Friday, December 10, 2010

Message #9 - Trust Yourself!

This is one in a series of messages:

Think of a time when you had a nagging thought, an intuition:

“I wonder if I left the oven on.”

“I have a feeling I should call my mother.”

“There’s something I’m forgetting and I should remember what it is.”

Do you act on your intuitions? Probably not often – or not often enough.

Later, there will be times you wish you had listened, that you had acted on what the little voice in your head said to you and not dismissed your thoughts as unimportant.

Don’t downplay your intuition. Pay attention to your intuition. Trust yourself!

Intuition means different things to different people. The most common meaning is that intuition is the ability to sense or know without reasoning. That can take you down a path relating intuition to divine or prophetic power. I don’t want to go down that path.

If you study philosophy you will encounter a philosophical method in which intuition plays a major role. I don’t want to go down that path either.

And if you study psychology you’ll learn that intuition is a kind of knowledge or understanding that is not dependent on previous experience.

Intuition is a major element in a Myers-Briggs personality assessment analysis. It places intuition opposite “sensing” as an information-gathering tool. People who prefer sensing trust information that is tangible and concrete and distrust hunches that seem to come out of nowhere.

People who prefer intuition trust information that is more abstract or theoretical. They tend to trust flashes of insight that seem to bubble up from the unconscious.

I say “no” to the psychology path as well. Why? Because life is not ‘either-or.’ If I trust my intuition that doesn’t mean that I distrust all other ways of perceiving or knowing. It’s not THE answer. It is, rather, another resource I can use as I live my life. I say you should neither sneer at nor mindlessly adore what is available to support you.

Following your intuition is not only about preventing bad things from happening. There are other less obvious benefits.

A common complaint I hear is that you can’t get something done because you don’t have enough time or you are too tired or you’re just plain overloaded with too many things to do. Yet, you allow your time and energy to be eroded with unnecessary distractions when you don’t follow your intuition. And you don’t even realize it.

Here’s what happens. You have a thought about something, which is your intuition at work. You dismiss your thought. “Maybe I should check on that, but I just don’t have enough time.” Well and good – so far. And that would be the end of the story if it disappeared forever and was never seen again.

But that isn’t the end of the story. Every one of those ‘not important enough to do anything about’ items hangs around in your subconscious. Each is an energy suck. You have a finite reservoir of energy available and you are allowing it to be drained unnecessarily. Worse, you don’t get any payoff.

What if you hadn’t rejected your intuition, but had taken the time to put whatever the issue was to rest? True, you would have used some energy up front, but it would be far less than you use by turning it into an incomplete item that hangs around.

You continuously make decisions. Many are instantaneous and require little thinking. You want to cross the street. You look and see there are no cars coming. You cross. Or you see a car coming and you wait. You need to return a call. Should you do it now or later? It’s not likely you’ll waste a lot of time making the decision. Your day is filled with this kind of stuff.

Then there are major decisions you need to make. Should we move in together? Should I buy that car? I’ve got two good job offers. Which one should I take? These you’ll think about for a while, and appropriately so.

Should intuition play a role as you make these decisions? Yes! Your intuition is part of who you are. If you trust yourself you’ll factor intuition into the equation. It’s not the only thing you should consider, but it is a mistake for you to ignore it.

Evaluate the facts first. If you’re comparing two job offers the facts relate to salary, benefits, specific responsibilities you’ll have, the history of the company, travel requirements, and more. Then, once you’re clear on the facts pay attention to what your gut tells you, what your intuition is saying.

How do you feel about the person you’ll report to? Is there anything about her that you feel will cause problems? What’s the overall environment like? Do people seem happy to be there? How do you assess the kind of relationships they have with each other? Is some aspect of the offer seducing you or do you really see yourself enjoying the work and the people?

If the facts and your intuition are aligned, go for it. If in doubt, don’t.

As a management consultant I often led or facilitated meetings structured to deal with a problem or issue the organization was facing. My intuition was an active partner during these sessions.

A discussion would be underway. Everything seemed to be logical and moving forward. On the surface I saw no reason for concern. Yet, I had a nagging sense that something was missing or something wasn’t being said. We weren’t getting at something, and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. My intuition had kicked in.

I was tempted to keep the meeting moving along and not address what was bothering me. If we were on a roll it would be risky to stop or reverse the group’s momentum, especially if my concern was not an obvious one. I would seem to want to call time out for an inquiry rather than to make a specific point.

But I trusted myself. I trusted my intuition. I was willing to risk making a mistake (finding that my concern didn’t lead anywhere) rather than miss the opportunity to deepen the group’s understanding of a dynamic that might be at play.

So I would raise the question, not knowing what was wrong or even that anything was wrong, and we would discuss it. I needed the courage to dive in without knowing exactly where I was going, but almost always my intervention proved to be useful. Rarely did my intuition let me down.

When you have a chance, try it. Trust Yourself!


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