This week, Anna looks at the power of listening to your own intuition when it comes to making big decisions.
Why trust your intuition? Why not just rely on our cognitive ability, a comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons, and make a sensible, rational decision?
Well, first of all, we’re never going to have complete information. We’re never going to know every single factor, consequence, scenario… We’re never going to have all the information, all at once, in order to make a perfect choice based only on analysis, conscious thought, and cognition. So it’s not possible to make a decision just with logical analysis. And probably when we think we’re making a decision just based on analysis, we are actually drawing some intuitive conclusions and making a more intuitive decision than we realise.
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Hello there and welcome back, as we look at intuition, trusting your intuition this week. Now, this may seem like a bit of a strange topic when we’re talking such serious and tangible questions like career decisions and business strategies and so on. But hear me out. Bear with me, because this is a critical one.
Just like last week, I hope you caught last week’s episode where we were looking at this very powerful insight that there is no right answer. And just like that one, that insight is something that I still need to hear, I still need to tell myself and have other people tell me, this one is another one that I’m still working on. So trusting your intuition is incredibly powerful, and let’s look at why that is.
First of all, what on earth is your intuition?
You might hear of people saying, they’re unintuitive or they have lots of intuition and they always make intuitive decisions. But actually it’s something we all have. It’s just a story we tell ourselves. Just like last week I was saying, I used to self identify as a Libra. I can’t possibly make decisions. I’m really indecisive because I’m a Libra. It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying, “Oh no, I’m not very intuitive. I’m more rational. I make decisions, pros and cons, and not analytical and so on. And that can be quite a limiting story.
Now, of course, there are lots of situations, if not all situations, that do require an element, and benefit from elements of really analysing and looking at pros and cons. But that’s not the complete picture. And so, it’s really a question of whether we choose to listen to it. So we all have it. We all have that intuition, but it’s a question of whether we choose to listen to it.
It’s actually a very real psychological process.
The brain is using past experiences, so things that you have experienced before, perhaps forgotten, but you’ve internalised them into your psyche, and also cues from your environment that you might not be picking up consciously. So that could be your own physical reaction to something. Maybe your intuition is telling you, “Oh my goodness, I’m getting that tight feeling in my stomach,” or your shoulders are tensing up. You’re getting sweaty palms. Or, conversely, you’re feeling really relieved, calm, collected, and aligned with a particular decision.
That’s coming from, again, those past experiences that you’ve had that you may not remember, as well as those subtle cues of your own physical response, as well as other things in your environment, in the decision, in the other person in the situation. And so, it’s a very real psychological process. It’s not some way we’re magical envisioning thing or whatever. It’s really something that we all have. It’s a scientific process.
I was reading that we have two operating systems. We have the analytical, deliberate, conscious operating system, and then we have a quick instinctual, effortless operating system. However, I would draw a distinction between instinct and intuition because instinct is really that fundamental sort of prehistoric, automatic response, survival mode, fight or flight, whereas intuition is something much more subtle. I think instinct, for example, might say, “Stay in your job because it’s safe. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I need that safety, security right at the bottom of the pyramid.” Instinct says, “Oh my goodness, of course, I shouldn’t quit my job. That’s a ridiculous idea.”
Intuition might guide you to leave your job to start a business.
And in my case, that’s exactly what happened back in 2013. So without going into a scientific, psychological analysis of what intuition is, I think for our purposes here, we just need to realise it’s very real. It’s something we all have and it’s just a matter of how to tap into it. But before we get into how, of course, the question is why. So why on earth should you trust your intuition, right? Because we’re sensible, intellectual, intelligent beings. We have so many more powerful, stronger cognitive abilities now. So why should we listen to this very subtle old school way of making decisions, I guess?
Well, first of all, when I talked about this last week, the [inaudible 00:03:43] is we’re never going to have complete information. We’re never going to know every single factor, consequence, scenario, and all the information about the other person or people involved, every different situation, every possibility. We’re never going to have that complete information all at once in order to make a perfect choice based only on analysis, conscious thought, cognition, and so on.
First of all, it’s not possible to make a decision actually just with the analysis.
And probably when we think we’re making a decision just based on analysis, we are actually drawing some intuitive conclusions and making a more intuitive decision than we realise even though we’re post rationalising as well. And in fact, that’s something I listened to on a podcast the other day where they were saying that’s very much something we do. We might make a decision very intuitively, but then later on our brains will post rationalise. And in fact, I talked about this last week as well in terms of rationalising what the right answer is that will create an intellectual, rational reason for why I’ve made a decision. Whereas, actually, it was much more emotional and intuitive possibly. So that’s quite interesting.
Let’s look at the alternative. What if you don’t trust your intuition? Well, the danger is you’ll get into overthinking, analysis paralysis, and I’m sure you’ve all been there, just spending so much time researching and trying to get that complete information, which of course is a losing battle trying to talk to every single person you know, get sort of almost their permission there, go ahead, that yes, you should do this because… And let’s face it, probably they won’t tell you, “Yes, you should quit your job,” depending on who you speak to, for example, or they won’t be able to tell you exactly what to do with your business.
So we might get into that analysis paralysis, never take any action because we can’t work out what that right answer is. And remember from last week, there is no right answer, and we’re getting stuck in that overthinking, overly relying on just the analytical, deliberate, conscious operating system.
Another issue is that we also have a lot of prejudices and unconscious biases, I think, that come through when we’re looking at the information, and we don’t realise that. A powerful exercise, of course, that I often recommend is to look through our beliefs. And it takes some time to uncover what those underlying beliefs are. But it’s very possible that we’re making decisions. And in fact, I see this all the time with clients, based on what we think is factual information. But again, they are beliefs.
So I talk about these often, but it might be beliefs around, I need a secure, stable job in order to have the salary, in order to be able to afford my lifestyle. I need money, let’s say, a certain amount money. It’s much riskier to work for yourself than it is to have a stable job. You can never earn money doing something you love. I’m not entrepreneurial, and so on. So in making what you think is a very rational objective decision, you’re actually building in a lot of assumptions, beliefs, prejudices. So that should make you a little bit wary of when you’re trying to make those decisions and you think you’re being completely objective, but in fact you’re not.
Then also, importantly, in this context, you’re relying on a lot of shoulds, I think. So you’re projecting what you think other people think you should do, what society, what your peers, what your parents, what your teachers, boss, and so on, believe you should do. And you’re trusting other people almost, or what you think other people think, which is even further removed from what you want. And you’re just relying on those shoulds of what you should be doing, because trusting your intuition ultimately means trusting yourself. So it’s intrinsically linked to stripping away all those shoulds, stripping away, forgetting about other people’s expectations, redefining what success means to you.
For example, I can give you all sorts of exercises to work out where your skills and strengths are, what your passions are, how to develop a business idea, how to build your brand, etc, etc. But ultimately, you need to make a really instinctive decision, intuitive decision, I should say, on what to try next, to follow your curiosity, follow the clues. So, in my group coaching programme the other day, we had someone who raised a very valid question. Okay, I’ve mapped out all my skills and passions and so on. I’ve got all these ideas, but now what?
The tricky thing is there is no magic formula.
We can’t now go, “Okay… Well, in fact another client has done that, has done a fantastic and numerical analysis, which is both objective and subjective in terms of these are my criteria and these are the scores that I’m allocating to each option. And that’s fantastic and it helps us. It really helps the analytical, deliberate side of the brain. I’ve certainly done that in the past as well.
However, again, we can never have that complete information. And as much as we try to make this a very black and white objective, rational choice, the reality is there is always going to be a need to use a bit of that intuition, again, to follow your curiosity, follow the pull, follow what feels most exciting to you, and follow those clues.
Okay. What happens if you don’t trust your intuition? Well, first of all, if you instead listen to other people, and believe me, I’ve done this many a time, you end up blaming them and resenting them. But the reality is you can’t blame them, and they certainly won’t let you because it has been your decision and your life. So certainly when you’re young… For a long time I told myself the story, oh, my parents and teachers forced me into or prevented me from studying what I really wanted to. And I wanted to be journalist and writer and I wanted to study English. And I was told that, no, no, you can’t possibly make money with that. Fine. And I was a child at the time.
However, you can’t go through the rest of your life going, “Okay, I’m not in the job that I want because of my parents, my teachers,” whatever it was at the time. There’s a point at which we have to take responsibility for that. And I think as adults, as 30, 40 plus year olds, we’re very capable of taking responsibility and recognising that, although we made certain decision in the past, we now can very much and should very much make different decisions now.
I remember a trivial but perhaps embarrassing example from taking a little civics test as it was called in my secondary school. I must have been 10, max 11. I was smart and I did well at school, and for this test, for whatever reason, I had glanced over and I happened to be able to see the girl sitting dagger in front of me, and I copied her answer for a particular question. Guess what? She got it wrong. My intuition, my answer was actually correct. So, scaling that up, if you cheat by looking at other people’s answers, oh, they’re doing that in their job and they’re taking this and they’re making that choice, actually, maybe they’re not making the right decision, and certainly they’re not making the right decision for you because you are a complete different person. So the right decision for them isn’t necessarily the right decision for you.
Now, similarly, if you say yes when you really mean no. If you say yes to a project, a client, and someone’s asked you to do something next Sunday, and actually instinctively, and again, I’m using these words interchangeably, although I said there was a difference, intuitively, you feel like, “No, that’s not what I want to do.” Then, again, you’ll end up resenting that person, resenting the client, the project. Every morning when you have to work on this and you have a call with them, I’m so angry that I have to work with this person. They’re so annoying and they’re not paying me enough and so on.
But, again, take ownership of this. Look back to that decision. You made a choice. Maybe you made the wrong choice you realise now. But what can we do to learn for the next time? We raise our rates, we say no to that client. We make a different decision. Ultimately, you know, if we go down this line, we’ll end up feeling tense, not sleeping well. Our health will suffer. We’ll feel unhappy, we’ll create a career or business that we’re not happy with at all. We’ll burn out.
And really, if we do it again and again, that’s where it goes wrong. It’s all very well to make one little so-called mistake, one wrong decision and not trust our intuition in this particular instance. But if we do that again and again, if we’re always making the decisions based on shoulds, based on other people’s expectations, based on that so-called analytical, deliberate process that, again, can’t possibly capture every possibility and so on, then we will end up with a life, a career, a social circle, to be honest, that’s misaligned with who you are and what you need and want. Because we’ll end up surrounding ourselves with people who are living this kind of life that we’ve created ourselves, that isn’t what we want to live, if that makes sense.
So perhaps we’re surrounding ourselves with achiever people who are in corporate jobs and really ambitious and want to make lots of money and buying nice cars, and even simplifying.
But maybe that’s who we surrounded ourselves with. And in fact, that’s not aligned with who we are. Likewise, you might end up in a career, in a business and so on, that’s not aligned with our values and who we really are because we’re not listening to who we are. We don’t know who we are.
Okay. And finally then, how on earth do we start listening to intuition? This is something that I’m experimenting with and learning. But the first thing, of course, is to listen. And in order to be able to listen, we need to shut out the noise. So remove yourself from the situational decision. Go away for the weekend, take a bath, go for a run, have a sleep. You never know what insights will come to you through the night, to have a dream, you will wake up the next morning, you will know.
So listen, but listen to the things you can’t see in here so obviously, so how are you feeling? What are your physical symptoms? Do you have sweaty palms, tense shoulders? Are you feeling sick to the stomach on a particular decision or particular project or thinking, “Oh my gosh, if I say yes to this,” or conversely, does one decision make you feel really peaceful and easy and effortless?
Now, the latter’s really tricky. It’s very unfamiliar for most of us because we’re used to being so busy and that busy-ness sort of prevents us from tapping into our intuition. It feels safe because we’re constantly doing something and so on, and it’s quite scary to take a breath, take a step back and allow that space. And then suddenly it’s emptiness. But it’s in the emptiness, it’s in that space that the truth will come that we’ll be able to tap into and lesson to what is really right for us.
Something else you can do is visualise.
So imagine, let’s say, the decision has been made and you’ve gone for A, option A, how do you feel in option A? Really try to feel, Oh my goodness, okay, I’m working on this project. I’m sitting there working on my business. I’m travelling here, I’m living with this person, whatever it might be, how am I feeling? And the same then for option B, C, whatever it might be. It’s a bit like tossing a coin and only when the coin is up in the air, or even better or even worse, more extreme when it lands on, let’s say, heads, do you suddenly realise you wanted tails.
So it’s only when you’re confronted, someone makes the decision for you, and then suddenly you go, “Oh, hang on. No, that’s not what I want at all.” It could be just a relief that the decision has been made, but often that’s in that moment, and certainly this was me in the past. You realise, hang on, no, that’s not what I want. So, intuitively, if we’d listened to that, we would’ve known.
Another option is to talk it out with someone. Now, I would suggest you talk it out with, for example, a coach or an impartial person rather than your partner or a friend. In particular, partners and friends who have very strong opinions. Now, if they do have strong opinions, again, that might help. You just let the coin toss to help you realise that actually you have different opinions. If they, oh my gosh, you should definitely go for B, then you’ll maybe recognise, Oh no, actually I want A. So that could be powerful. But otherwise just talking it out with someone who can ask you questions, who can pull out from you the truth, how would you feel about this? Okay. Is that something you’ve experienced before? What are you thinking? And so on.
Having said all this, it’s not about following your intuition blindly either. So we’re not talking about throwing caution to wind, not doing the maths of expenses and running savings, how much savings buffer do we need and whatever other aspects might be, let’s say, in connection with quitting our job and starting a business. Coming back to the example of working with a coach, for example, you don’t want to blindly invest in someone and just see a Facebook ad and go, “Oh my gosh, yes, boom, I’m going to pay 10,000 pounds to work with this person.” And then suddenly, you’ve gone a bit too instinctive maybe there, or just jumped on that.
So if you tend to be more impulsive, I guess, is the right word there, maybe for you it is a question of pulling back more and listening and shutting out the noise in that sense. However, I think most of you, my audience, are more on the analytical side. I think you’re more likely to be over-analysing, getting stuck in the analysis paralysis overthinking. And so, in that case, if you’re like me, we could all afford to lean into our intuition to listen more to that harder-to-explain, subtle, subjective, subconscious aspect of decision making.
I hope this gave you a bit of a different perspective. Perhaps, again, following on from last week as we looked at, there is no right answer, but allowing yourself to listen, to tap into this intuition that we all have, and to allow the intuition to fill in the gaps between the incomplete information. So yes, we can analyse and we can draw up pros and cons and lists and scoring systems and so on, but there will always be a gap there. And there’s a possibility and a need to trust our intuition, to let the intuition, to trust ourselves, fill in those gaps. Thanks so much, and I’ll see you next week. Bye for now.
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