How to use your gut instinct to make a decision

November 1, 2012

When we can’t decide between two or more choices, we’re stuck acting like a Waffler. To get unstuck, we need to follow our gut instinct — listening to your inner voice lets you take action, and more often than not, it’s the right one for you. 

What is gut instinct?
 “Gut instincts are the sum total of [your] experiences — millions and millions and millions of them. And that sum total enables you to make reasonable decisions,” says Bob Lutz,  who used his instinct to turn around Chrysler in the 1990s.

Instinct, the opposite of logical reasoning, tell us viscerally if something feels right or wrong. And it signals us in a variety of ways.

• When a decision isn’t right, we may experience sweaty palms, sleeplessness, an upset stomach, or loss of energy.

• If our gut is telling us we’ve made the right decision, we may feel a sense of peace and ease, or tingling and goose bumps on arms or legs.

How to find your gut
But sometimes we have trouble tapping into our instincts. The noise in our heads from over-reasoning cancels out the signals that could help guide us. When this happens, try these four unscientific but effective methods to locate your intuition.

1. Procrastinate. This is the one time that distracting yourself can help get you unstuck. By doing something else, you clear the clutter in your brain. Physical activity is a great way to focus elsewhere. Reading a novel, going to a movie, doing chores, or shopping also are good distractions.

2. Daydream. By letting your mind wander, it will take you places that reasoning can’t. This mental meandering will calm your thoughts, making way for feelings.

3. Set a time limit. When you push yourself to make a decision under time pressure, you don’t have time to think, only to feel. This is the principle behind the Unstuck app’s “Pros vs Pros” decision-making tool.

4. Test your feelings. Once you make a decision, notice how your body responds to it. Are you anxious? Do you feel at ease?

See or act your way into a decision
Once you surface your instinct, there are a couple of ways to harness it, based on the teachings of management professor Henry Mintzberg of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He believes there are three approaches to decision-making: Thinking, seeing, and doing. For Wafflers, thinking is what has us stuck, so seeing or doing can be good alternatives.

Seeing your way to a decision is based purely on gut instinct. You are out in the world, you see something, and you instantly make a decision. This works well when you are choosing between physical objects. If you aren’t able to go somewhere, try Unstuck’s “Visualize It” tool, which shows you how to collage your feelings into a focused vision.

Doing or acting requires a leap of faith. You call on your instinct to make your best guess and then act on it. The results will tell you if the decision was good or if you need to follow a different path. 

Whatever method you use, the key is to trust yourself and what you truly believe in.

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