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?