Are You an Over-Thinker? The Science of Trusting Your Gut to Make Decisions

You collect data, brainstorm ideas with your team and now it’s time to make the decision. Many decision makers often seek the counsel of trusted colleagues when the greatest resource lies within us.

Learning to trust your gut doesn’t come easily for most business leaders. Why do so many of us struggle to use intuition in the decision-making process? It’s a matter of trust and credibility, says Shelley Row, author of Think Less Live More: Lessons from a Recovering Over-Thinker. But more and more executives are learning that over-thinking can be counterproductive:

[Photo by Nick Karvounis, Unsplash]
Putting trust in your gut. Logic is in charge for those in business, says Shelley, who interviewed 77 executives and leaders that struggled at first with tapping into their intuition but eventually learned to skillfully use and trust their gut. Many “learned that feelings carry information from less accessible parts of the brain…if they listen,” she says. One explained, “The first couple of times you rely on your intuition, it’s unnerving. As you make a couple of those decisions and it turns out that they were correct, it gives you a little more courage to say ‘I need to listen to my intuition more.’”

Science now making intuition incredibly credible. Most women executives that Shelley interviewed admitted that they thought “women’s intuition” was a “credibility killer in the workplace,” says Shelley.  But now science shows that gut-thinking is a good idea: groundbreaking research from the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute has proven that intuition is the foundation of rational decision-making. And the importance of recognizing intuition and its role in the decision-making process is being taught to Harvard Business School management students (and the University’s upcoming two-day Strategic Leadership continuing education decision-making seminars will emphasize the new research).

3 Ways to End Over-Analysis Paralysis

There are also some practical and convenient ways to get unstuck from over-thinking and begin to develop your own intuition:

“Head” in the right direction. Listen to your inner voice. Some business leaders practice meditation and creative visualization techniques, while others take a walk to experience those “A-ha!” moments. Sometimes when you’re focusing on something other than work, a solution will present itself.

“Picture yourself making the right decisions. By practicing visualization, you’ll stimulate your brain more profoundly than just words, say Jeff Boss, former Navy Seal turned executive coach and author of Navigating Chaos: How to Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations. He offers this exercise: Look at a picture in the newspaper or online and try to guess what the article is about. Doing so will engage more senses than simply reading words or listening to conversations. What to look for in the picture:  Body language, environment and current trends.

Let your inner voice be heard. Once you start listening to the “voices in your head,” you will begin to trust your gut. Some business executives describe a nagging feeling that gets in the way of their decision making and signals them to dig into the issue further. A construction company CEO said: “I get a feeling that there’s more to the story and that pushes me to ask questions.”

Once you start looking at intuition as a leadership skill, you’ll come to appreciate its input in the decision-making process.