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Gut Feeling Might Help You Make Better Decisions

Gut Feeling Might Help You Make Better Decisions

Have you ever been struck by a feeling of uncertainty or caution when going about your day? You could be walking down the street, totally normal, when you subconsciously notice someone and you think:

“Hey, keep away from that guy” or “Don’t stay here too long”

These feelings can strike at times when everything seems normal. We call these experiences “gut feelings” or “gut instinct” as if it is something bodily and disconnected from the mind.

However this name is not inaccurate. There is a close connection between the gut and the brain composed of a extremely complex network [1] of chemicals and neurons which inform your brain about issues in your body, not just the digestive system as you may expect. Not only does it inform your brain about hunger and thirst, but also stress and unease. Here lies the gut instinct.

But you’re a reasonable person, how can something reactionary, some trigger deep down in your brain stand to intelligent analysis?

Surely these feelings are residual evolutionary stuff, as useful for us today as the tail bone. Well, this is untrue.

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Some studies [2] have shown that it is often a good idea to trust your gut. In 2011 a group of researchers designed a card game wherein there was no real strategic way to play the game, and instead players had to rely on gut instinct.

When people started to win, most credited their victory on trusting their gut instinct. The sweat responses and heart rate of the players was measured to indicate when reactions occurred. Though some gut instincts lead players into playing badly, the general success rate implies that trusting gut instincts and reactions can be a good idea, however it is not a foolproof system (where would the fun in that be?).

When to trust your gut feeling

Though its not always accurate, sometimes its the best indicator you have when picking up trouble. Especially with these examples

Your health: what not to eat

Your enteric nervous system (the above mentioned complex network of chemical reactions and neurons connecting your gut to your brain) is extremely effective at picking up warning signs [3] from your body.

So if you ever suddenly think you shouldn’t have eaten that thing, or a part of your body doesn’t feel right, you should pay attention.

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Paying close attention to feelings in your body, especially if it is as severe as triggering a gut reaction has its benefits.

Some people train and exercise according to attention paid to the body and how it feels, this is called intuitive training, or autoregulatory [4] training.

Dangers and threats: Who not to get close with

Imagine you’re walking home at night, like you have done a million times before and you see a guy on the street corner. He seems totally ordinary, but something just isn’t right. As you get near you get a gut reaction to avoid him.

There are many stories [5]where people have had these reactions and later realized that they were saved from some horrible fate. We have evolved to have immediate responses to dangers that are beyond conscious thought.

Though it is always worth analysing [6] a situation if possible. These gut feelings of danger are always worth consideration.

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It is important to consider I think, we are all descendants of those who survived. Those who didn’t have senses tuned to potential dangers didn’t last.

Though of course perhaps 9 times out of ten you were warned of a non existent danger. Its better to be safe than sorry.

When not to trust your gut feeling: threats from objects

Life in the 21st century is stressful. If you live in a modern city, from the moment you leave your front door, you are bombarded by smells, sounds sights, upon sights than easily put your senses to the test. Though we have evolved enough to be able to function with when we live in places containing more sensory information than anyone in history evolved to deal with. Our ability to spot dangers has not evolved so much.

We, as human beings developed and evolved as in the wild, we were part of the food chain. Being killed by a wild animal was a real and every-day threat, instead of an unusual occurrence. As such we evolved to be able to spot animals extremely quickly and identify them as potential dangers.

You might have experienced this yourself. However our bodies have not adapted to the reality that a car, is far more of a threat than an animal. It has not totally got the message that we are no longer hunter gatherers.

In a study [7] people were shown photographs of animals and inanimate objects. Each photograph had a nearly identical duplicate immediately after, safe for one slight change. Test subjects were able to identify changes in animal scenes 100% of the time, and objects around 70% of the time.

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Because of this, you might get a gut reaction alerting you to a danger that simply isn’t there.

Also, if you have a panic disorder, or problems with your amygdala [8] then you might get gut reactions alerting you to danger, the flight or fight response at times when there is no danger at all. It might even occur randomly.
This I know from experience.

But as demonstrated above, we get these reactions for a reason. Though some times the course of action they lead us towards may be the wrong one, maybe the danger we are alerted to isn’t a danger at all.

There are times when, listening to your gut is the best thing you can do.

Reference

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Arthur Peirce

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Published on July 29, 2020

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

Have you been thinking of how you can be a more strategic leader during these uncertain times? Has the pandemic thrown a wrench at all your carefully laid out plans and initiatives?

You’re not alone. The truth is, we all want some stability in our careers and teams during this disruptive pandemic.

However, this now requires a bit more effort than before and making the leap from merely surviving to thriving means buckling down to some serious strategic thinking and maintaining a determined mindset.

Is There a Way to Thrive Despite These Disruptions?

Essentially – yes, although you need to be willing to put in the work. Every leader wants to develop strategic thinking skills so that they can enhance overall team performance and boost their company’s success, but what exactly does it mean to be strategic in the context of the times we live in?

If you happen to be in a leadership position in your organization right now, you are most probably navigating precarious waters given the disruptions caused by the pandemic. There’s a lot more pressure than before because your actions and decisions will have a much greater impact these days not just on you, but also to the people who are part of your team.

Companies often bring me in to coach executives on strategic thinking and planning. And while pre-pandemic I would usually start by highlighting the advantages of strategic thinking, nowadays, I always begin these Zoom coaching sessions by driving home the point that this pandemic has now made strategic thinking not just an option but an absolute must.

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Assessing and making plans through the lens of a good strategy might require significant work at first. Nevertheless, you can take comfort in the fact that the rewards will far outweigh the effort, as you’ll soon see after following the 8 strategic steps I have outlined below.

8 Steps to Strategic Thinking

As events unfold during these strange times, you’re bound to feel wrong-footed every now and then. Being a leader during this pandemic means preparing for more change not just for you, but for your whole team as well.

As states and cities go through a cycle of lockdowns and reopening, employees will experience the full gamut of human emotions in dizzying speed, and you will often be called on to provide insight and stability to your team and workplace.

Strategic thinking is all about anticipation and preparation. Rather than expending your energy merely helping your company put out fires and survive, you can put the time to better use by charting out a solid plan that can protect and help you and your company thrive.

Take the following steps to build solid initiatives and roll out successful projects:

Step 1: Step Back, Then Set the Scope

One of the things that leaders get wrong during their first attempt at strategic thinking is expecting that it is just another item on a checklist. The truth is, you need to take a good, long look at the bigger picture before anything else. This means decisively prioritizing and stepping away from tasks that can be delegated to others. Free up your schedule so you can focus on this crucial task at hand.

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Then, proceed with setting the scope and the strategic goals of the project or initiative you plan to build or execute. Ask yourself the bigger question of why you need to embark on a particular project and when would be the right time to do so.

You need to set a timeline as well, anywhere from 6 months to 5 years. Keep in mind that your projections will deteriorate the further out you go as you make longer-term plans.

For this reason, add extra resources, flexibility, and resilience if you have a longer timeline. You should also be making the goals less specific if you’re charting it out for the longer term.

Step 2: Make a List of Experts

Make and keep a list of credible people who can contribute solid insight and feedback to your initiative. This could range from key stakeholders to industry experts, mentors, and even colleagues who previously planned and rolled out similar projects.

Reach out to the people on this list regularly while you work through the steps to bring diverse insight into your planning process. This way, you will be able to approach any problem from every angle.

Bringing key stakeholders into this initial process will also display your willingness to listen and empathize with their issues. In return, this will build trust and potentially pave the way for smoother buy-in down the line.

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Step 3: Anticipate the Future

After identifying your goals and gathering feedback, it’s time to consider what the future would look like if everything goes as you intuitively anticipate. Then, lay out the kind and amount of resources (money, time, social capital) that might be needed to keep this anticipated future running.

Step 4: Brainstorm on Potential Internal and External Problems

Next, think of how the future would look if you encountered unexpected problems internal and external to the business activity that seriously jeopardize your expected vision of the future. Write out what kind of potential problems you might encounter, including low-probability ones.

Assess the likelihood that you will run into each problem. To gauge, multiply the likelihood by the number of resources needed to address the problem. Try to convert the resources into money if possible so that you can have a single unit of measurement.

Then, think of what steps you can take to address these internal and external problems before they even happen. Write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Lastly, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different possible problems and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

Step 5: Identify Potential Opportunities, Internal and External

Imagine how your expected plan would look if unexpected opportunities came up. Most of these will be external but consider internal ones as well. Then, gauge the likelihood of each scenario and the number of resources you would need to take advantage of each opportunity. Convert the resources into money if possible.

Then, think of what steps you can take in advance to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Finally, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different unexpected opportunities and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

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Step 6: Check for Cognitive Biases

Check for potential cognitive biases that are relevant to you personally or to the organization as a whole, and adjust the resources and plans to address such errors.[1] Make sure to at least check for loss aversion, status quo bias, confirmation bias, attentional bias, overconfidence, optimism bias, pessimism bias, and halo and horns effects.

Step 7: Account for Unknown Unknowns (Black Swans)

To have a more effective strategy, account for black swans as well. These are unknown unknowns -unpredictable events that have potentially severe consequences.

To account for these black swans, add 40 percent to the resources you anticipate. Also, consider ways to make your plans more flexible and secure than you intuitively feel is needed.

Step 8: Communicate and Take the Next Steps

Communicate the plan to your stakeholders, and give them a heads up about the additional resources needed. Then, take the next steps to address the unanticipated problems and take advantage of the opportunities you identified by improving your plans, as well as allocating and reserving resources.

Finally, take note that there will be cases when you’ll need to go back and forth these steps to make improvements, (a fix here, an improvement there) so be comfortable with revisiting your strategy and reaching out to your list of experts.

Conclusion

A great way to deal with feelings of uncertainty during this pandemic is to anticipate obstacles with a good plan – and a sure road to that is practicing strategic thinking.

In the coming months and years, you’ll need to continue navigating uncharted territory so that you can lead your team to safe waters. Regularly doing these 8 steps to strategic thinking will ensure that you can prepare for and adapt  to the coming changes with increasing clarity, perspective, and efficiency.[2]

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Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

Reference

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