Colin is the Founder and President of Five Ways Forward, LLC, a leadership & life coaching and HR & Organizational Consulting Firm in Arlington, VA. He is a dynamic and powerful coach, speaker and facilitator, bringing passion, deep insight and his unique compassionate challenge as he helps individuals, managers, executives, teams and organizations move forward to success at work and in life. Find out more at www.fivewaysforward.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
So there I was, taking a break from, well, whatever I should have been working on, and playing some Trivia Crack, as one does (Trivia Crack is the phone app version of Trivial Pursuit). I had yet to beat my friend Laura in a game, and I was oh — sooooo — close. A question comes up…this is for the win, mind you…Entertainment, a category I’m pretty solid in:
How old were Jimi Hendrix & Janis Joplin when they died?
Ok, a bit before my time, but not outside the realm of my knowledge. Immediately, my finger – driven by my gut instinct – flies to “27.” “Press it,” my gut and finger tell me, “do it. DO IT. DOOOOOO IT!!!”
But no. Suddenly my brain kicks in with doubt, uncertainty and a different answer. “It’s 26, not 27. You can’t be right on the first guess. Think about it… THINK ABOUT IT! C’mon.”
Time’s running out. I can feel the pressure. My heart is beating faster: “You want to win! Get it right!!!”
So in a panic I go with my brain and press “26″ – final answer… and… Waaahhh wahhhh… wrong. Bust. Loser. Nooooooooooooooo! Sigh.
If I had I just stuck with my first guess…
And this of course takes me back to all those questions I changed and got wrong on various multiple choice tests over the years in school. How often did I second guess myself and get it wrong – so very wrong! The prevailing accepted wisdom is that we should go with our first instinct when answering multiple choice questions. Except research shows that when students have the time to go back and review their work on these tests, any answers they change are predominantly changed to the correct answer! Whoa! What?!?!
The challenge is this: life and leadership are rarely multiple choice moments with one correct answer. Sure, we have multiple options in any given moment of how we could show up, what decision we could make, etc. But there’s no answer key available later on to check our answers definitively: “oh, yeah, choice C would have been the correct choice!” There’s rarely one “right” answer, and we are trying to choose from a myriad of possible courses of action – many of which might be good.
The key to getting more answers correct on a multiple choice test then is to leave time to review your work. What would happen to our leadership presence if we took more time to review our work? And how might we do that?
The Brain: the seat of thinking, logic, reason, facts, etc. It’s processing and deciding things for us all the time.
The Heart: where our emotions and feelings seem to live. Our desire to connect with others, our passions and purpose and spirit.
The Gut: the realm of intuition; “I can’t tell you why, but my gut tells me…”
We have available to us, all the time, these three ways of knowing things. As leaders, as people, we have access to them in any given moment. But how do we use them?
With purpose. With conscious choice.
The next time you are faced with a difficult leadership or life choice, try this 10 minute exercise:
- Get a pen and open to a fresh page in your journal or notebook (don’t keyboard this – you won’t access the body nearly as well)
- Take a minute to just sit and be quiet, focus on your breathing, get present with your journal; focus on the blank page of possibilities
- Then, frame the question or situation: Today, I seek wisdom on… or… I want to find my best course of action on…
- Send your awareness to your mind. And ask it the question you wrote. Do 2 minutes of free writing. No editing, no revising, just write whatever comes out in response to what you asked.
- Take a few clearing breaths and send your awareness to your heart, and do the same thing.
- Breathe some and then ask your gut the question and write.
- Let it all sit for a few minutes. Get up and walk around. Talk to a friend or colleague. Work on something else for a bit. Eat.
- Come back later and read what you’ve written.
Look for alignments, differences, themes, and pay attention to what you notice in your body as you do this. What feels good inside, and where do you feel it? What seems like the “most right” decision? If body parts aren’t in alignment, what shifts might you make in your action plan to bring everyone on board or closer?
Then take action.
Don’t forget to “review your work” though! Set a calendar item for a week, a month, three months, even a year later (depending on size/scope/impact of the issue) and reflect on the decision you made, the actions you took, the impacts and outcomes. Go back to what you wrote. How well did you create what you’d hoped? Which of your intelligences was helpful? Which are more familiar/unfamiliar? Which got in the way? How might you balance them? What would you do differently next time?
Use this framework over time and you will tune in and become more adept at discerning what combination of brain, heart, and gut will work in a given situation and build the muscle of bringing them into fuller alignment.
So remember, sometimes your first guess is the right one. Sometimes it’s not. Trivia Crack doesn’t give you the time to go back and review your work. Life most often does, if we take the time. Take it!