Health & Medical Self-Improvement

Trying to Make a Decision? - When Not to Trust Your Instincts

June had come to see me because she was feeling stressed.
Unhappy in her present job she was initially delighted when offered a dream promotion in a new company.
Through a series of interviews June had triumphed over one hundred and four candidates.
However after two unexpected redundancies in eight years she had become doubtful of her abilities and worried if she was 'good enough' to fulfill the new role.
Although both past employers had to make huge cutbacks because of the recession and were loath to let June go; she had taken the redundancies personally.
Constantly battling with feelings of being a failure and worrying in case it should happen again caused her to become anxious when thinking about work.
With this in mind I was not surprised to hear June say that it was her 'instinct' to turn down the new job offer and stay with her present company.
My instinct was that she was making the wrong decision because June was making a decision based on fear.
Instinct can be a wonderful human skill that helps us to make decisions about people and our environment.
Instinct is fed and influenced by a myriad of things - from the smallest of human facial movements to a persons tone of voice, beliefs, goals and past experience.
However fear can crowd out this rich multi layered stream of information.
If 'fear' had a job it would be to keep you safe Fear is part of our human experience for a very good reason.
When in danger you need to act quickly.
Any deliberation can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
So nature has given you the ability to cut off rational thought and act from primitive instincts when feeling threatened.
When your body has an inkling of a situation being threatening it roars into action cascading your body with chemicals that send you into fight or flight.
This means that you become physically stronger, can run faster and pack a heavier punch.
Great if you want to escape from a hungry lion, or fight off an attacker but horribly debilitating if you are trying to make a decision about a job offer.
The part of the brain that generates a fear response is deaf to logical persuasion The oldest part of our brain triggers the fear response and has helped keep us safe for millions of years.
Sadly this area of grey matter has no idea how society has moved on from our cave dwelling, nomadic ancestors.
So our primitive brain still roars out the same messages of alert for a person who is about to be attacked and for June who had learnt to be fearful of something that isn't a real threat.
In other words our brain gives out messages to initiate a panic reaction what ever we are worried or stressed about.
It does not know the difference between a real threat or a perceived one.
And if we worry about something often enough the response becomes automatic.
Any level of fear will hinder the higher functions of the brain June's level of anxiety was enough to stop her taking the opportunity she had always dreamt of.
The panic that had patterned into her thinking about work made it impossible for her to entertain moving into another job.
The release of stress hormones generated by her anxiety and worry forced her to focus on the 'danger' of the new job and not the great opportunity.
Humans have another part of the brain to help us think logically and weigh up the pro's and con's of a situation - that's the neo cortex, which becomes hijacked by the fear response.
Pattern matching - Bad experiences in the past can cause anxiety in the future June's brain's only partially remembered the stimulus that caused the difficulty.
She was just left with feelings of fear generated from the past, which influenced her feelings about current situations.
It's called pattern matching; it governs much of human behaviour and explains our sometimes-inappropriate fearful emotional responses.
Fear ensures a one-way conversation in the mind When a pattern match causes a fear response, stress hormones ensure that you focus on the stimulus one hundred percent.
These chemicals ensure you can't access your logic, desires, higher emotional states and finer human passions.
Sure does help you run fast and fight but I wonder how many people have turned away from career opportunities, potential partners, and other great lifetime opportunities? And there is another factor involved - Fear will give you an immediate response but then it's tough trying to change your mind from that first response - as a new study shows.
Studies show we don't like to change our decision once the first instinct has been registered.
A study by a research team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northern Arizona University and Stanford University showed that we mostly stick with the first decision we make even though we might feel that it is wrong.
Fearing the frustration that would accompany failure from a changed decision can stop you taking a preferred course of action.
In an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol.
88, No.
5), the team presents its finding that people buy into the first-instinct myth because it feels worse to change an incorrect answer to an correct one than to stick with an original incorrect answer.
"Getting the answer wrong on your first instinct is just nowhere near as bad as seeing that you had the answer right and changed it to wrong," So if you are trying to make a decision and are struggling because on one hand you would love to go for it, yet feel you need to back off.
Check out if you are nervous because of past upsets.
Are the patterns of the past negatively influencing your instincts? Maybe try the following to see if you can get a calmer clearer perspective:-
  • Talk to a friend or professional to see if they can help you see past the emotion.
    If the fear is really high then too much talking about the problem could make it worse so make sure you see someone who can do the rewind technique; or can use other methods to ensure they can help you bring your emotion down when thinking about a particular stimulus.
  • Set time aside to imagine what you would do if you were calm around the decision
  • Get logic involved - make a list of the upside and downside to either decision
And what of June? She is now in her new company and recently said 'although I feel stretched by the new role and all the things I have to get my head around.
I just love being here, colleagues are great and I know I can make a difference to the company.
It makes me shudder to think I nearly turned my back on this wonderful new phase of my working life.

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