/ 13 October 2009

Go with your gut

Life coach Martha Beck was in South Africa in September and ran a workshop for coaches but is relevant to many of us as we consider work-life options.

Round One. What will continue to give us humans the edge on computers in this world? Six things: we tell stories, we design, we symphonise (ideas, analysis). We create meaning. We have the ability to empathise. And we can play!

Round Two. Who are you? What is your combination of talents that brands the unique you?

Round Three. What is your purpose? Who do you work with and where? This will provide you with a filter: the assignments you say yes to, the assignments you refer on.

Round Four. What is your product? So for coaches the question is: ”What kind of coaching will be your focus?”

Round Five. What is your process and pricing? High tech/high volume/low cost a unit versus the exclusive, higher priced, one-on-one coaching relationship, or a mix?

These questions on your unique combinations, purpose, product, process and pricing are useful for anyone in any profession, especially if they are considering new possibilities. Martha added another question: ”What is your practice?”

”If you don’t live it, you can’t give it,” she said in her quotable style.

Recently I found myself thinking that I should be using more of the tool ”shackles on? or shackles off?”

Two months ago I wrote about the body compass and the practice of self-scoring between Plus 10 and Minus 10 about how your body feels about various activities on your ”to do” list. Then you think about why you scored the way you did.

The idea is that you will begin to recognise your energy levels as indicators of wellbeing and alignment between what you need to do and what taps into your best energy and talents.

”Shackles on? or shackles off?” is the instant-thermometer version of the same tool. It’s quick and stunningly effective. Never mind all the wordy arguments going on in your head. Ask yourself: ”What is your gut feel?”

I’ve witnessed executives do this in hiring situations. There’s a mass of paper: CVs, psychometric tests, evidence-based interview questionnaires, and then the head of the panel turns to the interviewers and asks: ”What’s your gut feel about this candidate? Is there a fit?”

If you want to apply this to yourself, then imagine handcuffs — we don’t need real ones to create imprisonment for ourselves. Then check out your gut feel about something you have to do by asking yourself. ”Is it ‘shackles on? or shackles off?”’ Do you feel manacled by the task ahead, or are you looking forward to it?

Sure, it’s instant gut feel and not your well-considered thoughts deliberated on for days. But it is emerging that the speed and quality of what the gut can tell you should not be easily dismissed.

Scientific research supports the importance of gut feel. Brain research shows that both our hearts and our stomachs have brain transmitters. Those age-old phrases ”I know with my heart —” and ”My gut tells me —” are neuron-based and deserve respect. Brainpower, it turns out, is not purely the domain of the cranium after all.

Candice Pert’s Molecules of Emotions tells of scientific research on how the chemicals inside us form a dynamic information network, linking mind and body. Jonah Lehrer’s, The Decisive Moment — How the Brain Makes Up Its Mind demonstrates that ”our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason”.

I recently failed to apply the ”shackles on? or shackles off?” test, with dismal consequences. For about six days, I was chained to a task from which I could not escape without compromising my integrity.

I’d been asked to be an assessor for students doing a masters in coaching. The official time estimate a student assignment is 90 minutes. I did this 18 months ago for the first time, and it took me about four hours an assignment.

Even if I could improve my efficiency, I did not expect to do justice to the assignment in 90 minutes. Some essays take almost an hour just on the first read-through, and I know from speed-reading classes that I read quickly. I looked at my diary and replied that I could do up to eight assignments.

I had good reasons. First, I like reading as an activity. Second, ­students often read the most recently published books and I enjoy being introduced to new texts through their essays. Thirdly, there’s the ethos about ”giving back”. After all, I was also a student once and benefited from the feedback of an assessor.

Seven assignments arrived, which I read to get the overall sense. I prepared the feedback templates. Then I started the rereading, taking notes and typing the feedback into the templates.

My heels dragged. My energy flagged. I overshot my self-imposed deadline. I had to do serious bribery, coaxing myself: ”After you’ve finished marking the next assignment you are allowed to — (eat chocolate, read a magazine, telephone a friend, watch TV).” You would need to design your own mini-reward list to make this work for you.

What was so difficult? I’d failed to remember how onerous it is to package the feedback. It’s got to be constructive. It’s got to be evidence-based. It’s got to be carefully written in proper sentences. And there’s the stress of deciding on the rating.

”Shackles on? or shackles off?” If I’d taken the test before sending the email about my availability, maybe I would have hesitated to press the send button. This tool doesn’t mean you make polarised black or white decisions. It means that you’re taking more notice of yourself and what’s good for you.

So next time I’m asked? It’s not a simple yes or no. There’s the ”giving back” criterion that I don’t want to discount. I’ll offer to do four assignments, not eight.