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Should We Trust Our Gut Feeling When Making Decisions?

Should We Trust Our Gut Feeling When Making Decisions?

You’ve got a difficult choice to make.

You are up for a promotion on your current job and suddenly, out of nowhere, you are confronted with another, very attractive job opportunity. The salary and benefits are great for both your current job and for this new position.

If you stay on your current job you eliminate having to deal with all of the woes of transitioning to a new job and you may get the promotion you’ve been working so hard for these last five and half years.

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On the other hand, if you take the new job, you will be making more money, you’ll have more responsibilities, you’ll have to learn a new system and make new friends.

What should you do? Should you play it safe? Should you take the risk? What does your gut tell you? Should you even listen to your gut?

What is Intuition?

Often times when you’re faced with a difficult decision, you just know what the right choice is. You feel the answer in your gut. That’s what experts refer to as your intuition. Intuition is defined as “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning.” And while intuition[1] may seem to be some instinctual and mysterious internal process, it’s actually a form of unconscious reasoning. It is a process that is rooted in the way our brains collect, store, synthesize and recall information.

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The problem so many of us have with trusting our intuition is two-fold. First, the process in which we undergo to arrive at our “gut feeling” is an almost entirely, subconscious process. Therefore, you have no idea what data and processes you used to arrive at your conclusion. The second issue is that we often times confuse fear with intuition. We literally feel fear in our gut. This feeling can lead us to believe that our gut is telling us to avoid danger.

When To Trust your Gut

So, when should you trust your intuition? And how do you distinguish between fear and a legitimate gut feeling? Below are three tips that can help you determine when you should go with your gut and when you should get a second opinion.

1. Evaluate your thoughts

This is so important because intuition is a highly subconscious process. Understanding how you think and process information builds confidence in your internal reasoning process. You assimilate information and use inductive and deductive reasoning constantly. The trick is to shift the process from the background to the forefront of your consciousness.

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Consider a routine task you do daily without actually thinking about it–such as driving a car. Just as you perform all of the necessary actions to operate a vehicle without actually thinking about it, if asked, you could reverse engineer your thought process. You could describe circumstances, conditions, other people’s motivations, and your own behaviors using the assumptions and calculations done unconsciously. And while this is an unnatural and somewhat difficult process in the beginning, with time and practice you will be able to understand how you think and quickly track your thought process. Here are a few tips to assist you evaluating your thoughts:

  • Observe own thoughts. Ask questions like, “What is causing me to think this way? What belief is forming this thought? What pressure is making me believe my assumption is true?”
  • Practice “beginner’s mind.” The concept of “beginner’s mind” has it’s origin in Zen Buddhism[2] and encourages you to adopt a fresh perspective when looking at things. It involves considering a multitude of possibilities. Try to adopt an attitude of openness, eagerness, and steer away from personal bias when considering your choices.
  • Play Devil’s Advocate. For each option, find reasonable, logical and legitimate reasons why you should choose the other option. You could do this by simply making a list of pros and cons for each decision. Measure out the pros and cons and see if your reasonable and measured deduction matches your gut feeling.

Frequently practicing these mental exercises will lead to you knowing when to trust your instincts and when to seek the advice of others.

2. Distinguish Fear from Intuition

When trying to distinguish if your gut feeling is something intuitive or good old fashioned fear, consider the following aspects:

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  • Fear is highly emotional- Fear is emotionally charged and worries about the future or the past. Fear is often anxious, dark or heavy. It has cruel, demeaning or delusional content and considers past emotional wounds.
  • Intuition is emotionally neutral– Intuition doesn’t carry overly positive or negative emotions, it is benign. Intuition is logical and not emotional. Intuition focuses only on the present and does not consider past wounds. It is a gathering, sorting and synthesizing of evidence. It does not attach itself to your emotions. It brings with it a steady calm

One of the best ways to determine if your gut is feeling fear or if it has arrived at a logical conclusion is to make a list of everything that scares you. Then it becomes much easier to recognize when a gut feeling is referring to one of your fears versus being logical. If it’s fear based–get a second opinion, if not, go with your gut.

3. Don’t dismiss your inner skeptic

Our instincts are the primal internal urges and alarms that help keep us alive. Listening to and interpreting these urges is especially critical when a decision affects your safety and well-being. In situations such as the initial stages of dating, hiring someone to babysit your child, decisions concerning your health or when making investment decisions–in short, any decision requiring you to trust another individual–you must trust your instincts.

We’ve all said something similar to, “if I would have just went with what I thought, this never would have happened.” And the truth is nine times out of ten there are warning signs, red flags and things that feel “a little off” about a situation, which we choose to dismiss. Ignoring these inclinations could be costly and even fatal.

In his book, “The Gift of Fear,” author Gavin de Becker explains how our primal fight or flight instincts work. He explains that what we refer to as “a feeling” is actually the result of hundreds of quick calculations done subconsciously that register as a physical response. We feel suddenly afraid or uneasy. When there is no logical explanation for fear (it’s not tied to a past or present event or an emotional scar) you should absolutely trust your gut. And I’m talking about the heart pounding, pit in your stomach type of fear. Your brain has done the calculations and something about the situation is wrong. Becker has found that 85% of the time our calculations are accurate. The other 15% of the time our calculations are not necessarily wrong, just slightly askew.

Knowing when to trust your gut comes down to a few key things.

  • Learning how you think and becoming confident in your decision-making process.
  • Distinguishing between intuition and your own internal fears.
  • Learning to trust your primal fight or flight instincts and refusing to overlook red flags.

So, what does your gut tell you?

Reference

[1] Oprah.com: The Science of Intuition
[2] Daily Zen: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

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Denise Hill

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Last Updated on May 7, 2019

How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Work in any competitive field long enough, and you’re bound to run into a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a powerful image. A shepherd watches over his flock to protect them from harm. He’d chase away any predator that tried to make its way into the flock. A clever wolf wearing the skin of a sheep as a disguise can sneak by the vigilant shepherd and get into the herd undetected.

The story isn’t just a colorful description–it’s a warning to all of us to beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They may seem innocent, but they have ulterior motives. They’ll use different tactics to camouflage their intentions.

The person who is kind to you, but undercuts you when you aren’t around is a wolf in disguise. A wolf in sheep’s clothing might pick your brain for ideas and then pass them off as their own to get a promotion. They’re always looking out for themselves at the expense of everyone around them.

Wearing a Disguise Has Its Advantages

People don’t go out of their way to manipulate others unless they’re getting something out of it. Hiding their intentions gives wolves the chance to manipulate other people to advance their own agenda. They know that what they’re trying to do wouldn’t be popular, or it might cause struggle if they presented themselves honestly.

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    They’ll be able to do what they want with less interference if they put on an act. By the time people figure out their true motives, the wolf has what it wants.

    Signs That Someone Is a Wolf in Disguise

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        1. They live to take power instead of empowering others. A wolf uses people as stepping stones to get the things that they want. They don’t care what happens to anyone else.[1] A wolf at work might make you look bad during a presentation to make themselves look amazing in front of the boss.
        2. Wolves seem sweet on the outside, but they’ll show you their teeth. If wolves revealed their true identity, people wouldn’t associate with them. They develop a friendly or kind persona, but they can’t keep up the act 24/7. Eventually, they’ll reveal their aggressive tendencies. A wealthy person who likes to break the law may make sizable charitable donations to convince people that they are kind and thoughtful. These donations largely keep them out of trouble, but if someone calls them out, they destroy that person’s reputation to stifle the criticism.
        3. They manipulate through emotions to get what they want. Wolves know that they can get ahead by appealing to your emotions. They find out what you want and need, and they give you just enough to keep you quiet and compliant. Imagine that your boss is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and you want to ask for a vacation. She might try to play on your guilt and feelings of insecurity to get you to skip vacation or take fewer days off.
        4. A wolf will charm you first. Wolves are experts at manipulating the people around them. They appear interested in whatever you’re doing, and you’ll get the impression that they care. After they get you where they want you, they do just enough to keep you on the hook. This is the coworker who may start out being your friend, but they end up dumping responsibility onto you. When they see that you are growing frustrated, they’ll surprise you with something to charm you some more. Then, they’ll continue to do whatever they want.
        5. Their stories are full of holes.  Calling a wolf out is the surest way to make them squirm. When this person tries to come up with a story, it won’t make much sense because they are improvising.[2] The classic example of this is the significant other that you suspect has cheated on you. When you ask them why they came home so late, they’ll either become upset with you, or they’ll make up a weak explanation.

        How to Spot a Wolf

          Know What’s Real So You Can Spot the Phony

          Do some homework so that you have as much of the story as possible before you work with them. Research how they respond in certain situations, or give them hypothetical problems to see how they respond.

          A job applicant might tell you that she’s always positive and thinks of herself as a team-player. That’s what every employer wants to hear. During the interview you ask applicants to work in groups to solve a problem to see how they handle the situation. The applicant “positive team-player” is bossy and negative. You’ve spotted the wolf.

          A wolf will tell you something that ultimately benefits them. Gather evidence that proves or disproves their position, and see what happens. Chances are, when you choose the side that supports their agenda, they’ll act like your best friend. If you disagree, they’ll become aggressive.

          Spotting a potential wolf–especially if you are one of the sheep–can present you with some challenges. If your gut tells you that a wolf is lurking among all the other sheep, pay attention, and make sure you take the next step.

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          Ask Questions, the More the Better

          There’s nothing wrong with asking questions to uncover the truth. The safety of everyone in your group is at risk. Since wolves often make up stories, you may be able to call them out when their tales lack details.

          When they state an opinion, ask “Why do you think that?” or “How do you know it’s like that?” They’ll have trouble coming up with enough information to pull off the lie.

          Since wolves are always pretending to be something they aren’t, they don’t usually have a clearly thought-out reason for what they say. In a debate, they won’t understand the root of an issue.

          They may also tell you what they think you want to hear, but when pressed for more information, they won’t have anything to add. Their knowledge is superficial. No matter how much you try to encourage discussion, they will not be able to carry on a conversation about the subject.

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          Wolves Are Everywhere

          As much as we want to believe that everyone has the best intentions, it isn’t always the case. Some people only do things to benefit themselves, and they don’t care who they hurt in the process.

          Wolves in sheep’s clothing can be found in almost every setting. You can’t get rid of them, but if you can spot them, you can avoid falling into their traps.

          Reference

          [1] Association of Biblical Counselors: Three Ways to Spot a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
          [2] Power of Positivity: Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing

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