4 Strategies to Help You Trust Your GutNone By Steve Calechman
Intuition, the ability to know something without needing to think about it, gets a bad rap when it comes to decision-making. What makes it sound easy (no data or analytics to sift through!) also makes it feel iffy. People like to know why they’re doing something and be able to explain their decision to others. “We’re told, ‘You need a reason to do this,’ and a gut feeling doesn’t come with a reason,” says Art Markman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin and author of Bring Your Brain to Work.
But intuition isn’t pure fiction. It comes from experience; and, experts say, it turns out your gut can be a reliable instrument for making a good decision. Nonetheless, going with your gut can still feel risky. The problem is that it’s still speculation, and that lack of definitiveness can create anxiety. But there are ways to lessen that.
Here are four ways to start trusting what your gut is saying to help you move forward without endless consideration.
Know the Time for Your Gut
There are two areas where leaning on intuition make the most sense. One is any time a reason is hard to articulate, for example, when you make an aesthetic judgment, such as deciding what to hang on your wall or what to order for dinner. It’s based on a qualitative feel. You like it because you like it; and, if it also involves buying something, well, you’re the one who has to live with the choice, Markman points out.
The other instance when the gut is an effective decision-maker is when you have experience with a subject and there isn’t a definitive, correct answer. Intuition works this way: Rather than breaking down a situation into small pieces, it takes in the big picture and sees patterns. For example, an experienced manager may be able to quickly assess a combination of factors and determine if an applicant is a good fit for the company. “You may not know exactly why you think that way, but you can make an accurate judgment,” says Michael Pratt, Ph.D., a professor at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. He co-authored a 2012 study that involved two tests. In one, subjects watched basketball games and rated the difficulty of shots. In the other, subjects looked at handbags and decided if they were real or fake. In both, those with previous experience or knowledge of the topic were able to make quick and effective judgments.
In a way, Pratt says, intuition works like muscle memory. The knowledge kicks in before the conscious mind does. Think of how you work a combination lock. When you just spin the numbers on auto-pilot, it’s easy; when you start thinking, you’re pulled out of your flow state and the process bogs you down.
Expand Your Possibilities
Many everyday decisions come down to picking between options, and sometimes, there isn’t a clear favorite or best choice. But often, we believe that there is, and worry about making a mistake. All that fretting is futile, says Robyn Landow, Ph.D., a New York City psychologist. “Who says what’s right or wrong? Only hindsight does,” notes Landow. “When you find the Book of Right, let me know.”
The thought that there are multiple good choices can be freeing, but there’s still the task of choosing between options. Landow suggests visualizing living with a choice (going through all the steps, not just imagining the ending). Doing this engages more of your brain to assess the options. “You’re not just waxing poetic,” Landow says. “You are seeing how it’s going to look.”
Think About Your Time
Some live by the mantra “Always give 100 percent.” But sometimes, “Good enough,” is plenty. “A lot of things don’t require 100 percent,” Markman says. This approach entails making quicker decisions, likely based on your intuition. Whether it’s crafting an email or buying a pair of shoes, you could spend another 30 minutes on the task in front of you, but ask yourself, “How much better will the outcome be?” and whether that time would be better spent elsewhere. Unlike money, “You can’t get the time back,” he says.
If a wealth of options has you spinning your wheels, and you’re unable to settle on one clear path, create some pressure by setting a 10-minute timer and trying to make your decision by the time it goes off. If you don’t respond to deadlines, recruit an unbiased friend who can quickly help eliminate a few of your choices. “We’re caught in our own circuit and can’t rule stuff out that well,” Landow says. You may agree and say, “I didn’t like that one, either,” or you’ll realize you have stronger feelings in one direction, which can get you to finality.
Find Your Belief and Accept the Uncertainty
Becoming excited about a decision is key. That’s another way visualization can help. By imagining every step you’d take following a particular decision, a choice becomes more doable and less overwhelming. “It’s educated intuition,” Landow says. You own the decision. That’s a good place to get to with gut choices because research has shown that this educated intuition more often leads to intensified positive emotions after successful outcomes rather than intensified negative feelings over failures. Another surprising finding: Positive outcomes were more expected than negative ones with this technique. It becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Just believing in the decision makes the desired outcome more likely,” Markman says.
But still, there are no guarantees. The decision might not work out as you imagined, and that can shake your confidence in going with your intuition in the future. If you fall into a pattern of making choices that don’t get you what you want, then it’s time to reassess how you make decisions. But, if it’s just a matter of one individual choice not turning out as you’d hoped, don’t romanticize the road not taken. “We get caught up in the thought that we made the wrong decision,” Landow says. “But how do you know the other one would have been better?”
Rather than scrutinize the past, focus on how to address or improve your current situation. It keeps you moving forward and problem-solving, not ruminating.
You May Also Like: