It cannot be said that I take too long to make personal decisions.
My college major was architecture, in part, because I didn’t get out of the a’s in the alphabetical list of options. I’ve purchased cars with less than 10 minutes of deliberation. In the market to purchase a home, I made an offer on the first one I was shown. I’ve plunged into cold mountain streams rather than backtracking to safety when the path was blocked. I decided on the site of my wedding halfway around the world in an afternoon based on some pictures and one conversation with the planners.
That last one’s on my wife for putting me in charge of the location. She could have foreseen my process.
Not all of these decisions have worked out well for me. They betray a hastiness in my spirit. I know it’s best not to be so hasty. But when I am convinced that I see the best path, I go with it.
I’m more circumspect when it comes to professional decisions. Maybe too much so. I deliberate more carefully. But few decisions can be made on a purely analytical framework either.
And as much as it’s wrong to be hasty, it can also be a mistake to ignore our gut feelings. The key seems to be in finding the right mix between the rational and the intuitive.
I thought about this recently when a friend mentioned, almost in passing, that:
Our intuition is our greatest God-given gift.
Maybe she’s on to something.
Is intuition the “still small voice” of 1 Kings 19:12?
1 Kings 19 tells a story of the prophet Elijah. As an ultra-distance runner, I feel a kinship with Elijah. As he may be the very first ultra runner, though probably not by intention.
The queen Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah so he ran for a couple of days into the wilderness before collapsing of exhaustion. After he awoke and ate, he complained to God about the calamities he was facing. God is said to speak to Elijah in a “still small voice” or a “quiet whisper.”
Still, small voice sounds a lot like intuition to me. But we have to listen for it. If intuition is a God-given gift, how can we tune in well enough to hear what it is telling us?
I have always valued the intuitive in my personal decision-making, the shortcomings of hastiness notwithstanding. Intuitive decision-making has led to some pretty amazing outcomes for me. Those outcomes would not have been possible on a purely analytical framework.
In business decision-making, we often get stuck to the analytical. We’re supposed to make business decisions on data and facts. Don’t get emotional. The numbers don’t lie. Make a rational decision. For as intuitive as I can be on the personal side, I’m guilty of skewing analytical when it comes to business decisions. I’ve fallen victim to analysis paralysis more times than I can count.
There’s nothing wrong with being data-dependent. As long as the data actually lead to a clear path forward. The problem is that they don’t most of the time. Even in a time of data proliferation, the conclusions can be ambiguous. Some level of intuition is needed.
Again, we need to find the right line between conscious reasoning and intuitive decision-making.
How do we figure out what the right balance is between the two? The dynamics of decisions differ. If a clear path forward can be seen from conscious reasoning, not much intuition is necessary. For everything else, you need to use some intuition.
Intuitive thought is probably more art than science. We want to avoid being hasty and also trust ourselves enough to hear the still small voice.
How can we hear it and trust what it is telling us?
Merriam-Webster defines intuition as
1 a: the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference
b: immediate apprehension or cognition
c: knowledge or conviction gained by intuition
2: quick and ready insight
Notice words like ‘quick’, ‘immediate’, and ‘ready’. They don’t evoke the idea of slowing down. But if we are going to test our conclusions, we need to reduce the pace sometimes. I find it helpful to notice my first intuitive conclusion. It usually comes quickly. But I don’t have to act on it right away.
I can take note of my intuitive response and delay the action until a later time or day. My sense of the right path may change with time. It doesn’t have to be a long delay. But for those of us hasty spirits, the smartest move may be to wait.
Sometimes it feels like a clock is ticking when considering a decision. The reality is that clock is usually illusory. The noise of life somehow pressures us into feeling like we need to make a decision and move on to the next thing. Most of the time, this isn’t true.
If I get quiet, pray, or close my eyes, the decision often gets reframed in a way I didn’t see before. By getting quiet, I can interrupt the feedback loop that creates artificial pressure to react hastily.
What’s important is that the quiet time is actually quiet. If there’s music playing or things going in the background, it’s hard to find the peace you need to reframe the issue in your mind.
Seek Feedback From Others
Especially someone who sees things differently than you do. Empower them to challenge you. This is not easy but vital. It takes courage to face criticism in a meaningful way. And it takes discipline.
Author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s writing evokes this principle. Read any one of his novels and you’ll find Dostoyevsky presenting characters opposed to his ideology as the ones of high character, intelligence, and depth. Most authors present their ideological opponents as foolish and dull. It takes courage to see the opposite side respectfully.
You don’t need to change your original intuitive path. In the same way you would gather data to aid conscious reasoning, seeking input is a way of gathering unconscious knowledge.
By seeking input, you are not asking other people to solve your problems for you. You are getting perspective and testing your intuition.
There are emotions wrapped up in our intuitive thinking processes. Pay attention to them. Some decisions cause anxiety, anger, or a myriad of other possibilities.
Underneath each of those reactions are a set of assumptions about the facts. What facts are you assuming to be true? Is it possible that what you are seeing isn’t correct?
The more aware you are of the emotions, the more you can challenge the facts. Emotions are always based on assumptions about facts and circumstances. Sometimes you’ll find that the emotions are pulling you astray based on incorrect assumptions.
2nd Best Option
Another way of challenging your intuitive solution is by imagining that it’s not an option. Take your gut instinct off the table. You now need to come up with an alternative, intuitively.
If your original conclusion is not possible, what would be the 2nd best possible solution? It’s easier to evaluate the 2nd best solution if you know the ‘best’ isn’t available. Upon reflection, the order may change. Or you may gain more confidence that your original idea was the best one.
What you’re looking for are ways to test your intuitive decision-making process. The point is to avoid the decision from becoming hasty while learning to trust your intuition. And you should trust it. Intuition is really hard-wired into all of us. Some of us just have not developed the ability to hear the still small voice.
Don’t endlessly second guess yourself with any of these techniques
At some point, you’ll need to decide and move forward. You won’t get it right all the time and that’s okay.
But know that you can develop your intuition through practice and evaluation of the results over time. By learning to hear that still small voice, we bring some balance to our analytical reasoning. We’re more confident and creative about the path forward.
We accept that solutions require more than data and information. They require intuition.
Image courtesy of JESSICA TICOZZELLI.