The Big Idea
When it comes to making decisions, many of us will have a ‘gut feel’ about what is the best choice under the circumstances. However we can feel that we don’t want to trust ourselves to make a decision without some ‘proper facts’ to back up our gut feel. Instead of getting on with something, we might do an internet search to check out what data there is. Or we might put off making a decision by telling ourselves it is sensible and grown up to do some research first so that we don’t make a mistake.
We can worry that we are being too emotional about decisions and feel that it is somehow immature for ‘our heart to be ruling our head’ . And when faced with that worry about getting decisions wrong or the implications for not making the best choices, we have the Internet at our fingertips to give us multiple scores and reviews which give us numbers and ‘facts’. This data might give us a sense that our decision is more likely to be right, but is that true? Does being armed with more facts make our decision likely to be a better one? Is there a way to save a bit of time – or reduce our anxiety about getting things ‘wrong’?
Well the good news is that yes there is! The way we process and make decisions is not as logical as it may seem. It turns out that when you review how human beings make choices and get the data about just where our ‘gut feel’ comes from, that sometimes, there is sometimes nothing better than just going with your instincts – because actually making decisions based on your emotions turns out to be much more reliable that you might imagine.
There is also some great science out there that helps us to understand that ‘failure’ is not quite as bad as we might imagine. One study suggests that actually we optimise our learning when we ‘fail’ 15% of the time. And if we can try to learn more from mistakes then our perception of mistakes and the worst outcome changes, which can free us up to make more intuitive decisions.
So we thought we would give you a quick run through of the science that will hopefully stack quite nicely with #Tip44 and make you feel a bit better about feeling a bit of fear and making a decision anyway! Because sometimes we are so worried about being ‘right’ that we can forget that being wrong – and realising it quickly and putting it right – can be just as, if not even more helpful anyway.
So going with your gut, making a decision a little bit quicker and worrying a little bit less about what happens afterwards will hopefully not only give you a little bit of time back that you could spend more wisely for your head – perhaps skip back to #Tip2 and treat yourself to an afternoon bath instead of doing a bit more research!
Here’s why! (at least in part)
Got it…What’s the Science
Doing this tip enabled Dulcie to dig out two of her favourite books and writers – Cordelia Fine’s A Mind of It’s Own (a fabulous book about how your brain distorts reality and tricks you) and Malcolm Gladwell’s international bestseller ‘Blink’ – The Power of Thinking without Thinking.
Blink is literally all about the phenomenon of how snap judgements can be far more effective that our more cautious calculated decisions – how a firefighter suddenly ‘feels’ he has to get out of a building, a driver to move out into the centre of the road or someone on a speed date just ‘clicks’ or ‘knows’ that this is the right one.
There are also experiments where human patients are shown a spot of light at such a fast speed that they cannot consciously see it. When asked to point to where they think the light has come from, statistically they are more right than wrong. This can also be for some patients that are consciously blind. This suggests that there is some very fast subconscious processing going on in your brain that the conscious part has to catch up on so that you can actually know that you have seen it.
In a Mind of It’s Own, there is literally a treasure trove of psychological experiments to pick from that help us learn all sorts of interesting things about our brains.
The one that helps us here is about a gambling game played with a deck of cards. Players were asked to select cards over and over again from 4 different decks in front of them Drawing particular cards would win them or lose them points. 2 of the decks had some big hitting wins in them – but also some big losses and were overall best avoided. The other 2 decks were better in the long run – the wins weren’t quite as big – but neither were the losses.
In this experiment the players all eventually realised that the more moderate deck of cards was the ‘best packs’ – they had that ‘aha’ moment when we tell ourselves “hang on…I know what is going on here!” And most of them, before they were conscious of it had developed a ‘hunch’ that one deck was better than the other – and had started to select more cards from it.
However, what is really interesting was that as well as being watched, the participants in the study were also being monitored by skins conductance equipment – which uses electricity to measure how sweaty we are! This gave a fascinating insight. Long before any of the participants had their ‘aha’ moment and even before they were showing any inclination to follow a ‘hunch’ and pick from a particular deck, their sweat glands knew already! That’s right – just before they were about to touch a card from the risky deck, they would have an emotional jolt which they couldn’t feel but did show up on the sweat monitors – and only after those ‘invisible’ emotional jolts were repeated a few times did the ‘gut feel’ kick in.
This experiment helps us to understand that gut feel is not luck or coincidence and doesn’t come from nowhere – it comes out out of the combined functions of the brain that process emotions, senses patterns (and so predicts) as well as perceives ‘wholeness’. This lets our more logical and rational bit of our brain, that something is going on that we should start to pay attention to it!
The interesting thing here is where we sense this feeling. You may of heard that we have brains in our heart and gut. Well, in a way here it helps to think of the nervous system as a whole system. We perceive the feeling in our gut, but this does not mean that it is a brain. This body sensation is called somatisation. All sensations are ultimately perceived and that perception occurs in the brain.
Functional MRI (fMRI) brain scan studies have also looked for centres where this processing is occurring. One of the most interesting regions to light up is the medial parietal cortex in the brain (at the top towards the back), that seems to ‘light up’ when intuition is being ‘prompted’. This region of the brain has been associated with a sense of self and wholeness. One of the things the brain can do well is ‘see’ the whole from a part that is where Gestalt (wholeness) theory comes in. This brain region is thought to be involved in sensing when something is deviating from the whole or normal and is a important region in master board game players being able to sense, have intuition, about a weakening defence or imminent attack – patterns that amateur players do not. So it seems that the more experience you have in doing something the more likely your brain will subconsciously know when something is ‘feeling’ right or ‘iffy’ (yes that’s a technical term). It is this intuition that experience affords and which we value in experts such as surgeons, lawyers or investors who have to make time critical decisions with less than the whole ‘conscious’ picture. So when you do go with your intuition, far from just plucking something from the either, it is from your brain as alerted by the whole nervous system. So we can tune into our intuition by ‘hearing’ what our brain is saying by ‘listening’ (sensing) with our body.
Watch our #Tip45 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With Dulcie and Dr Iain.
Blindsight: the strangest form of consciousness – BBC Online article 2015
Intuition, insight, and the right hemisphere: Emergence of higher sociocognitive functions McCrea, 2010 research paper
Intuition May Reveal Where Expertise Resides in the Brain by Christof Koch, 2015 Scientific American
Dr Dan Harrison uses in his balance of paradoxes of making decisions two axis to a graph – one side is analytical (logical), the other is intuition (non-logical). Those that are deemed best are those who can combine or flex to either of these as the situation demands, having balanced versatility or ‘logical intuition’. This is a behavioural trait valued in leaders.
Another thing we are taking away here is that the more you the more affirmation (positive feedback loop) we get with going with this intuition, the better and more confident we are at ‘hearing’ and then going with it. So to be over logical means we are laser logical, as Dan Harrison puts it, and to go with only intuition makes us non-logical. It seems here that the key is to balance how we approach life and life circumstances, challenges and problems by using more of our brains – using both the conscious logical and the intuitive non-logical processing. It also means that if you want better intuition in these circumstances, the more exposure you can give your brain to it or them, the more likely that it will tell you what is going on – even if you don’t at first know why.
What circumstances or odd feelings have worked out for you when it comes to intuition? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.
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