Sunday, May 20, 2007

Instinct, Gut, Decision Making and Stuff

Gut feeling is a fascinating concept to me. When I was younger I used to be very much more conscious of my decision making process than I am now. I read books on the subject, I studied it in detail and I did everything I could to try and make myself a better and more effective decision maker. Of course, this was only after I had made the decision that it was a subject I wanted to improve upon, which took me a while.

For many years my decision making process was very deliberate and regimented. I'd write down the facts about a pending decision, I'd draw all kinds of charts, some of which I understood, then I'd sit down and come to a decision. It was a highly objective process, one that didn't often give the results required.

Then, a few years ago, I read a book about gut feeling and instinct. The book was a memorable one, sadly its title wasn't. It told stories of firefighters who could "sense" a disaster about to happen, the chaps who had evacuated their men from a building only to hear the roof come crashing down a few seconds later. Yet after the event they would struggle to figure out what made them realise the impending danger. This book talked about how we all meet people and sometimes take an instant dislike to them but can't figure out why, or we can take a huge liking to someone at a glance but not figure out why either. It explained that gut feelings and instincts are manifestations of our cumulative knowledge and that the brain often comes to that split second decision before we consciously think of all the facts and reasons behind the decision.

Apparently one of our common mistakes is to ignore the gut feeling and try to rationalise things too much, to use logic and reason where emotions and feelings should be relied upon. I thought about this and figured that it may be true, in my case at least. I thought of the many occasions when I had interviewed someone and given them a job, only to discover after an expensive year that the person coudn't do the job and would have to be fired. We all make mistakes and that wasn't a big problem. The problem was that I would realise that my very first thought on meeting the person was usually a very negative one. But, I always ignored that thought because it didn't appear to have any foundations. I realised that it was a big example of not recognising my gut feeling.

So I embarked on a bit of a mission. It was a mission to learn how to get in touch more with my instincts and to try to act more impusively. It was a mission to trust my feelings more and it wasn't anyway near as mad as it might sound. The key to it was to believe that my instincts were actually okay, based on a few years of experience and knowledge, and that they weren't going to get me into any big trouble.

I've had fun with this, I continue to enjoy it too. It's helped me become so much more confident in decision making. When I know that I'll come to a decision then I don't rush it. I spend time and effort in assimilating all the facts and figures, I invest whatever is needed into getting the advice I need. But then, I do the hardest thing. I wait. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and an important decision has just appeared in my head. Sometimes I spend a few weeks or months fact finding but then put all those facts to the back of my mind, safe in the knowledge that my mind will do its thing in the background, leaving me free to concentrate on paradiddles and bass drum technique, life's important things.

Last week I had a major thing to decide upon. I spent some time getting together as much information and expert knowledge as I could, I even tried to force myself to make a decision, but it just wouldn't appear. Or at least one that felt right didn't appear.

The answer was simple, sit back, relax and wait. Sure enough, after a couple of days I woke up in the morning and the answer was sitting there in the forefront of my mind, it seemed like the most obvious thing in the world yet it wasn't the solution that many had advised me to use, it was the one that I was comfortable with.

And this is what happens to me with increasing frequency now. I ponder for ages, I sleep on things, often for many nights. Then my mind comes to its own conclusion. That's the easy bit. The hard bit is to have the confidence and to really trust that my mind will make a decision, then I have to try to acknowledge it without letting logic, reason and straight line thinking get in the way.

It's fun, it's a release and it's different. It goes against the grain too, it's pretty hard to have to try and explain a course of action to someone using logic and common sense when you've actually decided on it because of feelings.

The key is confidence. Self confidence.