“There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.” ~ Albert Einstein
We’ve all experienced moments in which we made a decision (or were hesitant to make one) based solely on our “gut feeling.” When this happens, we have a tough time figuring out exactly what’s driving us to make such a decision, but we just “know” it’s the right call to make, and we act on it. Of course, sometimes following our gut doesn’t always work out, which leads us to distrust our own instincts and intuition.
While it’s not exactly wise to surrender ourselves to our gut feelings, it’s also unwise to ignore them completely. The hard part is deciding when to listen to the intangible feelings you get, and when to stifle them. Improve your decision-making abilities by:
1) Listening to your instincts.
Picture a typical cat or dog. If you’ve ever owned a pet like this, you know they act completely on instinct. When someone new comes to the door, they don’t think about what to do — their fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in and does it for them. Sometimes their instincts are right (they were right to hide), and sometimes they’re wrong (it was just a family friend they’d never seen before). Regardless, they act on their instincts without hesitation.
Humans are no different, except that we have the ability to look back on our decisions and either congratulate ourselves for being right, or demean ourselves for making a stupid choice. It’s this knowledge of hindsight that makes us hesitant when facing major decisions: “What if I’m wrong?” “What if this is the worst decision I’ve ever made?” “What if I’m putting myself in danger?” It’s obviously important to be able to know how to avoid dangerous situations, but it’s also important to not let your instincts cripple you from taking action when necessary.
2) Staying conscious.
Going back to animal behavior, when your pet is outside or in unfamiliar territory, they’re constantly “on.” They’re always ready to make a quick decision that, for all they know, could be the difference between life and death. They instinctively know that letting down their guard or hesitating for even one second could spell disaster.
While humans do have this ability as well, we also sometimes turn ourselves “off,” causing us to be unprepared to make the quick decisions that might end up changing our lives. Think “highway hypnosis”: even while driving 70 MPH on a straightaway, it’s possible to “zone out” and be completely unconscious of our surroundings. We do this a lot in our lives — and of course, we don’t even realize when it happens. It’s one thing to act on our gut feeling intentionally, but it’s another to act first, only to later wonder to ourselves “Why did I even do that?”
3) Knowing when to follow your brain, heart, or gut.
As I’ve alluded to, human intelligence is both a blessing and a curse. Our thoughts come from three different metaphorical areas: our brain, our heart, and our gut.
Our brain is, essentially, a computer. It takes in and processes information in a completely logical fashion. It doesn’t allow anomalies or extraneous “feelings” to get in the way of computing our thoughts. Sometimes this is a good thing: it allows us to make decisions based on carefully analyzed concrete evidence. Sometimes, we need a little more information than what we see “on paper” in order to make the best decision.
Our hearts are where our “emotional thoughts” come from. We make subconscious, sometimes prejudicial, decisions based on how our heart tells us to act. While our heart may open us up to many different possibilities (such as meeting someone new), it also may cause us to make a decision without thinking logically about the situation (sleeping with someone on a first date because it “feels right” — an extreme example, but it gets the point across).
Our gut feelings are similar to our hearts, except they don’t blind us to reality. When we feel something with our gut, we take into consideration all the information we’ve learned in a specific situation, and we also let our emotions have a say in the decision we ultimately end up making. Though our gut feeling is often hard to put a pin in, so to speak, following it will often lead to us making the best decision possible.
4) Clearing your mind.
Of course, once we’ve made a decision, we’re all prone to second-guessing ourselves. If you’ve noticed, I’ve refrained from using the phrase “right decision” in favor of the phrase “best decision.” This is because real-life situations very rarely warrant a decision that is 100% correct. There will always be upsides and downsides to the decisions you make. You’ll always have the ability to look back and wonder “What if?”. Like I said, our intelligence is a blessing and a curse.
However, through meditation and other methods of clearing our minds, we can let go of these hypothetical “What if’s” and let things be as they are. You’ve probably heard the Serenity Prayer: there are things you can change, and things you can’t. The best you can do is be confident you’ve done the best you could with the information you were given.
Reflecting in your mind certainly helps strengthen your faith in your intuition, but creating physical documentation of the choices you’ve made allows you to review your successes and failures over time. At the end of each day, look back on the decisions you’ve made, no matter how big or small, and document the outcome that stemmed from these choices. Think about what factors played into the decision you made, and whether you acted with your brain, heart, gut, or a combination of all three. Review your journal entries over time to decide if you’ve been moving in the direction you’d like to be headed. Above all, remember that the decisions you make are neither right or wrong. Each choice you make simply decides the person you become tomorrow.