. Be aware of this mind-body relationship and note down the reactions you have to certain situations. Sometimes our gut feel gets so loud that it is nearly impossible to ignore it, but we must develop our observation as well as listening skills. And why not keep a score of our own gut feel? If it gets loud and strong, it’d mean likely a 10 in a scale of 1-10. In other words, go for it without looking back – I’m sure some deep-rooted experiences are there. On the opposite side of the scale, perhaps you are lacking the confidence and need to gather more information or expertise before deciding. Somewhere in the middle, you could ask for advice before moving forward and track the outcome.

3. Know what it is not: Gut feel is not an excuse to make crappy decisions and blame others afterwards, including blaming yourself. There should me a clear distinction between what is your gut feel and what are your beliefs and opinions. Let us say you have a new manager and you have heard some unpleasant things about him/her before you both met. During your first team meeting, your new manager comes across a bit harsh on his speech towards the team’s overall performance. You feel annoyed and leave the meeting thinking “I knew I didn’t have a good feeling about him/her”. This has probably nothing to do with your gut feel, but rather with the unconscious bias you are experiencing. In addition, gut feeling is different from anxiety. Even though the physical cues can be quite similar to when you feel anxious, this itchy sensation is not supposed to last forever. Usually after a decision has been made – even though it may not end up exactly as expected – you reach a peaceful, or at least, relief state. Bottom line be aware of disguised biases as well as any anxiety symptoms.

4. Pause and practice: Do you give yourself a chance to pause before or after making a decision? Especially when developing your listening and accepting skills towards your gut feel, you need both the time and the practice. Time is important to take a step back and ask yourself a few questions before moving up the “gut ladder”. While practice allows you to get used to connecting to your bodily sensations, to learn how to trust your feelings and not just your thoughts (what our brains are highly programmed to do!). If you look closely, you will realize how many decisions you make every single day – from the smallest to the biggest, from the personal to the professional ones. What is boosting those decisions? How often are you resorting to thorough analysis compared to your intuition? How are you coming to terms with the outcome? “Practice makes the master” is how the saying goes. In this case, it will make you the master of intuition – the master of your truth.

Our gut feel is a powerful tool when we learn how to navigate it. Do not get me wrong: You will not make all your decisions based on your gut feel. Certain situations require a more structured, detailed, and analytical process. Whereas others, call – even scream – for your intuition, as you know deep down what is best for you without undergoing an exhaustive thought process. Above all, the main message being to stay truthful to your truth. No matter how uncertain it gets, your truth is your north star.



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