Decision-making is quite a complex process for everyone. So much that it is a very popular topic in management research.
For decades, academics have observed and interviewed successful senior leaders to understand and model the thought process that take them to the right decision. These studies resulted in the inescapable rational process.
When we are faced with a problem, we normally count on our rational mind to find a solution. We are trained early in life to develop and cherish our capacity to analyze and solve problems rationally. And that’s great, and indispensable. But what if your reason is not able to understand what is going on, can’t discriminate between option A or B? How could you make the best decision, then?
The answer could well be hidden beneath the conscious surface, deep down within you. And that level of knowledge is not the realm of your rational mind. It is the realm of your intuitive mind.
The good news is that the human mind is far more powerful and complex than you may realize. We tend to forget that we are naturally born with another ability, another way of thinking. And that’s our intuitive thinking. Don’t cringe! It may sound esoteric to you, but it is not. It is a fact, as demonstrated by neuroscience. Indeed, most of the decisions you take in a day are based on your intuitions, not your reason. Whether you realize it or not!
You see, intuitive thinking is the process by which our mind jumps almost instantaneously to conclusions without us being necessarily conscious of the intermediate steps. It works by association, by analogy. It leverages our life’s worth of conscious and unconscious knowledge and experiences.
And the language of intuitions are emotions.
See examples, below.
You meet someone for the first time, and within seconds, you decide whether you like this person or not
(It is likely that this person resembles someone you like, so you feel you know her already)
In the midst of a negotiation, you instinctively find the best arguments to convince your vis-a-vis.
(You are so prepared that your mind figures automatically what should be said. You feel you are saying the right things)
You make a tough decision within seconds, and your employees admire your incredible capacity to find the best solution with such ease.
(You have experienced so many situations that your mind jumps directly to the solution, by analogy. You feel you are making the right choice).
Rational thinking, on the other hand, works sequentially (collect data—analyze—create solutions—evaluate). It requires efforts on our part, and leverages conscious knowledge. It is expressed through words.
Because intuitions use deeply ingrained knowledge and models we created for ourselves, they have the power to inform us of our heart’s deepest wish. Rational thinking has only access to conscious knowledge, so it can’t.
So if you feel restless and confused about a decision you need to make, your rational thinking may have a limited ability to capture the essence of the problem and form a solution. You may want then to tap into unconscious knowledge to understand what’s really going on, deep down.
This is not to say that intuition makes better decision than reason. Intuition relies on your personal models of the world. If your models don’t apply or are inaccurate, the intuition can be wrong – but so can your rational thinking process, even if you carefully analyze a situation.
The power resides in navigating between these two modes of thinking to tap into all the knowledge and experience you have accumulated over the years – and make the most of both processes.
To help navigate between reason and intuition, consider the following questions:
Pick up a pen and paper. Let emotions rise and take note of how you are feeling.
1) What will you gain with this decision? What emotions does it arouse in you?
2) What do you risk losing? What emotions does it arouse in you?
3) What will you have to let go?
4) What new possibilities are available to you, if indeed you let go?
5) What do you think, considering this solution?
6) How do you feel inside of you, considering this solution?
7) What do you want to do now?