FYI, this is a longer post and no tl;dr.
I’ve been thinking about the phrase ‘Trust Your Gut” lately. You’ve heard “trust your gut,” or that “your first response is usually correct,” and there are many many times when that is true. Trusting your gut is equivalent to paying attention to how you feel about a situation.
Now, before we go further, none of what I am about to share applies to physical danger, but this is a business blog.
So there is one very important caveat you should understand before you rely on your gut. It is simply this: your feeling, or gut is filtered through your past experiences and the rewards or consequences you received. In other words, the positive and negative results you received in the past created your gut responses. And most importantly, your gut response wants to protect you.
So don’t always immediately go with your gut. Challenge your initial reaction. Why are you hesitating? Or conversely, why aren’t you hesitating? Take a moment to examine why you are about to respond the way you are. If you keep saying “because it feels right,” you are actually justifying, not examining. Perhaps share the decision with someone else, who is not a stakeholder in the decision, to get his or her perspective. Once you believe you are on fairly even footing and you are not making a purely reactionary decision, you can look at the actual merits of the situation.
Over time, as your gut reaction proves accurate, absolutely trust that gut reaction!
Here’s a way to understand that gut reaction and make it better that I took from my forthcoming book.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you objectively examined the merits of the opportunity and you believe it would be a good thing for your business. Yet you keep putting it off. You can’t quite “pull the trigger.” Well, guess what? You have to go back to understanding why you’re struggling.
Try this exercise: Focus on the hesitation and fear you are feeling. Spend a minute or two, Not thinking about the situation itself, but the emotions you are having around it. Ask yourself, “What other times have I felt this feeling?” It doesn’t have to be about this type of decision at all. Simply, when has my stomach been in knots like this? When have I “known” I should do something and have held back? What was the situation then? Next, think of another one, that happened when you were younger. What was going on then? The physical, mental and emotional responses should be the same (or very close), but the situation is entirely unrelated. It may not even be about a decision. Now, try to remember the youngest age you ever felt this way. Describe that experience as accurately as you can. Feel what you felt then. Stick with it as the emotions wash over you. Feel it fully again while knowing it is not actually happening. Typically, the emotions will wax and wane. Try not to let it go to quickly. If, for some reason, you start to panic or feel out of control of the situation, stop and let things settle. Those reactions typically indicate a deeper, unresolved issue that may require specialized assistance. This does not mean you are mentally ill, just that your ability to self-heal is currently impaired.
Once you have gone as far back to the earliest time you can recall, it is time to start de-coupling the emotional response from the current situation. By de-coupling, I don’t mean that you have no emotions involved in your decision making. What de-coupling means is that your emotions from the past are no longer overwhelming the current decision. “But Dr. Jeff,” you may say, “isn’t that part of learning from the past?” I would respond, “Absolutely, we need to learn from the past.” However, the magnitude of an emotional response of a 12 year old should not be influencing the decisions of a 25-70 year old.
The obvious question is how do we do that? How do we de-couple those reactions? One of the simplest ways is to remind ourselves that we are not 12 anymore (or whatever age we were at the time we are focused on). You are an adult. You are smarter, more experienced, and more capable than you were then. Recall what you were like at that age, what your life circumstances were, your home, your friends, your family. What were your priorities at that age? I would imagine they are quite different now. You’re doing ok, if not great. Listen, this doesn’t have to be a full blown therapy session, often simply reminding ourselves of these facts is enough. However, if you are recalling a traumatic event, you should strongly consider a professional.
A second way to de-couple is imagining the worst case scenario. What is the worst that can happen? You lose money? You go bankrupt? Will you die, lose your family? If it isn’t dying or losing your family, then what is the real worst case? Certainly, the worst case might be extremely bad, yet if you are still alive you have the opportunity to recover. Next, ask yourself what are the chances of the worst case actually happening? What is the real risk? Certainly it could happen, but is there an objective way to measure the risk? If not, then put a subjective measure on the worst case while still managing the emotions around the worst case scenario. Is it 10%, 30%, 50%? Yes, it will suck if it happens, but can you recover, mentally, physically, emotionally and financially? 99% of the time, the answer is yes.
Okay, so now review the benefits, the upside of the decision. What are the positives that could come out of this? What are the rewards of moving forward with this opportunity? Then, ask yourself how hard are you willing to work to minimize the risk and maximize the upside potential. And finally, always remember, if your decision is wrong, make a new decision. So often, we think this one decision is the last choice we will ever make. But that isn’t really the case, is it. By the time we get to the “major” decision, we have already made numerous smaller choices along the way which have led us to this big moment. And whatever we decide to do, there are as many, if not more choices we make as we implement that big choice. The bottom line is that we over estimate the weight of a single decision, and underestimate the strength or our daily choices. So, don’t get bogged down in the paralysis of analysis. Do your research, or due diligence, make sure you are free and clear of your old emotional baggage, make a choice and move forward.
Sometimes you need help examining the content of your gut, if so give me a call. You can spill your guts to me.
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