We all have people in our lives who swear by the omnipotent power of ‘trusting their gut’. They might rephrase it as ‘trusting their instincts or ‘just getting a feeling’ but the principle remains the same – they believe in a deeper, internal sense of right and wrong about certain people, situations and decisions they have to make.
For example, I’ve known people in my life who will turn down jobs, reject offers, cancel plans and turn down dates based on their instinctual feeling that things will go wrong. Or they will make unnecessary appointments, reach out to unknown people and make assumptions based on an emotional notion.
Personally, after years of suffering from anxiety and OCD, of having an almost constant sense that something is off or wrong or frightening, I’ve gradually learnt to ignore that feeling – as it is often entirely misleading. The number of times I have been to the doctors, expecting a traumatic, terminal result only to be told that my only problem is anxiety is innumerable. The sheer amount of times I haven’t been texted back soon enough and mentally predicted my loved one has died in a fiery crash is ridiculous. If any of my actual gut feelings held any weight, at this point in my life, I would have been fired over fifty times, been diagnosed with 40 diseases, been broken up with 30 times and lost multiple loved ones in epic disasters and tragedies.
Whilst there is some evidence linking our flight or fight instinct to actual logical protective actions – such as avoiding dark paths at night, being wary of sharing personal details online or avoiding that dodgy piece of chicken, it might be time to start letting logic outweigh our anxiety when it comes to business decisions.
Taking an Opportunity
Perhaps you’ve got a bad feeling about a client, before you’ve even met them for a meeting. There’s something deep in your stomach telling you not to bother with them, that they might cause you trouble down the line. This uncomfortable feeling is so strong that it feels impossible to ignore and your instincts are screaming at you to cancel the meeting, block them on every social media channel and ghost all of their future emails.
But what if that feeling isn’t logical at all? What if that feeling is misplaced anxiety over something else going on in your life or in your business? Are you anxious about taking on a new client due to lack of resources or external pressures right now? Are you nervous about growing beyond your capabilities or even just meeting a new person? Do you feel unprepared for this amount of work or for the meeting itself?
One of the most important things I have learned through years of anxiety analysis is that emotions and fears can often be misplaced and redirected when your worries about something else present themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. How else could you look at this worry? How else could you examine this fear or this feeling?
More importantly, what would someone else say about this instinct? If you plainly laid out your emotions and your feelings to a stranger, would they also encourage you to cancel the meeting?
Avoidance and Exposure
When going through treatment for my OCD, I was made aware of all of the ways in which I avoid facing my fears – from turning off triggering TV shows to diverting conversation topics away from things that make me uncomfortable. When we avoid the things we’re afraid of, the fear grows and grows. This is how phobias develop and multiply until they become a deathly fear that we worry is impossible to conquer.
Fear and anxiety are masked through gut instinct. They feed off one another, building up intrusive, illogical thoughts like ‘if I get on this bus, it’s going to crash. I can feel it.’ Therefore we avoid the bus, and we walk, and the bus didn’t crash and we convince ourselves it’s because we didn’t get on it. And we keep avoiding the bus, just in case, again and again until it becomes a problem.
So what do we do instead? Whenever my anxiety starts to spiral, my partner always likes to reference Occam’s Razor – the principle in which you focus on the most logical option or solution, over the complicated imaginary ones. So what’s the Occam’s Razor in relation to your ‘gut feeling’?
The bus won’t crash and will get you safely to your destination. The meeting will go ahead smoothly and you’ll leave with more work than you started with. Your client will pay invoices on time and things will be ok.
I’m Going To Get Fired
One of the hardest things for me to overcome in my professional life was losing my job at the age of 22. I’d had a bad feeling about it all day, and I was panicking to my friends and my colleagues, convinced I was going to get fired later that day. Despite their comforting words and their reassurance, to everyone’s shock, I was fired and sent home the same afternoon.
In almost every job I worked after that, and with every freelance client I took on, that underlying feeling of ‘I’m going to get fired’ hung over me like a dark cloud as I tried to prepare myself for the worst. I would sweat at every ‘let’s have a catch up’ message, I would flinch at the sound of a Slack notification and I would panic every time a client called unexpectedly. I haven’t been fired since.
Gradually, I’m learning that my gut instinct is just a part of my anxiety, of my sense of self that has been bruised once and is still trying to recover. But it’s not something I should be basing my business and professional decisions on. Turning down job opportunities out of the fear you’re going to get fired will simply cost you a job opportunity. No job is ever 100% secure, and each opportunity, successful or not, teaches you something about yourself and your skills. And more importantly – getting fired is not a life sentence. It’s a shock, yes, and can be difficult to process. But it’s never the end of the line.
Instinct vs A Forgotten Future
Some people in life imagine their gut instinct as a life-saving force, protecting them from danger, evil and unhappiness. But in living via the feeling in your stomach, you ignore and dismiss any and all futures that might have come from taking that risk.
If you ignore a potential client, after a gut feeling that you won’t get on with them, you’re destroying the chance that you might actually get on incredibly well with them and grow your business through them. If you cancel your appointment with the instinct that something bad will happen, you’re not leaving room for something good to happen instead. Every time we say no to an opportunity, our brains will tell us we’re protecting ourselves, but in actuality, we’re blocking ourselves from exploration and growth.
Feelings and thoughts are crucial parts of the human experience. They can’t be switched off or blocked or ignored at will. But they can also lie and be misleading, and create false fears that we don’t need to notice.
Your gut instinct might serve you well from time to time. But logic and reason should be listened to as well, to keep us living and growing and experiencing life without hesitation and anxiety.