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Want To Make Better Decisions? Listen To Your Body

listen to your gut


I know it in the pit of my stomach.

It’s a gut decision.

My stomach is in knots.

I finally found the guts to go for it.

We certainly have a lot of phrases linking the gut to decision-making, which is funny because we like to think of decision-making as a purely rational process.

But is it, really? And should it be?

The best decisions – including the best career decisions – are made when the gut and the brain work together, with the gut in charge of navigation and the brain in charge of execution.

And I don’t just mean gut in the figurative sense. Our bodies give us important and useful information all of the time. Often, we don’t notice this information, or worse, we disregard it because we live in an age where rationality is king. We worship logic. We operate from the neck up.

We are sooooo disconnected from our bodies.

Our disconnect from our bodies is the reason we get sick before we notice that something is wrong. When your back goes out, when you get sick, when you (insert your recurring health issue here), it’s often your body putting on the emergency brake. It’s screaming at you to pay attention. This happens when you disregard all of the caution lights along the way.

At any given moment your body is trying to tell you something. You can choose to ignore it or you can tap into that wisdom. If that sounds a little too woowoo hippy dippy for you, think of it as biological feedback. Same thing, different language.

One of my coaching mentors, Martha Beck, has a simple exercise that she uses to help people tap into the wisdom of their bodies. She calls it the “body compass”. Basically, she’ll ask you to recall an unpleasant memory, hold it in your mind, and then notice the sensations you feel in your body, right from your feet to the top of your head. Then she’ll ask you to do the same for a positive memory.

My positive memory sensation is a warm tingly feeling on my skin. My negative memory sensation feels like a suffocating tightening in my throat. For this reason, I call it the “boa constrictor”.

Your own “body compass” sensations may or may not have anything to do with your actual gut, but for many people the negative sensation feels like an upset stomach. For others it’s a tension in the shoulders, or a clenching of the jaw, or a tightening in the chest, or, like me, a choking feeling.

Try it yourself. Recall a negative experience. Hold it in your mind. Do a body scan from your toes to the top of your head. What physical sensations do you notice?

Now, do the same for a positive memory.

Martha calls this tool body compass and not simply body scan because you’re supposed to use these body sensations to help you navigate the decisions in your life. You should head toward more of the things that make you feel good (warm and tingly, in my case), and away from the things that make you feel bad (that choking boa constrictor feeling).

For me, that boa constrictor sensation was something I felt when I forced myself to do something I didn’t really want to do – like fake enthusiasm at a research conference, or hang out with people I didn’t actually like, or try to do work I hated.

The boa constrictor was like a gentle tap on the shoulder from my body. I should have paid attention. When I didn’t (because who ever listens the first time, right?), I’d get a big ol’ smack upside the head when my back went out or I got sick.

I have a friend who noticed something interesting once she started paying attention to her body at work. Her manager asked her to cross an ethical boundary with some contracts and she literally got a bad taste in her mouth. Literally. She Googled it and it turns out THAT’S A THING. Maybe that’s where the saying comes from.

When your body offers up information like that, here’s what it’s saying: Ummm…this might not be the best idea. May I recommend that you reconsider this course of action?

If you ignore it, eventually you’ll get a smack upside the head. In other words, your body will start screaming: I tried to tell you, but you never listen. Can we please fix this problem now?! Otherwise shit is gonna get ugly from now on.

Don’t wait until shit gets ugly. 

The body compass and all of this talk about listening to your gut boils down to this: Notice what you hate. Notice what you love. Stop doing shit you hate. Start doing stuff you love. Your body will tell you the difference. Every time.


This is an excerpt from Careergasm: A Course for Discovering Your Calling.


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