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When it’s good to ignore your gut

If you’ve been hanging out in the personal development world for a while, you’ve probably heard the advice “go with your gut”. It’s a staple of the self-aware, enlightened success-&-business crowd and I’m a massive advocate.

In fact, I’ve often described the work I do as revolving around “reconnecting people with their unconscious mind”. It’s about hearing what your animal instinct is telling you and it’s a lens through which I can view all my client interactions.

When I was asked to write a post on when NOT to pay attention to your gut intelligence… I was baffled. Until I remembered this story…

How I learned about psychological conditioning – AKA Electro-shock therapy for puppies 

When I was a kid, my dad and I volunteered to baby sit a small puppy for our friends while they were out of town for a few weeks. I thought it’d be fun and games – I didn’t expect to sizzle a puppy with electricity OR learn a profound life lesson about mental conditioning.

When the puppy arrived, we quickly discovered that it was in that wonderful teething phase. The tiny little guy was Godzilla to anything within reach. We quickly picked up all the books off the lower bookshelves and hid all our shoes.

That didn’t leave the puppy many options. When he started chewing the power cords of our appliances, we sprang into action and lifted those out of reach too.

All except one.

When you think to remove power cords, you don’t really think about the phone. We’re talking an old school, wired, no-buttons-except-numbers phone… with the cord coming out of the wall and laying on the floor. We might as well have covered it in doggy BBQ sauce!

I’ll admit we were being neglectful puppy-sitters. Confident in our knowledge that all the *real* power cords were safe, we were sitting back and ignoring the little guy. We didn’t realize that, over in the corner, he was slowly chewing his way to the copper of the phone cord.

When the puppies teeth connected with live wire, he shot into the air squealing like a piglet in a butcher shop. He was fine, or at least not so injured that he couldn’t rocket from the room in a split second.

The interesting part was what happened next and for the following weeks. The puppy went back to chewing all kinds of stuff but he wouldn’t go near that corner of the room again.

His experience with electrocution probably felt like an attack and, in the puppy’s mind, that attack definitely came from something in that particular corner.

He went back to chewing anything and everything (including other power cords!) but insistent on skirting around an invisible area of our lounge. It was as if some unseen enemy was lying in wait near the phone.

The puppy had taught himself that pain came from that corner. When I (rather cruelly) experimented by placing his dinner bowl in that corner, he wouldn’t go near it. Instead, he sat on the edge of the imaginary “danger zone”, growling.

Emotional decision making 

Our emotion (and therefor our intuition) is the unseen force that sways the decisions we make. When the puppies conditioned (irrational!) fear prevented him from approaching the corner, he was acting on a powerful message from his intuition.

So when is it good to ignore your gut?

Answer: When you’re the puppy and you’re acting on irrational, false emotional conditioning… when your gut is sending you powerful, visceral emotional signals that influence your decisions.

A phobic (which is exactly what the puppy became) fears getting on an airplane or handling a harmless snake… and they feel that fear in their gut. Their intuitive, unconscious self screams out “DANGER!”.

Phobias of creepy crawlies don’t necessarily effect your bottom line, but the same false-conditioning effect can be in place when you consider new investments, work on exciting projects and commit to achieving ambition.

Just like the puppy, your gut can tell you that certain “corners” of life are totally out-of-bounds. And just like the puppy, the experiential evidence your unconscious mind is using to make that decision… can be false.

For years, assumption and intuition (coupled with fear) led humans to believe that sailing too far west would result in falling off the flat world. All through out history, we’ve held ourselves back because our intuition has told us “There be dragons”.

In business, when your gut is telling you “there be dragons” it might be keeping you safe from a very real danger. Or, if you’ve got emotional conditioning clouding your intuition… you might just be missing out on something massive.

My advice to entrepreneurs is to get to work on their emotional baggage. It’s the emotional conditioning that creates the faulty intuitive signals and ALL emotional baggage can be removed and resolved.

When you’ve healed the wounds of your past (for the pup, it took a lot of petting) the irrational fears disappear and the true, trustworthy intelligence of your gut instinct returns.

What do you think? When have you doubted your gut for the right reasons?


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  1. Not long ago, a good friend of mine struck doubt in me (completely unintentionally.) I’d been working hard on Damn Fine Words and it was (I thought) ready to launch.

    He pointed out that I was a total twit, I was nowhere near ready to launch and he predicted failure.

    Talk about wind out of my sails.

    I spent that whole day thinking over what he said. In the first part of the day, I feared he was absolutely right. I’d gone about it all wrong. Fantastic course!… and ill-prepared for launching to the world. I’d lose money, sales, students… I’d wrecked it.

    I was terrified of public embarrassment… the singlemost fear I run screaming from, and have for YEARS.

    But the rest of the day… was different. I though about my doubts and fears. I thought about what I was afraid of – and why. I thought about all the possible consequences if this launch didn’t work. How I’d feel. What would happen.

    And I realized I was good with all that.

    I was scared my launch would flop and people would laugh, absolutely. But I realized that the learning experience of launching MY way, regardless of what others thought, regardless of the potential screwups… was far, far more valuable to me than “doing it right”.

    I wanted to do it my way. I wanted to see what worked. What didn’t. What I’d do differently next time. What I’d repeat because it succeeded. I could never fail – I could only learn from my launch, improve it, and really make it rock.

    (PS: The launch went off just fine, thanks very much!)

  2. I recently had the chance to entertain some clients for my “personal business” I’ve been trying to grow for a year now, and my gut was telling me “your not ready”, “you don’t have enough experience”, wait awhile longer, cancel the meeting. I ignored everything my gut was saying and despite multiple things not going right before the meeting, once we got started everything fell into place, and I wowed my clients.
    Now I have my first real paying client, and the training i’m getting from actually doing the work, is priceless.
    Sometimes its good to follow your gut and sometimes you have to know when to tune out your gut all together. Thanks for your steady guidance Peter!

  3. Thanks for this post, Peter. No one’s ever had to work hard to teach me to trust my gut.Convincing me that there are times NOT to trust it is a hard sell, indeed. You make a credible enough case to take it under advisement, however. I do find that fearful or terrifying gut messages are often attached to past baggage and therefore suspect. But it did not occur to me that “friendlier” intuitions with warm pleasant prior associations could mask current reality just as cleverly.

    Worthy thought challenge for the day.

  4. I’ve always been concerned to build my business ‘by the numbers’ and this has meant avoiding bootstrapping. I’m all for cutting down living expenses, but quitting work with $5,000 credit card debt and 2 weeks worth of savings? Nuh uh. My gut (rightly) tells me that’s a bad thing, but I held onto it way too long past it’s useful gut feeling date.

    For a time to solve this issue I both held a job and tried to build up my business. And you know what? It’s bloody hard. You can’t give your business your full attention during your most productive work hours.

    When I found this I started to have conflicting gut emotions. One said I needed security. The other said I needed to give my business the proper attention. I hated being a part time entrepreneur.

    I went full time just as of this week after relocating to another city (so that’s two life changing things in 2 weeks), but looking back I can’t see why I waited so long to do either. I’m much happier where I’m living now, the severance package I got from work was enough to meet all operating expenses for a year, and I’m already doing client work. So I feel both chastised and vindicated.

    “But I’ll run out of money”. Hasn’t happened.
    “But I’ll have no clients”. Nope.
    “People will think I’m stupid”. Well now I get to do what I really want to without fear of work conflicts of interests.

    Freeing up my mind to focus on things also gave a lot of marketing clarity. It’s the “How did I not see this before?” type thing. “Oh that’s right, I was worried over stupid crap.”

    I should probably get back on Twitter, though. That’s what my gut’s telling me right now.

  5. I’m afraid of meeting new people. It’s not good for me and my business. The feeling is so overwhelming I don’t know when and how I’ll be able to face it…

    Good post Peter, as always.

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