Listening to Your Gut

embassy-935558_640Last month, a Pittsburgh woman (her name has not been released), discovered an abusive ex-boyfriend hiding in her attic. She lived in the house with her two daughters and began to notice small things out of place. She thought about calling the police, but thought she would sound crazy for reporting a “blanket in my basement.” On April 20th though, she heard a noise upstairs and went to investigate.

That’s when she discovered the man who had taken up residence at least three weeks earlier. Her ex had violated a restraining order and had no business being on the property. There was a confrontation, she escaped, and he was ultimately arrested. He said he simply wanted a place to stay and was tired of being homeless. In hindsight, the woman said she wished that she’d acted on her instincts when she first noticed something was wrong.

I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve ignored my instincts only to find out I’d have been better off acting at the first sign of something amiss. The consequences have never been as potentially dangerous as with this story, but the lesson is still there. I could have saved myself a lot of time, effort, and worry simply by acting earlier.

My own intuition has clued me in to potential dangers as well as possible opportunities. In some cases, I followed up and either avoided a fall or been rewarded for capitalizing on my gut instinct. At other times, I’ve ignored the warning signs and suffered or missed out because of my failure to respond.

Of course, not all hunches are correct. You can’t always just trust your gut. A rational person will dig a little deeper, look for evidence, and see if the gut feeling pans out. Smart people listen to what their gut is telling them and investigate further. They allow their intuition to guide their rational thought and the decisions they ultimately make.

Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and author of Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, says that intuition involves understanding what bits of information to use and what can be discarded. Throughout the day, your subconscious mind connects what you’re experiencing to things that have happened in the past. If something feels odd or seems out of place, it’s because it doesn’t mesh with what past experience has told you is normal.

So think about those gut feelings you get at work – those little voices whispering in your ear. “What we’re doing isn’t working.” “I think my team member needs some help.” I really should spend more time on this aspect of my job.” “I think there’s an opportunity here.” Then, take a minute to test those feelings.

  • Look for patterns. Is there empirical support for what your intuition is telling you?
  • Be honest. Allow facts and reasoning, rather than raw emotions to guide your actions.
  • Stay on target. Remind yourself of your true mission – what you’re really here to accomplish. Make sure your next steps move you in that direction.

We all have so many inputs to juggle, so many demands on our time to prioritize. It can be difficult to discern which messages we should pay attention to and which we should ignore. We have to discipline ourselves so that our intuition acts in our favor. It should be a guide – a series of signposts that keep us on track.

What’s your gut telling you today?