Daniel Goleman: The Valuable Data in Your Gut

The best business decisions take into account all the numbers and facts on the table, and then something from beyond the table: the brain’s total understanding of a deal.

This requires that we tune into brain circuitry that manages our entire life wisdom on the subject. The tricky part: none of this circuitry connects to the part of the brain that thinks in words. It connects largely to the gastrointestinal tract.

Specifically, we need to sense our gut feeling.

A study done at USC found that when highly successful entrepreneurs make decisions, they gather information as widely as possible, then check it against their gut sense. If it doesn’t feel right, they won’t go ahead, even if the numbers look good.

Gut sense is data, too. It tells us everything we can sense about a situation, such as whether a potential partner will be trustworthy. That’s crucial, but intangible information.

Malcom Gladwell made the argument for the importance of this kind of intuitive data in his book Blink.

In the emotional intelligence model, I talk about this in terms of self-awareness, the foundational ability of managing ourselves, tuning into others, and having effective relationships.

I’m often asked, “But how do you do this?”

One elegant method for fine-tuning our gut sense was developed by a philosopher at the University of Chicago, Eugene Gendlin. He calls it “focusing,” and it is a brilliant application of self-awareness. Gendlin was years ahead of the mindfulness movement that’s now sweeping through the business world. His method applies mindfulness of subtle sensations in the body, sensitizing us to the signals of our own gut sense.

Here’s a brief overview of Dr. Gendlin’s description of focusing from his website:

“The sensation in your body is called a ‘felt sense.’ It lies behind your thoughts and feelings. It is significant and full of meaning. Contacting the felt sense is the important first step of focusing.

Focusing is the ability to stay with the felt sense as it develops, to look at it with curiosity, without judging. Focusing is the ability to welcome what comes, to maintain a friendly attitude to whatever is inside you. Focusing is the ability to listen to that place that is trying to tell you something and to be ready to be surprised.

Focusing gives you a better capacity to confront difficult situations and find creative solutions.”

Read more about the six steps to focusing here.

Gendlin’s student, David Rome, has been teaching the method for years, and finally put it in a book so anyone can share this pathway to insight. If you want to know more, you can get a tutorial in Your Body Knows the Answer.

Or, even better, get a personal tutorial from Rome himself.

Watch my conversation with Dr. Daniel Siegel about harnessing the power of gut decisions in my Leadership: A Master Class.

Additional resources:

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence

Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence

The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education

Focus Back-to-School Bundle

Illustration: Bryant Paul Johnson