Whole Body Decisions™ reference a person's ability to listen not only to their rational brain, but also to their emotional heart and instinctual gut. Many times, our heart and gut process information before our brain has the chance to put words to all of it. But that doesn't make the information any less valuable. Listening to all three decision-making centers opens us up to a wealth of information, and allows for a more holistic understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Considering the signals from your brain, heart, and gut has been shown to be more effective than relying on only one method of processing information.
A high score in the Whole Body Decisions™ category indicates a person's well-developed trust in their intuition and senses. It is important to emphasize that people who have honed this skill do not “ignore their brain” or choose feelings over logic - nor do they allow implicit biases like stereotypes to direct their actions. Rather, these people understand the importance of all the signals their body is receiving, and are able to take them equally into account when decisions need to be made. Below are some examples of exercises to improve your ability to make Whole Body Decisions™.
BUILD YOUR SKILLS
- Focus on different parts of your body and listen to the signals they might be transmitting to you. How are you sitting? Is your body actually comfortable, or have you spent the last couple hours slowly sliding into a posture that was cramping your neck without realizing it? Check in on yourself and fix anything external that may be making your body send you unnecessary negative signals. Carry out your day and check in with yourself every hour or so, taking breaks to stand up, walk around, and re-center as necessary. If you are readjusting your posture and there is still something making your knee twitch, or something isn’t sitting right in your gut, start using those breaks to check in with yourself mentally and emotionally, and dig deep to find what your body is trying to tell you.
- Broaden your vocabulary. Whole Body Decisions™ involve listening to the emotional signals from our heart, and the instinctual signals from our gut. Providing some linguistic clarity to these signals increases their legitimacy, helping us to communicate about how we’re making decisions both to other people and to ourselves. Challenge yourself to provide specificity to your logical thoughts, your emotions, and your physical feelings. Instead of “this is the right thing to do”, “I am sad”, or “my stomach hurts”, expand on what these really mean to you. What makes it the right thing to do – and to whom is it right? Would anyone disagree? What’s a more specific word than sad? In what way does your stomach hurt? The more we practice labeling our emotions and gut-instincts, the more in tune we are with our bodies, which will open us up to accepting more factors into our decision-making.
- “Learn about your gut. Developing Whole Body Decisions™ requires simultaneously improving your awareness skills at each of the three sources of information: heart, gut, and brain. The next time you feel discomfort in your gut, ask yourself what you were thinking about at that very moment you felt that twinge of discomfort. Also, recall what you were doing. What actions were you taking at that very moment? Over time, you will begin to pinpoint certain thoughts and actions that trigger discomfort in your gut. It is fascinating and very informative to your self-awareness.” - A Sixth Sense for Project Management, Tres Roeder.
For more information about how to improve your ability to make Whole Body Decisions™, see A Sixth Sense for Project Management, pg 52.
BE MINDFUL: FIGHT YOUR BIASES
Whole Body Decisions™ often get a bad rap. It isn’t always clear what we mean when we say “listen to your heart and gut”. And it isn’t always easy to differentiate those feelings from the thoughts in your head. Sometimes, in the attempt to go with our gut, we try to just select whatever option feels best at first. But the science behind Whole Body Decisions™ doesn't advocate for rushing a decision, or avoiding thinking about it altogether. This kind of thoughtless decision-making is not “intuition”– it’s opening the door to allowing our biases to control our actions. There is a difference between making a sound, thrice-checked decision, and simply following our biases.
One way we can fight this impediment to our ability to make accurate Whole Body Decisions™ is by being mindful of the biases that create mental obstacles. It’s easier to fight something if we know what that thing is.
We tend to rely on biases for two reasons:
REASON ONE: EFFICIENCY
We sort through a lot of information on a daily basis. Every day, we make choices about how to allocate our time, put out unexpected fires at work, and strategize for the future. We even make moment-by-moment decisions about what kind of coworker, friend, and parent we want to be. Though we tend to take this cognitive effort for granted because it’s essential, it means we don’t have a lot energy left over for other decisions¹. When the extra decisions are things like where to get lunch, what to wear, and the route we'll drive, we tend to go on autopilot. This muscle memory of behaviors is rarely an issue. But what happens if you need to make a large number of impactful decisions one week? The tasks that get delegated to autopilot might matter a lot more. We might not put too much effort into determining if someone is being friendly or passive-aggressive, whether we should behave formally or casually, or which of two candidates with similar backgrounds should be hired.
It can be tempting to believe that the choices we make without spending much time rationalizing them are just Whole Body Decisions™. (We are, after all, just going with what feels best, and isn’t the whole point?). But, Whole Body Decisions™ are not characterized by speed. Any decision made on autopilot can lead to stereotyping, and this almost always happens without us even realizing it. We might unintentionally make decisions based on old and irrelevant information, or based on feelings that applied to slightly similar but holistically different scenarios. This can lead to misunderstandings, problems in communication, and ultimately can make you less effective at making the best possible decisions for you and your team.
Fighting stereotyping is not a quick or easy task, but the method to do so is relatively straightforward. We benefit from slowing down and being aware of our own thoughts. When we are first starting to listen to our brain, heart, and gut, we ask questions like "Where did that thought come from? Is it accurate?" and "I'm noticing I feel anxious - what are some reasons I might be feeling this way, that are or are not related to the situation at hand?" With time and practice, Whole Body Decisions™ will occur much quicker, and avoiding our biases will become a habitual.
REASON TWO: SELF-PROTECTION
If stereotypes occur when we make judgements too quickly, these biases occur when we are acting out of self-protection. An unwillingness to face facts that are not in our favor can keep us from making the best possible decisions. Though we’re not aware of it in the moment, we all occasionally experience a phenomenon called naïve realism. This is a bias that allows us to keep our beliefs close to our chest. When we encounter a perspective that cannot coexist with our own – whether it’s about a change at work, our own identity in or out of the workplace, or our personal beliefs – we often assume that the other person is wrong. We feel confident in our own conclusions, and subconsciously tell ourselves that we see the world as it truly is – and those who disagree with us, unfortunately, can’t²! In the name of self-protection, our brains spin a narrative in which people who disagree with us either don't have the correct information, aren't trying hard enough to process the information fully, or are biased themselves.
It’s difficult at first to realize we’re inhibiting ourselves in this way. With mindful intention, we can start to notice the mental gymnastics that keep us from considering a fuller perspective. Instead of immediately shutting down all opposing viewpoints, in the long-run it will better serve us to think about what they might know that we don’t, and how our own backgrounds affect our perspectives. If after reflection you still determine your views serve you best, that's okay - you now better understand someone else's perspective, and you've learned how to relate to and communicate with them. Keep these reflections in mind when deciphering the signals from your head, heart, and gut to ensure you’re truly making Whole Body Decisions™, and not falling prey to unconscious biases.
Making Whole Body Decisions™ is a science-backed, effective approach to making strong, reliable choices at work and at home. Frequently, our body picks up signals about the situation at hand long before we’re able to logically explain our thoughts about it. It’s normal to not be able to put words to our feelings right away. But it is important to 1) give equal weight to the different kinds of information we are processing, and 2) do the self-reflection necessary to figure out where these feelings are coming from. With intentional practice, this will become quick and intuitive. The most effective Whole Body Decisions™ differentiate between the valid signals from our body that help us make holistic decisions, and the implicit biases that inhibit them.
© Roeder Consulting 2018
¹ Williamson, Mark & Salecl, Renata. Autopilot Britain. Marks & Spencer, 2017.
² Pronin, E., Gilovich, T., & Ross, L. Objectivity in the eye of the beholder: Divergent perceptions of bias in self versus others. Psychological Review, 2004.