H ow do you make your best decisions?
For many years, I bought into the cultural myth (thanks, Plato) that rational, analytical decision-making was good, and intuitive, emotional decision-making (AKA following your gut) was bad. I diligently drew up lists of pros and cons, and tried to weigh them from as dispassionate a perspective as I could muster.
Then, sometime in my early adulthood, I learned about how that whole rational decision-making idea has been roundly debunked by neuroscientists, and in fact we need our emotions to make decisions well. That certainly helped me understand why, in retrospect, a lot of my attempts at rational decision-making looked more like rationalizations of profoundly emotional choices.
Of late, my thinking about how to make better decisions has broadened further: In addition to “What do I think?” and “How do I feel?”, I consider other inputs as well: Namely, my body, and what I would call my intuition. (A tip of the hat, here, to Bonnie Foley-Wong, who refined my thinking about this quartet of internal touchstones.)
Now, intuition is a slippery thing to talk about. Some of you might think of it as right-brain thinking; others will connect it to something bigger than any individual, that each of us taps into. For my part, I’ve decided that for now, I’m okay with not defining it one way or another – but in my experience, most people use their intuitive sense on a very regular basis (though they may not call it that).
A simple example of an intuitive exercise might be to consider a situation you’re in, by sitting in stillness, and allowing an image to come to mind. Once the image is clear, you can look at it from various angles: What is the image showing you? How does it relate to the situation? How do you feel about the image? How might you look at the image – or situation – differently? And so on.
I’ve been drawn to this kind of work all my life, but was extremely shy about sharing it, because it always seemed like it edged a little too close to the “woo-woo” side of things for comfort. But as I move into middle age, I’m learning that not only do most people see the value in integrating intuition into their lives and work, but that when I drop my shyness about it, I give others permission to talk about it, too – and the doors open to richer conversations.
All of this is a preamble to sharing a conversation I had last week with my wonderful friend Kate Sutherland, who has thought more deeply about what she calls “inner work” – i.e. accessing our inner dimension – than just about anyone I know. She’s a brilliant and wise woman who is as masterful doing organizational development for community health organizations as she is at illuminating how intuition and perception can be woven into our lives to enrich our ways of being and doing.
Since I met Kate and started using the tools she’s taught me, I have been more purposeful, efficient and effective in my work – and decisions that would have felt onerous before now feel lighter and easier than I would have thought possible. It’s a night-and-day shift: From feeling caught between the monkey mind of my rational thought processes and the sometimes swampy depths of my emotional states, to finding a stable and serene centre from which I can integrate analysis, emotion and intuition.
And if all of that sounds too heady for you, let me assure you that her approach is anything but: She’s warm, accessible and profoundly down-to-earth.
I think most of us know that there’s more to sound decision-making than just analysis and emotion. The fundamental shift for me came when I moved from “What do I think?” and “How do I feel?” to adding two other questions: “Does this align with my purpose?” and “How might this serve the highest for all involved?”
I apply these questions to decisions ranging from “What tasks should I work on today?” to “Should I pursue this work opportunity?” – and the results have been unfailingly amazing.
I would love to see more entrepreneurs tuning in as part of their decision-making processes. Kate’s work is the most accessible entrance I know into learning how to access your intuition and work with it, so I recommend her books regularly to purpose-driven entrepreneurs and leaders.
If any of this intrigues you, I invite you to watch my recent conversation with Kate. In it, we answer questions like:
- What is inner work?
- What approaches help with specific tasks?
- How can you learn to trust working with intuition?