How to trust your gut

Have you ever had a gut feeling? Or made a decision based on instinct? How did it work out?

Trusting your gut, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. It’s also on occasion stopped me from doing things. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

How to trust your gut

The key to learning to trust your gut is when making any decision is to take a minute to listen to yourself. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own.

Tune into your body

Learning to trust your gut is about paying attention to your body. Some people will experience an actual ‘gut’ feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself ‘what’s really going on here?’ and explore what’s happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

Sometimes we’ll get this ‘something’s not right here’ feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion.

You have to have a clear head to trust your gut

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case – and it may sound obvious – do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important decision.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain, which is where terms like ‘butterflies in the stomach’ and ‘gut-wrenching’ originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings. Ignoring them might do more harm than good.

Say what you think and feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, ‘put your own oxygen mask on first,’ and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the ‘safe’ option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, or trust your gut and go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

You’ve still got to do your research

As well as listening to your instincts, it’s also important to do your research. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run the Lucidity Network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research and crowdfunded for the set up to test the concept.

Challenge your assumptions

When you look at the assumptions you’re making, this could also be a clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, ‘What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?’

Identify your biases

Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colours our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed.

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favouring people who we see as belonging to the same ‘group’ as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favour people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

Trust yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself? Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it.

Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean that you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The bottom line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. Trusting your gut is part of your decision-making process. It’s about slowing down and listening, being aware of your assumptions and bias, doing your research AND listening to what you’re your gut is telling you. Tune into what your body is telling you, trust your gut and start making sound decisions today.

A version of this blog as first published at Lifehack. 

Is lockdown making your creativity nosedive?

Do you feel like your creativity has taken a nosedive in the last year? Are you struggling to focus or getting ‘brain fog?’ Do you struggle to find inspiration or motivation?

I was thinking about this. If you’ve nodded to the above, it’s no wonder really. And don’t give yourself a hard time about it. Here’s why.

For the majority of people, we’re in the flow with our creative thinking when we’re relaxed. For example, I’ve asked 1,000s of people to tell me where they do their best creative thinking. They answer that it’s when they’re relaxed and not thinking about work, when they’re walking the dog, running, driving or in the shower.  Whilst a deadline might help some people focus, the majority of people think more creatively when stress and anxiety are low and when they’re doing something non work related.

Now lets think about our stress and anxiety levels over the last year. Broadly speaking would it be fair to say that they have been heightened these last few pandemic months?

Many of us are feeling isolated, and at the same time finding it difficult to disconnect work time from home time. Many employees and managers are fighting feelings of presenteeism as they adjust to flexible working. Working flexibly doesn’t mean being available from 9-5 yet many people feel they should be at their desk and available that whole time which can cause a huge amount of stress.

In addition to this, human beings crave certainty. It’s a basic survival instinct. When we don’t feel safe (like when we’re under stress) it triggers a threat response and our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and we get ready to fight, flight or freeze. Our blood thickens and moves away from our prefrontal cortex (where we do our thinking which explains brain fog) to our vital organs. This was helpful when survival looked like running away from or fighting a wild animal, but less helpful in today’s working environment. It’s also exhausting.

It’s no wonder that our creativity is impacted by living in a higher than ‘normal’ state of stress and anxiety.

Where do good ideas come from?

According to Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, creativity is making new connections by putting old ideas together in new ways. Therefore, to be creative, we must expand our portfolio of knowledge so we have more old ideas that we can put together when needed.

In order to have concepts to bring together we need a portfolio of resource, we need experiences, we need inspiration. Over the last year of lockdown and social distancing we’ve become increasingly more isolated more insular and as a result lacking new experiences and inspiration.

Consider the difference between working from home and working from an office. At home we get up we’re in the same space and we’ve got the same things around us.  We might doom scroll social media or watch TV or look at the news but the amount of new stimulus for our thinking is massively reduced than if we were leaving the building on a regular basis.

Remember back to the days of commuting. You leave your home and walk down the street, consciously and subconsciously you are taking in information.  You notice a new shop window display, read the headlines on the newspaper stand, notice somebody in a colourful hat that reminds you of the time you played ‘Guess Who?’. Your brain is gathering material to turn into connections for creativity.

It’s not just what you see either, you’re experiencing sensory overload, different smells, sounds and textures. Even by the time you arrive at work the amount of stimulus that you’ve opened your brain to is way more than perhaps the stimulus that some of us have had in the last year of working at home. If ideas are connections put together in different ways and the premise is that we need to have a portfolio of ideas and connections to go to for our creative thinking the pandemic has significantly inhibited our creative thinking portfolio.

How to give your creativity a boost

If stress and lack of variety are having an impact on your creativity then test out my tips below.

  • Pay more attention to and be more deliberate about lowering your stress levels. Look after yourself, eat healthily, get exercise and take regular breaks. When you are stressed or anxious it’s very difficult to think creatively.
  • Start to notice. For example, go for a walk and focus on noticing. I’m a big fan of the fake commute so when you’re going for your walk round the block notice your surroundings. Look for details. Are there plants growing out of cracks in the pavement, what is distinctive about the buildings you pass, or the cars that are parked on the street?
  • Decide to be curious. Play and experiment. Take the course that interests you, learn the instrument you’ve always wanted to play, read the book you never have time for. Can you ask more questions and set yourself a challenge to learn one new thing every day?
  • Talk to other people. Replace the water cooler chat where ideas are exchanged that’s missing when we work from home. Allocate time at the beginning and end of phone calls or Zoom chats for those random conversations about anything.  (That’s one of the reasons we organise random connections over at the Lucidity Network)

If you feel your creativity has taken a nosedive then come and join us over at the Lucidity Network. With regular training topics, group coaching and random connections it’s the place to get your creative mojo back.

Testimonial for the Lucidity Network

Thank you to Kate Sanders-Wilde and Tammy Palmer for your chat that inspired this blog.

Why the ability to solve problems is more important than having a right answer

When I was 8 years old I knew all the flags of the world. When I was 16 I knew about Pythagoras theorem and when I was 21 I knew how Nylon was made.

Whilst flags, Pythagoras and Nylon are all interesting to a degree, I’m not sure how genuinely useful any of those topics have really been in my career. I learned about them to pass exams. I crammed the information in order to regurgitate it and get as many questions right as I could. Then I forgot it all. My schools and Universities could tick a box though. If enough of us remembered enough facts it meant they got better ratings, which meant more students and more money in subsequent years.

Throughout education I remember being rewarded for getting things right. And I learned this young. At an early age I figured out that asking challenging questions, thinking differently or being a maverick didn’t make me popular with teachers, so over time I stopped.

Then when we start work we are given key performance indicators and objectives. As adults working for an organisation we are measured and judged on how we conform to a set of pre-defined objectives. These are just the grown up versions of getting rewarded for getting things right passing tests, and ticking boxes.

So it’s no wonder that so many organisations struggle to be successful at innovation. Learning to pass exams rather than learning to think for ourselves discourages innovation from an early age, and lets not underestimate the impact that our early years experiences have on our adult behaviour.

Innovation isn’t about confirming to a set of rules or learning about how things have always been done. It’s about thinking differently, responding to change and solving problems. I’m not saying that it’s not important to learn from history and the great discoveries that have gone before us, but if we are not mindful, we may end up focusing on the events of the past and miss the real lessons of the innovators experiences; of questioning the status quo, learning from the present and not giving up when others said it was impossible.

And the real life lessons that we experience are really important in a world that is changing faster than ever before and will never move so slowly again. It’s unlikely that anyone entering the workforce today will have the same job in ten years time. *One estimate suggests that 65% of children starting primary school today will end up working in jobs that currently don’t even exist.

Right now we need our innovation and creativity skills more than ever before.

We’ve been forced to change radically in 2020. Many of us have already adapted to working from home or adjusted into new roles. We’ve stayed connected, and many people have been even more connected while remaining socially distanced. Parents have adapted to teach their kids (and many kids have adapted to teach their parents)!

Human beings are good at creativity, innovation and adapting, but we’re not used to having to adapt so quickly in a highly stressful situation and for a sustained period of time. The adrenalin needed to respond to a crisis exhausts us and we run out of steam. Gary Gower talks about it in his recent blog about getting past the 6-month wall.

When we’re stressed, anxious or out of steam our ability to think creatively is diminished.

When we feel stressed, it’s common to experience ‘brain fog’ – that feeling of not being able to think straight. When we’re out of steam we can lack the ability to focus or concentrate on anything properly. When we’re anxious we can make quick and ill thought through decisions or procrastinate so much that we do nothing at all.

This is because when we’re feeling stressed or anxious our basic survival instincts kick in and our bodies go into fight, flight or freeze mode. This makes it very difficult to access the creative thinking parts of our brains needed to solve problems effectively.

We are all creative and according to research, to think creatively we simply need to be in a relaxed or playful mindset. That’s why many people have their best ideas in the shower, walking the dog or in the pub. Ideas flow when we’re relaxed.

There’s no relaxation or playfulness when we’re operating in fight, flight or freeze mode. So in a crisis it can be hard to think creatively and solve problems, despite knowing that in a crisis is the time when we need these skills the most.

Being able to solve problems is a very important skill right now. That’s one of the reasons that I set up the Lucidity Network. It’s gives members training materials, connection with others to help solve problems and group coaching. Join the Lucidity Network here.

 

 

Is it time to pay attention to your leaky bucket?

leaky bucket

When did the standard response of ‘fine thanks’ get replaced by ‘busy’ or ‘really busy’ or soooo busy’? If you don’t say that you’re busy do people think you’re lazy? Or boring? Or both?!

Everyone is busy. It’s like a rite of passage. But why? Hasn’t life got easier, more automated? What are we all so busy doing?

Are we busy photographing our lunch for social media? Or multi-tasking across multiple apps and web platforms to stay up to date with the latest news and trends? Or are we just expected to live at a faster pace – to achieve more?

Where are you on your ‘to-do’ list? Is it growing rather than shrinking? You are not alone. In the Lucidity Innovation Leadership Launchpad report, the top reasons that people didn’t do ‘innovation’, or any kind of strategic thinking was because they were too busy, too stressed and they just don’t have enough time.

Is stress catching?

If everyone you surround yourself with is in a state of stress it becomes a problem. It begins to self-perpetuate, we start to feel that we have to be busier or achieving more than our stressed-out friend’s family and colleagues.

Tim Ferris author of The 4-hour work week claims that, ‘you are the average of the 5 people you most associate with’. Think about who those 5 people are. If what Tim says is true, what does this mean for you stress levels?

The problem is, if we spend our time being too busy to look after ourselves our stress levels increase to such a level that we reach burn out. A physician called Hans Selye defined a three-stage reaction to stress called General Adaption Syndrome or GAS. In stage three he said:

The body’s resistance to the stress may gradually be reduced, or may collapse quickly. Generally, this means the immune system, and the body’s ability to resist disease, may be almost totally eliminated. Patients who experience long-term stress may succumb to heart attacks or severe infection due to their reduced immunity.’

This is serious stuff. To live healthy lives, we must learn to reduce our levels of stress and build our resilience. When we are striving to do our best, to deliver work for other people, to look after our family and to climb a career ladder we often forget that to do all these things we must be OK.

I heard a quote recently ‘You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm’

To get the results we want, it’s important to take a step back and recharge, otherwise we’re just like a leaky bucket, constantly on the go, our energy draining out through the holes. We need to do two things:

  1. Plug the holes – get the root cause of the stress
  2. Refill the bucket – replenish our energy.

Tips to help you keep your bucket full

  • Reframe your thinking – stop telling people you’re busy as your default. When you tell people you’re busy, it often makes you feel more stressed.
  • Take time every day to prioritise. It might just be 10 minutes, for example, at the end of the day to plan your priorities for the following day.
  • Take time every day to list and then reflect on what you’ve achieved that day. Write them down.
  • Get a mentor or a coach; a trusted person to help you focus on what’s important and make progress and help you to manage the feelings of being really busy.
  • Start to notice what triggers your stress, is it a person, a situation? What physically happens to you when you are experiencing stress? Feeling hot or cold, like you can’t think straight, agitated? Start to notice your stress triggers and your response.
  • Next time you feel your stress triggered, try and manage it, for example, go for a walk or phone a friend.
  • Say ‘no’ more often. If you are really busy and taking on something else is too much, then say so. You could offer a different solution, e.g. is there someone else that could help, or negotiate deadlines, could it be done next month when you have more time rather than immediately?
  • Make time to do the things that you love, whether that’s spending time with friends and family, the movies, theatre, reading a book or going for a run. All these things are your fuel – they refill your bucket. Don’t wait until your bucket is empty before you do them. Do them regularly and keep your bucket full.

Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity, and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ you might benefit from joining Charly White and me for our next one-day online training to build your resilience, confidence and creativity on 18 May – 9.30 am – 4 pm. Learn practical tips to lower your stress and build your resilience in order to think clearly, combined with practical tools to help you think creatively to solve problems.

At the end of this one-day training you’ll have:

  • A toolkit of techniques to help you notice your stress and anxiety triggers
  • Practical tips and tools to lower your feelings of stress and anxiety, and help the people around you with this too and avoid the fight, flight, freeze state.
  • A set of tools to help you think clearly and creatively to solve problems
  • Confidence to put your learning into action and keep momentum even on the tough days.
May 2021 Resilience and creativity workshop
https://lucidityinnovation.lpages.co/may-2021-resilience-creativity-workshop/

This resilience, confidence and creativity training webinar is for anyone who is responsible for leading and motivating a team, and who would like to build their resilience and creative problem-solving skills. Book now!

 

This isn’t a blog about whether to get a dog

Lucy Gower and Gary Gower

Have you ever talked about doing something and just never got round to it? Do you have items on your ‘to do’ list that have been on it for years? Do you put things off and then tell yourself that you’ll start fresh from Monday?

Yes? I suspect that most of us have.

It’s so tiring talking about things again and again, putting them off and making excuses for not doing them.

It was happening to me.

For years I’d been talking about getting a dog.

I’d tell people how much I wanted one and how my life would be better with a dog in it. But there were so many reasons not to change, the responsibility of looking after another living thing, the cost of vets bills, insurance, food, doggy day care and then the limitations, not being able to go out all the time or go on holiday. People I spoke to fuelled by doubts and by the time I’d had the conversation with them I’d talked myself out of getting a dog.

But the topic kept playing in my mind. I couldn’t shut it down and I was boring myself. I decided that I either had to get a dog or shut up talking about it.

Then one day I just bloody got the dog.   Here he is. He’s called Gary. You can follow his adventures on Instagram at garygower_dog _diaries.

The doubters were right. When Gary was a puppy it was really hard. The first thing he did when he arrived aged 12 weeks was a poo under the kitchen table. I spent most of Easter 2018 standing in the garden in the rain training him to go to the toilet outside. The rest of that Easter was spent going backwards and forwards on the tube and bus so he wasn’t scared of public transport. We spent a lot of time sat on the bench opposite Wood Green bus garage getting him used to traffic noises and sirens. There was the night I slept on the kitchen floor next to his crate with a broken foot in a plaster cast (which is a different story) because he wouldn’t stop barking. There was the day he humped my arm while I tried to conduct a work Skype call. There was the day he chewed through my laptop cable which cost £80 to replace. There was the day that he ran amok on Southwold beach and it took a core group of 5 of us plus most of the population of Southwold over an hour to catch him. There was the day he rolled in a dead fish. There was the day he jumped up and took a hat out of a strangers hand, shook it to death and dropped it in a muddy puddle. It took months before he realised doing a poo in the hallway in the middle of the night was NOT OK. He’s been massively disruptive. I’ve never apologised so much since I had a dog.

He’s also been brilliant. I’ve learned a lot from Gary. Patience, that the simple things in life can bring great joy, to live more in the moment, not to take things too seriously and be grateful that all I have. He looks after me. Because I have to walk him every day, I have to switch off from work (and when you work for yourself and love what you do that can be hard). I get more regular exercise. People talk to us on the tube, and if people don’t like him they move and we get a seat! I’ve met new friends, discovered new places to walk and can now throw a ball really far.

Do you know what? It is a big responsibility looking after another living thing, he does cost me money and when I go on holiday either he comes too or someone else looks after him. The logistics of who looks after Gary and when causes me headaches. And the joy of Gary far outweighs all the negatives.

Do you put things off and then tell yourself that you’ll start fresh from Monday?

So my point?

This isn’t a blog about whether to get a dog. This is a blog about genuinely thinking about what you want and deciding to commit (do you want a new job, to move house, a different relationship, learn a new skill, lose weight, a different lifestyle…?) The context doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you make a choice whether to do the thing or not. The talking about the thing and not taking steps to achieve it is a tedious and tiring place to be. You deserve more than that.

Making any sort of change is hard. Do you put things off? Friends and family won’t necessarily give you the best advice either. You have to get brave and focus on what you want.

So, those things on your list; tackle them or scrub them off forever and free up your brain to focus on the things you really want to do. Ask yourself what would happen if you don’t do the thing? I didn’t want to be the person that always wished they followed their heart and got a dog. I wanted to be the person walking on the beach with my dog. What’s your thing on your list that you’d regret not doing?

Go on, channel your inner Yoda. ‘Do or do not, there is no try’

I set up the Lucidity Network to help people push forward and do the things they want to do. It’s a community of generous people who help each other get the important work done. It’s facilitated via a Facebook Community with meet-ups and online content to help members tackle the complexities of working life that didn’t come with the management handbook. You can find out more and sign up here. And if you join, you might even get to meet Gary.