Today we wrap up our series on decision making with one of the most important factors you can look at when you’re trying to figure out what projects to focus on now – and which to leave on the back burner for the time being.
As with most things, the most important factor is usually the one most easily dismissed in practice.
“What, get exercise, get sleep and eat well to help with my stress? No, give me some pills, or a $1,000 stress management seminar! Aren’t there 10 books I can read about it, too?”
Let’s move on from that example. Didn’t mean to give my own internal monologue there.
Let’s talk about your gut.
You can call it a hunch, intuition, a good/bad feeling, whatever you want, but your body knows when there are reasons to believe when something is right or not right. We call this a “gut feeling”, and it literally is a gut feeling.
Your brain, aware of whether something is a good idea or a bad one, will generate biochemical responses to get your attention. In the most vulnerable part of your body, your underbelly.
Think back to the times you wished you had trusted your gut, when you KNEW that you should have made one choice over another, and it came back to bite you in the end. Your gut isn’t right 100% of the time (and we’ll talk about that in a moment), but it happens often enough that it’s worth taking seriously.
When clients come to us with a dilemma, and we walk them through what might be the best choice for their situation, 9 times out of 10 they say “Yeah, I kind of knew that was the better choice. I just had to hear it from someone else.”
Your gut is smarter than you think.
But let’s talk about what happens when it’s not.
There’s a difference between risky and wrong.
One of the reasons we don’t make decisions easily is because we’re afraid. We’re afraid that X might be a wrong choice compared to Y. We’re afraid of being disappointed, or we’re afraid the thing we try won’t work, or we’re afraid that it will be too hard for us.
These are all valid feelings. And they live in your head, not your gut. If your gut tells you that you should quit law already and become a stand-up comedian like you dreamed of as a kid, that’s a war of head versus gut.
Your head is invested in the safe path, and the status quo. Your gut is invested in doing what’s right for you.
So your head gets caught up in the fear. What if this thing happens? What if that other thing doesn’t work? What if I regret my choice? And all of that fear creates biochemical reactions of its own. Fight or flight. Panic attacks. Constant self-doubt.
And so sometimes you think your gut is telling you something, but it’s really the rest of your body.
If you’re worried about quitting law, where does the tension present? Probably your shoulders and neck. Your chest probably tightens up. Your head probably feels tight and tense, too. That’s fear.
And you might have some valid fears going on there. There may be a lot of risk involved, a lot of things you’re uncomfortable with. But they’re worth exploring on their own, preferably with someone you can trust.
Because if you explore that fear, you can make the distinction between what’s worth worrying about and what’s not. You can make a conscious call on what you’ll do next.
When it comes to making decisions, doing something risky for you is different than doing something WRONG for you.
What to do when the feeling hits
If you’re experiencing risk (body tension), then you should probably write down what it is that’s making you tense.
That’s usually the bottleneck – we leave it in this swirling morass of feeling and mental sentence fragments, and we don’t do the thing that will give us control over that feeling.
If you’re experiencing aversion (that gut feel), then you should probably put into words why you’re feeling that way.
That’s generally easy, and usually has something to do with your values and morals and standards. Something to do about what’s right for you as a person, and what you believe in.
You’re usually not worried about risk and consequence there.
You’re almost DEFINITELY not worried about what other people think or how it would “make you look”.
But you have to be careful not to confuse the two. It’s easy to do.
So, to wrap it up – when you are trying to choose between decisions and different projects, and you’re either experiencing stress or serious second-guessing, consider your gut.
It’s right more than you think.
Thanks for sticking with me through the series.
(Shoot an email to the ninjas or click one of those sharing buttons if you want to see more like this on the blog. I never know if all you want is Naomi’s posts. I’m insecure like that.)
All my best,