How to Make Better “Gut” Decisions

Is there a way that we can make better “gut” decisions?

I think so.

Our gut is really our subconscious mind. It’s a mysterious and maybe vast place. It seems to have a lot of horsepower. But we can’t directly engage it.

It’s the thing that works on stuff when we’re not “thinking” or maybe even when we are. It let’s us know important things from time to time. Sometimes pretty clearly, like with a big idea that pops to mind when we’re in the shower.

Other times it does that “feel” thing where we don’t necessarily get a clear insight all of a sudden, but rather a sense that something seems like the right answer or at least right-ish. Sometimes it’s just sort of guiding in a general direction (or away from a certain direction).

It speaks to us in its own sweet time. That part I don’t think we can change so much.

What we can do, however, is feed it stuff deliberately. And that can make all the difference.

Raw Materials and Big Questions

I think that we can do two things to stir the pot of our subconscious thinking so that maybe we can influence what pops up from time to time.

There are two foods that it seems to really like: raw materials and big questions.

Raw materials are information, opinions, analyses, and other data that won’t give us a clear answer but that might be likely ingredients to one.

Big questions might be directly what you are mulling over or other ideas that are related to the main question. Questions that consider big ideas and don’t have a clear or singular answer (e.g. What does it mean to be successful?)

I think it’s this mix of details and minutia with high-level wondering that our subconscious likes to chew on.

The subconscious mind is for things that aren’t so calculable. (At least not in a way we can easily think through consciously.)

Feed Your Gut

We can influence what comes out by being intentional about what goes in. A deep dive into the details on a topic can be just the sort of thing to help. Exploring and reading are obvious tactics. Talking to people with first hand experience in the area can be helpful too. Lots of details and a wide variety of sources, even (and maybe especially) from adjacent domains.

We should also contemplate the big questions. The seemingly unanswerable. Just to sit with it and ponder, without worrying about the information or analysis. To sort of feel it out for a bit or even just to guess or imagine possibilities.

Distraction is Key

Now if we want the gut to do its thing, to chew on all that great food we gave it, we should leave it alone for a while.

A good way to do that is to get our conscious mind occupied with something else. Going on a hike or a bike ride or washing the dishes can be just the right thing to do.

It seems that when we give ourselves what feels like a mental break might be exactly the time that our subconscious mind gets to work its magic.

We need to let go of active thinking so that maybe an answer will come back to us in some way at some point. We need patience too, because this process certainly cannot be rushed. Which is why starting early and working iteratively over time is important.

Fuel and Patience

This leaves us with a simple strategy of fuel and patience.

Give your subconscious mind something to chew on, and then let it do just that.