I’ve observed that many of us rely almost exclusively on quantitative evidence, while ignoring or even disparaging our more subjective qualitative insights.
Is this indulgence in data-driven, linear analysis due to our fear of the unknown?
Are we so driven by “hard” data that we are blocking the “soft” insights available only through our gut feelings?
But, are our data-driven and intuitive minds really so diametrically different? In other words, why is it so common to believe that a linear way of looking at a problem is the only way to look at that problem?
Anyone who has truly mastered a skill has what seems to be an uncanny ability to “see” things that others who are less skilled simply overlook. In fact, someone who has mastered a skill or craft often does not engage in the machinations of “hard” data analysis, but can “see” the solution to the problem or potential outcome quickly.
Should this master’s insights or suggestions be ignored? Hardly, because it often is the result of experience and a finely honed ability to recognize patterns or trends that lead to those insights.
Is our gut instinct based on this same foundation?
Gut instincts nag us to do something – even if it’s not necessarily what we had planned to do. Often these gut feelings contradict our more linear perception of reality and we don’t heed the advice:
- Remember that “funny feeling” you had when you accepted a job offer that sounded so good – even though “something” was telling you not to accept it? You only discovered (after much angst) that what the employer told you about the job wasn’t the reality of the job.
- Or what about the time that “something” told you to get off the plane in which you were traveling? More than likely, you ignored your gut – but then gave yourself a head slap when the plane had to make an emergency landing down a runway filled with firetrucks and responders in hazmat suits. (This actually happened to me!)
In both of these situations, did you question why you didn’t listen to your gut?
So what leads to these gut feelings?
While the specific mechanism of what creates a gut feeling may not be fully understood, it seems that we humans are wired to have them.
In fact, I haven’t met anyone yet who does not acknowledge that they have experienced a gut feeling about a person or situation at least once in their lives. Although the feeling may have defied logical analysis, the insight ultimately came true.
The sad reality is that gut feelings are often only acknowledged after the fact. In other words, we recognize or admit to having that gut feeling only in hindsight.
Given the ubiquitous nature of gut feelings, the number of people who actually listen to their gut (anecdotally based upon my observations) is substantially smaller.
The question, of course, is why are we so afraid of acting upon our gut instincts or using them in our decision making? Why is it so challenging to accept these gut feelings before we act – rather than recognizing their wisdom afterward?
Perhaps it is the fear of being wrong or failing that prevents us from accepting the spontaneous insights of our guts. But what if our gut instincts are simply the result of processing information at a much higher speed than our more linear thought processes?
The Brain and the Mind
For lack of a better location, our gut instincts emanate from our brains – and the full capacity and capabilities of this amazing organ have not yet been fully mapped.
I’m sure that you’ve heard the recurring myth that people use only 10% of the total capacity of their brains. However, this assumption from the early 1900s has been debunked by current research. The reality is that nearly every part of our brain is constantly active: although only 3% of total body weight, the brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy.
In other words, the brain is constantly active processing, organizing, and storing external and internal information.
Maybe our gut instincts are the result of our brain sensing patterns or similarities with information that it had previously stored – information that would take longer to detect using purely linear thought processes.
So, why not become a little more receptive and accepting of the quicker insights of our gut feelings?
I’m not suggesting that quantitative data be ignored in decision making. Instead, I am suggesting that data be viewed as a tool that needs to be analyzed and interpreted by using both parts of our brains: the linear quantitative and the creative qualitative.
Our experiences have shown that hindsight is always 20/20. But imagine how our lives would be enhanced if we finally learned to trust those gut feelings when they happen!
Trusting your gut is essentially a commitment to trusting yourself.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a change management/HR expert and passionate advocate for eradicating burnout in the workplace. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, university professor, and researcher, she is the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. as well as a popular keynote speaker and corporate trainer. To see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI. She can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.