How to Use Your Gut to Make Better Decisions

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You know the feeling you get that a certain decision is the right one, or that a certain individual, despite how good his qualifications look on paper, is just not the right one to hire? This unexplained feeling is often called intuition, or “a gut instinct.” Whatever you call it, the ability to intuit can be an invaluable trait for entrepreneurs.

Mind coach Simone Wright, author of First Intelligence: Using the Science and Spirit of Intuition, says intuition plays a bigger role in business than we give it credit for. Some of the most powerful names in business, from Richard Branson to Oprah Winfrey to Warren Buffet, credit their success with following their gut.

Wright says understanding the powers of intuition are even more important in today’s fast-paced business climate. The amount of information we process daily is unmatched in history. A recent UCLA study revealed we process more than 174 newspapers worth of information daily – or five times more data than we received 20 years ago. More and more, we’re being asked to make decisions faster, something Wright says causes our intuition to become the most powerful vehicle driving our business success.

“Intuition is the natural intelligence that allows us to see ahead of the curve, to generate innovative ideas, to communicate powerfully, and to do so without having to study spreadsheets or gather piles of data,” she says.

Related: The 5 Pitfalls of Decision-Making, and How to Avoid Them

The problem, says Wright, is we just don’t know how to identify our intuition.

Intuition may sound like some kind of supernatural or paranormal mind trick, but Wright says intuition is our most natural biological function. “We’re all intuitively wired,” says Wright. Our intuition comes from our body’s desire to survive. “Every single cell in our environment is able to gather information from the environment and feed it back to our nervous system,” she says.

When our body feels threatened, we get a “gut reaction.” That reaction has evolved over time from the primitive (“there’s a dangerous predator over there so I’d better go the other way”) to adapt to our modern problems (“this business deal doesn’t feel right”). By learning to hone our intuition, we can make effective decisions faster and keep up with the demands of our fast-paced world.

So how can we start using our intuition?:

1. Recognize intuition’s benefits. Rather than viewing intuition as some kind of New Age mind game, consider it as a sophisticated natural intelligence that will guide you to the best and most successful outcome. Wright says intuition can be a particularly powerful tool for entrepreneurs to take you outside the realm of what’s already been done.

Related: 6 Secrets to Making Business Decisions That Get Results

“Intuition serves our ability to be different in an environment and still be successful,” Wright says. “It allows entrepreneurs to innovate, to move outside the limited paradigms of business that currently exist. Entrepreneurs who use their intuition are able to use that ability to take quantum leaps forward that if you were using logic or data, you wouldn’t be able to do.”

2. Separate emotion from intuition. “One of the most powerful misconceptions about intuition is that intuition is based on emotion, and it’s not,” says Wright. To ensure your decisions are coming from your intuition and not emotion, check in and ask yourself if you’re feeling afraid, anxious, worried or stressed out. If you are, take a step back and re-evaluate. If you aren’t, you know it’s your intuition speaking to you.

3. Take time to unplug. In order to tap into your intuitive powers, Wright says you need to unplug. Sitting at your desk trying to hammer out a solution won’t allow your intuition to turn on while stepping away from communication devices, getting out of the office and doing something that has nothing to do with work can help you hone in on your powers of intuition. Albert Einstein once said he got his best ideas while sailing, while Steve Jobs was known to take long walks when stuck on a problem. “Your intuition is going to speak to you when your mind is relaxed,” says Wright.

4. Start paying attention to small hunches. Once you’ve begun to home in on your intuition, practice by taking action on the small subtle whispers of ideas and hunches. These nudges are your intuition working. It’s up to you to follow them and see where they’ll lead. 

Related: Why Good Employees Make Bad Decisions