What To Do When You Lose Faith in Your Own Judgement
by Colleen Star Koch
As a life and career coach, I frequently encounter clients who are impossibly challenged by making difficult and meaningful decisions. They come to me seeking an answer - advice from a professional that they can rely on. At first, they are often disappointed or confused by my response:
"What does your gut say?"
The problem is that these clients have taught themselves not to trust their own intuitive judgement. This usually happens for two reasons:
- They've had a series of negative experiences that they've built into a pattern, and their interpretation of this pattern is "I can't be trusted to make good decisions." An example of this would be someone who consistently picks shitty friends who take advantage of them, or men who cheat, or business partners who don't know how to communicate effectively.
- They've never developed their intuitive muscles to begin with (or they've atrophied). This could be the result of having overbearing parents, a spouse who has disempowered them to make decisions, or something darker like a history of abuse. In the latter case, you may have been conditioned to ignore your own instincts because they would get you hurt. In the case of an overbearing parent or spouse, you were taught that someone else "knew what was best for you," and that your intuition was irrelevant.
Does this sound familiar? If any of the scenarios above resonate with you, I'm sure you can understand why the question, "What does your gut say" can be frustrating. Either you think to yourself, "DAMNIT I DON'T KNOW! Why do you think I'm asking??" Or you land on, "That doesn't matter, since I am not to be trusted with this kind of decision. Better to get a well-formed opinion or advice from someone else."
Unfortunately, ignoring your gut/instincts/intuition is the fastest way to get yourself back into a sticky situation, and here's why:
Your intuitions come from a complex combination of all the relevant (to the decision) experiences you've ever had, how you felt during/as a result of those experiences, and any information you've gathered about the situation consciously and subconsciously. Your "gut instincts" - that immediate, visceral sensation that feels part physical, part emotional, and part intellectual - is your limbic ("critter brain") response to the best combined information your mind, memory and subconscious can put together.
"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." - Albert Einstein
In our culture, we have the tendency to write off our gut instincts in favor of making a "rational decision." In other words, we believe we'll be better served by thinking through the pros and cons, getting good advice, and making a decision that feels the most logical. Even reading that, I bet you're thinking, "Well, yeah. Of course. How else would you do it?" You're not wrong. It's definitely a good idea to consciously consider and weigh the various components of a big decision. What you're missing is that this should happen IN ADDITION to your gut instincts.
Here's the thing: your conscious waking mind is sort of like a regular computer. It has several key limitations:
It only has a certain amount of RAM, or ability to run programs at once. You literally can't pay attention to all of the relevant variables of a problem simultaneously. (PROTIP: Expand your RAM by getting thoughts OUT of your brain and onto paper!)
Every function of the conscious mind pulls on the battery, and when the battery is dead, so is the waking mind. "Ego depletion" is the term used by psychologists for anything that drains your conscious resources, including low blood sugar, making decisions, exercising willpower, and focusing your attention on something. (PROTIP: increase your battery life by sleeping enough, eating well and regularly, eliminating distractions, and creating helpful habits and routines.) So if you're doing anything other than focusing on this decision (like living, for example), you're reducing the resources that can be dedicated to solving the problem.
- It has limited hard drive space, so there is only so much explicit memory you have available. This means that you can only compare the current situation to a few incomplete memories. Basically, you can't see the total picture, because there are so many missing puzzle pieces (memories).
In comparison, your subconscious mind is like a supercomputer. I mean seriously like thousands and thousands of regular computers put together. For all practical purposes, we're talking unlimited RAM. Unlimited hard drive space. Unlimited battery. Never turns off, even when you're sleeping.
Which computer would YOU trust to make an important decision? Your laptop? Or the super (and I mean SUPER) computer?
The supercomputer, right? Maybe in addition to some new and localized info you pulled off the laptop to complete the argument? Evidence has shown over and over again that this combo will get you the smart, most tailored-to-you result.
"Trust your hunches. They're usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level." - Dr. Joyce Brothers
And so when my client comes to me and says, "What do I do when I no longer trust my own judgement? I've made so many bad decisions!" My response is always, "Those decisions were a result of ignoring your gut in the first place. The solution is to fall ALL THE WAY IN to your instinct."
Instead of not trusting yourself anymore, listen fully to your intuition! Focus on how your body feels when you consider the options. Does it tense up or relax? Do you start sweating, or feel lighter? This is crucial - and really smart, complex and subtle - information coming at you in the best way your brain and body know how to present it. Pay attention!
Here's a set of steps you can try when facing a problem that can't be solved in just one sitting:
- Define clearly what problem is.
- Define how important it is to you.
- Send these instructions to your subconscious.
- Once there is clear mental space, your subconscious will start working on the problem.
- You’ll get “pinged” with insight once your subconscious has found a solution.
- If your initial instructions were vague or incorrect, you’ll get poor results, if any.*
“One might almost believe that half of our thinking takes place unconsciously…I have familiarized myself with the factual data of a theoretical and practical problem; I do not think about it again, yet often a few days later the answer to the problem will come into my mind entirely from its own accord.” – Schopenhauer(1826)
Get ready for some really smart, intuitive decision-making!