Guidance Versus Intuition, and Love

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Image by Pixource from Pixabay 

How do you make decisions?  Are you analytical or intuitive, or some combination?

In the past I would usually relied on intellect and analysis to make decisions, using my brain to guide me.  The trouble with using my brain as the primary tool for decision-making is that the brain is driven by fear, and my decisions would therefore be fear-based.  Perfection and control, both demanding mistresses.

Though I’ve historically relied on my brain for most decision-making, I did use my heart for important decisions such as career trajectories, major relationship decisions, or what car or house to buy.  Somehow I knew that with the big decisions, I should rely on my heart since my heart ultimately decides how I feel about the decision.

Why I felt that was true only for big decisions is a mystery to me.  After all, don’t dozens of small decisions add up to a big one?  Somehow I think I just convinced myself that using my brain for everything was the right thing, even when that meant hurting others because I couldn’t be bothered to calculate the human element into the equation.

My change of heart (pun intended)on this topic has since resulted in a switch in my Myers-Briggs personality trait from a strong “T” (thinking) to a moderate “F” (feeling) as the primary way that I make decisions.  I’m proud of this flip flop because it means I can alternate between T and F frames, but I now erring on the side of considering the human part of the equation.  Which is where I want it to be.

Using feelings to make decisions is one step removed from using intuition.  As a person who over relied on thinking for decisions, I was pretty disconnected from my intuition.  For example, when deciding how to best handle an interpersonal situation, I used to do a calculation in my head based on the rules, and my values and principles, which did not usually include other people’s feelings.  Now I tap into my own feelings and try to ascertain how others might feel in the situation, and integrate that information into the decision.  This is called emotional intelligence.

Now, I’ve added a deeper element, which is intuition.

I’m trying here to unpack the difference between guidance and intuition.  Guidance comes in two different flavors in my experience.  First, there’s the explicit, in-my-channel conversations that I have with my guides.  But there’s also the more in-my-gut feelings that I get from my subconscious, and I believe, the divine.  I imagine it’s this latter form of communication that most people use when receiving divine guidance.

The advantage of intuition is that it provides a deeper and more holistic understanding of situations that’s not available during a conversation with my guides.  Intuition is more instantaneous compared to conversation, which is relatively linear, inefficient, and slow.  I’m also learning that as time goes by, I’m relying more on intuition than dialogue, and my connection feels more integrated in this manner.  However, I imagine there will always be instances where the specificity of dialogue with the guides is needed and cannot be replaced by intuition.

Regardless of the mode of communication, the message that comes across pervasively, and loud and clear, is that Spirit/God loves each one of us, even when we transgress into behaviors and actions that are not in alignment with his wishes for us.  This is true for all people, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, income, country of origin, ability, or other aspects of our social identity.  Spirit/God loves all of us, no exceptions, and God wants us to love each other and Earth unconditionally.

To fail to do so is against Spirit/God’s will for us and karmic consequences will follow, either way.  For example, if I treat someone as unwelcome because of their age or gender, then I will feel unwelcome in my life.  If I am welcoming, then I will feel welcomed.

I believe we all have, deep down, an intuition that we should all love each other no matter whether we approve of another person’s social identity.  The Arbinger Institute has written a series of books that discusses how we unknowingly create problems for others, and it starts when we make a (usually subconscious) decision to betray our own values and do the wrong thing.  What ensues is a cascade of events where we have to blame the other for our transgression, thus escalating the insult on the other, when in fact the origination of the problem is when we decided to do the wrong thing.

For instance, in the above example where I decide not to include or welcome someone, in my subconscious I justify it by now believing that the person is scary or unworthy, then acting unfriendly towards them as a result.  They act unfriendly in response, which justifies my belief to further exclude them, not realizing that I believed they were nice enough before I decided to betray my own intuition and values, and exclude them.

We are entering into the holiday season which is about togetherness, peace, and love.  Perhaps we should all be intentional about tapping into our intuition that we are all connected, and to do even a small injustice on someone else creates injustice for us all.  Create the karma that you want for yourself, and show kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion towards yourself and others every day this holiday season.

It may become your new habit for 2020.

I can’t think of a better time to start than right now.

Thriving During the Trump Presidency

Last week I attending an inspiring and beautiful tribute to the late Martin Luther King Jr (thank you Office of Institutional Diversity and Michelle Garfield Cook!).   I did not realize prior to that event that I was carrying a large load of grief and sadness for the upcoming presidential transition.  Dr. King’s vision never seemed in so much jeopardy.

Yet I’m trying to maintain my sense of optimism.  Here’s what is helping me:

  • 20% of the US is freaking out right now, which is a different 20% that freaked out when Obama was elected. We felt they were being unreasonable and over-reactive at the time, and so I probably am overacting to some degree as well.
  • We’ve had 8 amazing years with the Obamas’ wisdom and grace. His election, twice, says as much about America as this current election.
  • Even if Trump may not be the best mechanism for needed change, change will happen. Change is usually painful and difficult, and the lower we fall, the more change we will be willing to undergo.  For that reason, I usually celebrate the opportunity when someone hits rock bottom, and I will celebrate this now, given that most of us are in agreement that something is broken in Washington.  Good change will be informed by understanding, compassion, justice and an aspirational vision for a better future.
  • All this catastrophizing I’ve been doing is causing me pain. I remind myself that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”  (Shakespeare).  My thinking is causing me pain so I’m trying acceptance.
  • Acceptance does not mean being passive. Acceptance means I understand that our reality is changing and that I should take whatever action I can to create a positive outcome.  I keep trying while also accepting my limited ability to make an impact.  I will use my negative emotion to motivate me, and use my strengths to contribute the best way I can.  For example, I have not felt the urge to blog now for 6 months and now I am once again inspired to do so.
  • All things are impermanent.  The Obama presidency had to end, and so will Trump’s.  We will survive, and even better, our post-traumatic growth will be spectacular.

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    Growth and beauty during adversity.  Photo credit

The Purpose of the Moment

In The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, authors Berg and Seeber remind us that academia used to be a place where faculty had time to think and reflect.  Academic research was once done for the sake of expanding our general understanding of the world and ourselves, and not necessarily reduced to a commodity as it is today.  This is referred to as “research capitalism”, originally put forth by Coleman and Kamboureli, where academic researchers are in the business of new knowledge, a market driven by the funding agencies.  Academic focus is no longer on scholarship, they argue.  Instead, the priority is “faculty compliance with institutional imperatives,” which is increasingly involved with raising grant money.

This erosion of reflective inquiry to the tide of academic goals and imperatives parallels a much larger loss from our lives.   Our modern selves subscribe to the virtue of busyness, where we seem to equate busy or productive with important.  You may be familiar with the Covey Time Management Grid, where we have urgent/not urgent and important/not important forming a grid that helps us to gain clarity on how we should prioritize our tasks and To Do lists.  Simply noticing when we are prioritizing urgent/not important or not urgent/not important is the first step toward effective time management.

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Important/urgent grid

, where we seem to equate busy or productive with important.  You may be familiar with the Covey Time Management Grid, where we have urgent/not urgent and important/not important forming a grid that helps us to gain clarity on how we should prioritize our tasks and To Do lists.  Simply noticing when we are prioritizing urgent/not important or not urgent/not important is the first step toward effective time management.

Productivity is important.  We all have important tasks that should be completed.  However, I also agree with Berg and Seeber that we need to slow down.  Paradoxically, sometimes what is most urgent/important is what you should not be doing.  Sometimes, we should not work, not try to achieve, to fix, to create, to accomplish, to read, to write, to plan or to calculate.  A constant stream of busyness around tasks, whether important or unimportant, leaves out something very essential, ie just being.  By incessantly working on our To Do list and our urgent/important tasks, we’re missing out potentially on our best, most creative work, and our most beautiful, joyous moments.    We give away those moments, one at a time, for the next item on our To Do list.

As part of slowing down, Berg and Seeber talk about being more mindful teachers, having a reflective approach to scholarship and connecting with our colleagues.  I would expand the notion further to say that this type of reflective inquiry is important in all aspects of our lives.  Our inner world unconsciously drives so much of our perceptions and beliefs and is the source of our creativity.  When we are constantly in action-mode, we neither access our inner wisdom, creativity, and intuition, nor can we really examine our subconscious beliefs to understand how they drive our understanding of ourselves and our world.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes our unconscious self as System 1 and our conscious, rational self as System 2.   The problem, according to Kahneman, is that we tend to over-use System 1 intuition, confidently believing our subconscious guesses and shortcuts to be accurate representations of complex situations.   In essence, System 1 interprets our world using heuristics and biases, and System 2 tends to be lazy and simply rationalizes the beliefs of System 1, instead of taking the effort to think things through carefully.

It doesn’t have to be that way;  we need reflection to intentionally listen to System 1 in an objective way, yet recognize that its messages and beliefs are often flawed.  We can then use System 2 to re-evaluate System 1 information and find a wiser course.    Thus, reflective inquiry allows a dialogue between both System 1 and 2 so that we can make the most of our intuition and wisdom and to find our creativity. This reflective inquiry requires down time and is not on most people’s To Do lists, yet is arguably both urgent and important.

Maybe it’s worth putting reflective inquiry in the urgent/important category, and a regular entry on our calendars.  What does your System 2 think about that?

Organizational Self-Awareness and Learning

Self-awareness is a critical life and leadership skill that means different things to different people. I used to think that it had to do with just being aware of my thoughts and my tendency to think a certain way.  I believed, therefore, that I had high self-awareness.  However, self-awareness also includes having some knowledge of your subconscious choices, viewpoints, biases, and strengths.  For example, why do I gravitate to certain choices or beliefs?  Are those really the right behaviors and perspectives?   How do those actions and viewpoints affect others?

Taking the time to reflect on these questions and internalize feedback – both positive and negative, formal and informal – is called self-reflective awareness (SRA).  Failure to periodically assess and re-evaluate means I’m operating more on habit than any kind of conscious decision.  A recent blog by Henriques does an excellent job of breaking down this self-reflective process, and describes it as metacognition.  Personally, I find that a regular reflective practice is important in sustaining my self-awareness as I and the environment evolve over time.

The same is true for organizations.  Like people, organizations have a history that influences their self- and world-view, strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, preferences and biases.  Organizations have their own “mental processes” that lead to learning and decision-making:  surveys, informal feedback, organizational metrics, etc.   Organizations that consider a narrow set of data, and fail to reflect and seriously consider feedback – both internally and externally, formal and informal – are just going through the motions of learning and growth.    Like Henriques’ student example, an organization with low self-reflective awareness (SRA) is likely to have a superficial understanding of how to solve problems and blame their failures or shortcomings on external or isolated factors. An organization that has high SRA is more likely to take a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to problem solving and growth and has the courage to face some hard truths.

What would organizational SRA look like?  We can start by looking at low SRA activities, which includes crisis management as standard operating procedure, incremental strategic plans that don’t have a clear vision, a culture of punishing and problem-finding instead of nurturing success and growth, and prioritizing thoughtless organizational metrics that reflect a limited view of organizational success.  Low SRA organizations will have a disconnect between their mission and stated brand, and their actual performance.  For example, some organizations may claim to value diversity, customers or their employees, but the numbers and culture may say otherwise.  The organization may choose to ignore that disconnect by excluding such measures in their data collection, write off dissatisfied customers and employees as anomalies, and rationalize problems as localized, but their stakeholders will notice.

A high organizational SRA will have strong alignment in mission, values, brand and their products and output.  It will have an authentic vision for its future with priorities, policies, procedures and practices are aligned across the organization.  It will regularly reflect as a whole through its strategic planning process and integrate outcomes and feedback to learn and improve.  For example, unpleasant surprises, such as under-performing sales, lawsuits, poor feedback, or a key employee quitting unexpectedly, are taken seriously.  The organization learns from that setback, asking hard questions and facing difficult truths.  It examines gaps between its mission and behavior, and has the courage to listen deeply to tough feedback.  It encourages individuals to take risks and learn from the failures instead of punishing them.  It examines best practices, employs them, and then may even try to raise the bar.  It has leaders who have high SRA, and who encourage SRA in others.

What kind of organization do you work for?  What kind would you rather work for?  It’s easy to see that a high SRA organization will attract and keep the best talent.  How are you contributing to your organization’s SRA and your own?

Part 3: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum: Befriend Your Alien Brain

In Parts 1 and 2, I wrote about the thinking-feeling spectrum and how our tendency to prefer T or F leaves a shadow tendency that seems to play a strong but invisible role in how we feel and behave.    I likened it to an ambivalent, sometimes hostile alien that resides within us, sometimes exerting a negative influence on us, without our knowledge.

Your alien thoughts/feelings can actually work for you, but you have to befriend it and become its ally.  Like a temperamental child, the alien within wants to be recognized and heard.  Failure to do so means the alien will ramp up the stakes, screaming and thrashing at me until I acknowledge its needs. Like an unruly toddler, that internal tempest wreaks havoc and damage until it is heard.

The hardest part is acknowledging the alien’s existence and dysfunction.  But have you noticed that when you listen to a toddler and truly try to understand their world, they get strangely calm and cooperative?  You can then negotiate with them, “I know you want to go have an ice cream sundae but we don’t have time to do that now.  How about I give you an apple right now, or a cookie when we get home? Which do you want?”

Our inner alien is the same way.  “I know the way your co-worker talks to you makes you feel unimportant and inferior, just the way your parents did when you were a child.  You can believe it and feel angry and resentful, or you can go to the gym and work through your frustration and realize that this isn’t about you.  Which would you prefer?”  Suddenly, inner alien is cooperative, because she just wants to be heard and acknowledged.   She’s your Lifelock monitor who alerts you issues (have you seen those commercials?) but it’s your responsibility to deal with the problem.

Make no mistake: she will scream in my head until I do.  Furthermore, I’ve learned that she’ll scream at others through my tone, behavior, perspective and choices without my knowledge.  Others can sense her, even if I can’t.   Others refer to my alien as the b***.  Now you know what I’m talking about.

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way as I’ve spent many years in denial about my aliens.  I don’t always know they’re there, or if I do, sometimes I just can’t quite wrangle and calm them.  It gets easier with practice and time.  Now, I feel like I mostly have cleaned house, though I do still relapse and invite those crazy little devils back into my life.  Living without them though is an amazingly light and freeing feeling.  There are few things that I have done that have had such a profound impact on the quality of my life.  And like all things I have been afraid of, shining a light on them always seems worse at first than it really is.  They’re not scary in others.  You see them.  You know what they need to do.  Do the same for yourself and exorcise that troublemaker.

Part 2: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum – Our Alien Brain

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In Part 1, we discussed the Thinking-Feeling spectrum and the presence of the dynamic interplay between T-F despite our T or F preference. If we only factor in one set of data, we are unaware of the unseen influence of the other half on our internal experience and our external world view.

My own experience affirms this notion. As a person with a strong T tendency, I have not always been in touch with my feelings. Even now, though my self awareness is much improved, if I have emotional garbage flying beneath my radar, I tend to be more reactive, less patient, more judgmental, and more impulsive. I back it up with logic and explanations and accuse you of being unreasonable.   The thoughts in my head were pretty much absolutely true, no matter how unrealistic, dysfunctional, or abusive they were. They would then invisibly fuel my emotions in this treacherous downward spiral, ensuring my misery.

Hudson: “We’re on an express elevator to hell, going down!”

I’m less of an F but can imagine the same dynamic, but in reverse, holds true. We hold many unconscious beliefs that impact how we view the world and ourselves and thus how we feel. If we are unaware of those beliefs, we cannot see how they drive our feelings.

In other words, we often disassociate our thoughts from our feelings, as if there is an alien in our head (or heart) with which we have no connection. And unfortunately, as a T, I’m here to report that the thoughts in our head do not represent a friendly alien. At best, that alien is complicit in justifying our automatic behavior (see Haidt’s Righteous Mind). At worst, the alien is a constant stream of negativity, fear and anger that damages ourselves and others.

Ash: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Lambert: You admire it.

Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

Unlike the movie Aliens, we just can’t take automatic weapons and blow out the scary alien in our head.   But we can tame them. It’s not easy at first, but improves with practice.

Ripley: How do we kill it, Ash? There’s gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?

Ash: You can’t.

Parker: That’s bullshit.

First, be present. Being sad or angry means we are living in our past. Being worried or anxious means we are living in the future. Living in this moment we have everything we need. Notice dysfunctional thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge their presence but don’t give them any power by believing them to be real or permanent.

Kane: Quit griping.

Lambert: I like griping.

Second, be mindful. Notice when you are not being present. Come back to the present moment when you find yourself straying.

Third, toxic recurring thoughts should be challenged. Those thoughts tend to be very one-sided, so be open to exploring other perspectives (see Katie’s Who Would You Be Without Your Story).

Finally, find a more balanced perspective using your forgiveness and gratitude.   Remember that the alien in your head is here to steal your peace, and the bigger, braver part of you, your Riley, is here to restore it. Think of that alien as the holy-terror child within that needs to be heard and validated, but doesn’t get to make the decisions about your life and peace of mind.

That’s how you teach the Alien some manners.

Ash: There is a clause in the contract which specifically states any systematized transmission indicating a possible intelligent origin must be investigated.

Parker: I don’t wanna hear it…

Brett: We don’t know if it’s intelligent.

Parker: I wanna go home and party.

Dallas: Parker, will you just listen to the man?

Ash: On penalty of total forfeiture of shares. No money.

Dallas: You got that?

Parker: [chuckling] Well, yeah.

Dallas: All right, we’re going in.

Parker: [to Brett] Yeah, we’re going in, aren’t we?

Part 1: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum: Our Self-Concept

Who are you?  Really?

Do you believe that you are the sum of your thoughts, knowledge and beliefs? That your identity is entirely dependent on those thoughts?  If so, what happens when you change your mind, beliefs or knowledge?  Are you the same person?

Or do you believe that you’re a feeling, emotional being who happens to have thoughts and ideas?  What happens if you don’t have an emotional reaction in a given moment or are stuck in depression? Who are you then?  What does it mean if your emotional reactions are context-dependent?  Are you still you?

One way to think about the questions above is from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator’s T (thinking) and F (feeling) personality types.  We are on a T-F spectrum in terms of how we tend to make decisions, whether using our head or our feelings. I also think about the T-F spectrum as the mechanism by which we interface with reality.   I’m guessing that T’s tend to use their head to take in information, both about themselves and others, and use that information to decide who they are.  Similarly, F’s view themselves and the world through the lens of their feelings, using that information to define themselves.  (After all, I’m a T and this theory makes sense.)

However, I don’t really like the binary nature of that scale.  We all think.  We all feel.  Trouble is, we may not be very aware of the end of the spectrum that we are unfamiliar with.  Ts are often unaware of their feelings and Fs are often unaware of the thoughts and beliefs underlying their feelings. This is where we get into trouble.

Thoughts and feelings are interactive and synergistic.  Our feelings are profoundly influencing our thoughts, and visa versa, even if we don’t realize it.  That complex dynamic then determines our behavior  (I’m feeling more F-ish today, and this feels right.)

Being in touch with both our thoughts and feelings help us to have a more complete understanding of who we are, how we feel, why we think what we think and why we feel what we feel.  Our habits of thought, feeling and behavior that define our personality, in the end, are really just habits.  We can break and change those habits, yet we’re still the same person underneath, aren’t we?

I like the person you are – that combination of your hidden and portrayed self.  It’s one of my gifts to see the best in others, including that hidden part of you.  I also hope for your growth and improvement in your life’s satisfaction, sense of authenticity and empowerment.  Changing habits that are maladaptive does not change who you are, it merely helps you be a better version of you.  You can be happier, more peaceful, have better relationships, and improved health by taking a holistic and appreciative view of yourself and your world.

All that being said,  the question of Who am I? remains unanswered especially if you acknowledge that most of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are malleable.  I am not a theologian or philosopher, so I will leave that question to those wise scholars.  As an applied positive psychology practitioner, I reflect on that T-F dynamic and how we can use that self-knowledge to create the best possible life.

But I think I’m out of space.  I feel I must finish this discussion in my next blog, Part 2: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum – Our Alien Brain.  Perhaps the outcome of your thought-feeling dance will be for you to join me.