Hindsight is twenty twenty. How many times have you said that? Why didn’t I…? I should have…? You know that you knew better, but you couldn’t put your finger on why you knew what you knew…but you knew it and you went the opposite direction. And then you proceed to beat yourself up. You needed to go with your gut. But you ignored it.
Dr. Richard Restak has studied this and written about it in his book “The Naked Brain.” Basically, the more you ponder, research, and weigh out your options, the less desirable the decision. That is your rational brain at work. On the other hand, your limbic brain, is your gut. You can’t put your finger on why you don’t want to hire that guy, but your gut is telling you not to. Listen to your limbic brain.
I’m sure you remember taking standardized tests in school. Your teacher told you to go with your first impression – your gut. When you start overthinking, you will likely make the wrong choice. In fact, in studies on those who have lost use of their limbic brain (i.e. brain injury) and only have use of their rational brain, they cannot make a decision. They are stuck in a rational loop of analysis paralysis. They would never finish the test.
So how do you move from the rational loop to going with your gut? Here are some suggestions:
1. Narrow. As in narrow your choices. If you go to a grocery store and there are 15 choices of jams in a display versus 5 choices of jams, you are more likely to buy from the display with only 5 choices (Crazy huh? Tell me why there are 32 types of just one brand of toothpaste). So if you are given the choice of 15, try and narrow your choices even if it might be somewhat arbitrary. Like I’ll only look at red jams. This will help keep you out of analysis paralysis.
2. Authentic. If the choice is a hiring decision or choosing a client, you should look for whether what someone says matches their actions. Frequently, it’s difficult to read if someone is being authentic or if they are really good at marketing themselves. Studies have shown that people have micro facial expressions when they are covering something up. You are reading it subconsciously and aren’t sure why you don’t trust someone. If you can’t figure out what it is or give a concrete fact as to why you don’t want to hire them – go with you gut. Listen to your subconscious because it’s reading the signs loud and clear.
3. Timer. Limit the time you spend on the choice or decision. If there is no reason why you have to delay the decision (like the college hasn’t accepted me or I don’t know if I got the funding), then set the timer. Limiting the window of time for you to weigh out the myriad of pros and cons will help you stay closer to your gut instead of letting the rational loop take over. If you are taking the SAT…you’re in luck, it’s a timed test! If you’re deciding on a new camera, give yourself 30 minutes to compare features, look at reviews, talk to your partner – then decide.
4. Irrational. Ignore the rational explanation. Crazy huh? Buried in your subconscious is all your life experiences, failures, and successes. Your brain is not going to be able to catalog and cross reference why you know that this guy is a bad hire, why those shoes are wrong for you, or why that bottle of Zinfandel is right. I can remember, from my restaurant manager days, that when I was hiring a hostess, I gave him or her about 30 seconds to make a good impression. If there was an engaging smile and eye contact, it was a yes. I went with my gut.
5. Heuristics. These are rules of thumb. It’s another way of limiting your choices. The world is overwhelming with the amount of information at our disposal…or rather immediate consumption and distraction. This does not mean you need to consume every piece of information available. Use some rules of thumb. I want a camera with the most megapixels for under $200. I’m looking for a forklift driver who is OSHA certified and has worked for a company with perishable products. I’m looking for a training course that is on presentation skills, no more than two days long within a 5-hour drive for less that $1,500. It helps narrow the focus and limit the analysis as well.
For some of us, this is easy. We are comfortable going with our gut (for the record, I was always one of the first ones done when taking exams). Some of us struggle with giving up the analysis. Start small. Maybe the next time you get an ice cream cone, you narrow your choices to those with some kind of chocolate in it or only flavors that start with the letter R. Go with your gut.
When did you listen to your gut?