Go With Your Gut – Literally


We have all heard phrases at work that involve the gut: “what does your gut tell you”, “a gutsy move”, “gut instincts”, and “gut check.” Scientists and psychologists refer to the gut as “the second brain” due to its inherent connection. Justin and Erica Sonnenburg, in their article Gut Feelings – The Second Brain stated:

“This mind-gut connection is not just metaphorical. Our brain and gut are connected by an extensive network of neurons and a highway of chemicals and hormones that constantly provide feedback [to our brain].”

Further, Michael Gershon, professor and chair of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University stated in a It’s Rainmaking Time! podcast:

“The gut can work independently of any control by the brain in your head—it’s functioning as a second brain. It’s another independent center of integrative neural activity.”

I can recall countless times when I physically felt a sensation so strong in my gut that it influenced some of my most important decisions. I suggest professionals increase their awareness of that “gut feeling” and integrate its guidance into their decision making, particularly as it relates to making bold decisions or identifying bad decisions.

Making bold decisions

I believe bold decisions begin in the gut; you have a hunch or a feeling that has not yet crystallized in your brain, but you feel you are on the edge of something unique and meaningful, and thus start to actively think about it. The next step is typically gathering research, conducting analysis, and soliciting other’s opinions. We call decisions “bold” because they are risky; there is a logical and rational uncertainty of the decision’s outcome. The outcome of bold decisions tend to be massive successes or terrible failures, rather than something in between that spectrum. And it is that sense of risk and uncertainty, even after considering all the research, analysis and opinions, that leads us back to our gut instincts to help us make the final decision.

So how do you decipher what your gut is telling you when faced with a bold decision? Listen to your gut in the environment where your mental energy and focus feel “most alive.” For extroverts, that may be in a meeting where people are brainstorming, and for introverts, that may be in the quiet space of their office, after business hours. Or it may not be in an office setting at all. Perhaps you feel the most mental energy during your morning exercise routine, or on your walk to the office as you get yourself ready for the day. Wherever and whenever your mental energy feels “most alive”, be aware of what your gut is telling you and allow it to help guide you to your ultimate decision.

Identifying bad decisions

As managers, we need to empower our team members to make decisions and own their initiatives. However, we also need to listen to our gut in order to recognize instances in which we must intervene. There were too many times that I allowed the following sequence of events to unfold: a team member would walk into my office while I was in the midst of focusing on the task at hand, and inform me of a decision she made. If her logic sounded solid, I would quickly agree so that I could get back to what I was doing. Then as soon as she left, I had this bad feeling in my gut – a physical sensation that conveyed to me a concern. If I could not articulate the concern in that moment, I ignored the feeling because I had more pressing matters on my mind. Time would pass and I would simply forget about it as I got through a busy day. Then days or even weeks later, my disregard for that “gut feeling” would come back to haunt me via an agitated business unit head, frustrated team members or upset employees. I would kick myself and say “why didn’t I realize this would happen?!” But the fact is, I did realize it. That first gut feeling told me to stop, listen, think – and I had just ignored it.

Over time, I learned to listen to my gut in these situations and give myself time to figure out what concern it was indicating. For example, I would tell the team member that I understood her logic but I wanted some time to think about it. If the decision had to be made immediately, I would stop what I was doing and further engage on her rationale until I was able to align my thinking and my gut feeling.

The phrase “go with your gut” is our way of telling someone to follow their instincts, and those instincts physically start in the gut. Of course, our gut feeling must be balanced with what influences our thinking, such as research, analysis and others’ expertise and opinions. It is the keen awareness and effective integration of thinking and feeling that informs and fuels bold decisions, while also providing us the capability to identify and stop bad decisions.

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