Gut Feelings: How To Use Them For Business Success

by Terri Scott 6 Minutes

intuition Google SearchHere’s the thing about working as a freelancer, or a small-to-medium sized business owner:

You’re ultimately on the hook for all of your decisions.

And boy, do you have a host of decisions you’ll need to make in the course of a day!

Whether you make decisions on how to market your business, how to propose your services to client leads, how you’ll go about executing the job, how you’ll present your value proposition, etc., one thing is clear:

You’ll need to learn very quickly how to trust in your decision making processes.

And that’s when things can begin to feel weird! You won’t have anyone standing over your shoulder, telling you what to do, and that’s probably a reason why you’ve decided to start working for yourself.

But on the other hand, one false move or poorly thought-out decision could cost you untold amounts of money, your reputation, your credibility, and your dreams!

No pressure, right?

That’s why in lieu of a supervisor (or manager) standing over our shoulders, handing us the employee handbook, we turn to resources such as:

  • Industry blogs
  • Business books
  • Online industry groups
  • Networking events
  • Online magazine articles

…and other venues where we can gain reasonable, logical pieces of information.

But what if we’re faced with a decision that can’t be answered in a book, or in person? And let’s be clear: There will be scenarios you’ll experience that requires you to make a decision, and you’re the only one who will be able to make the decision.

What type of resources can you rely upon in these instances? You can rely upon a highly-valuable resource that unlike books (or meet-up groups) only appreciates in value with  time and life-experience:

You can use your intuition, otherwise known as gut feelings.

A scientific explanation on the topic

Mark C. Crowley researched the origins of using intuition, using his findings to connect the dots between the success level of some of the greatest leaders of our time, and their willingness to rely upon their gut feelings:

Nearly 400 years ago, René Descarte famously declared, “I think therefore I am,” and an emphasis on rational thinking has dominated business operations ever since. In the modern era, MBA programs have intentionally focused on developing left-brain, rational abilities – and to teaching future business leaders how to figure everything out.

Even the high-compliment of saying that someone has great “business smarts,” inherently means they possess an unusually developed intellect – a good “head” for business. Intuition: Friend Or Foe? But curiously, some of the world’s greatest “thinkers” of the past century – a list of acknowledged geniuses that includes Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein – all very consciously leveraged intuition in their work.

And so convinced that intuition had profoundly influenced his entire life’s success, Steve Jobs repeatedly said that it wasn’t just potent, it was “more powerful than intellect.” So there lies the conundrum. Most of men, mere mortals, steer clear of allowing any feelings or intuition to influence their business dealings, while the stunning achievers of society clearly chose to operate from an entirely different manual.

Why gut feelings become part of our decision-making process

Matthew Toren offers us a simplified, existential definition of gut feelings, along with how we use our gut feelings to guide through a host of daily decisions:

How come some things you can remember effortlessly while others you have to work really hard to access? The reason is that your brain has two types of memory: explicit and implicit, the latter of which is believed to be the driving force behind gut feelings.

Explicit memory is the knowledge you have to cram into your head with determined, focused effort. If you’ve ever studied to ace a test — that’s your explicit memory at work. Implicit memory, however, is all the stuff that gets jammed into your head through no conscious or intentional effort on your part.

When implicit and explicit memory functions work together, you can develop skills that evolve into second nature. For example, you must explicitly learn to ride a bike, but once you do — that skill follows you for life. Your implicit memory recalls how to balance, pedal and steer through your explicit memory of the past. You don’t have to re-learn how to ride every time you hop on a cycle.

With implicit memory, you just know that touching a hot stove is a bad idea or falling in love is fun, but potentially harmful to your heart. These implicit memories can help dictate a gut instinct that can guide you to better decision-making based on past triggers you may not even remember with your conscious mind.

That time you used intuition and memory to make basic decisions

Brian Foley uses an example that we’ve all experienced-choosing a new restaurant-in order to illustrate how intuition often guides us towards making decisions, and those decisions become an ingrained part of our subconscious, offering us decision-making capabilities in a split-second:

Let’s look at how this works in your customers by starting with a personal example. Have you ever walked past a restaurant and said to yourself, “Oh this place looks good, let’s eat here,” then proceeded to walk in and eat there? Let me ask, what part of that decision was rational? Nothing!

As you see, that decision was completely illogical. However, chances are you were right about the restaurant — the food was good, service was exceptional and you’ll certainly be back soon. How is this so? Well, because gut feelings are products of past experiences.

Chances are you had eaten at similar restaurants in the past that looked, felt, smelled and had the same type of people inside as the place you thought looked good. That’s where the gut feeling came from…

…Although you had no logical reason to support that decision, it felt right because your past experiences at other restaurants and decisions made about where to eat programmed you to believe, with high probability, that this restaurant would be to your liking.

Similarly, all your accumulated knowledge and experiences, from the books you’ve read to the people you’ve met to the places you’ve traveled and the hobbies you’ve kept or forgotten, were necessary to the birth of your vision, which is now your company.

You, and only you, had the exact amount and diversification of experiences necessary needed to connect the dots when that eureka moment struck…

Let that sink in for a moment! Every single thing you’ve experienced, whether pleasurable or painful, led you to the point you’re at now. More to the point, all of those experiences led you to make the decision to start your business.

They led you to the instinct, that gut feeling, that you’d be better off marketing and selling your skills to clients, building something on your own, rather than chasing the security of trading time for currency!

So the next time you’re wondering if all of the stress is worth it, know that there were forces at work that led you towards your current career decision, although you didn’t realize it at the time!

But in case you’re still feeling a bit foolish about learning to trust your gut in making important decisions (instead of basing decisions strictly on logic), Geil Browning urges you to lay to rest any negative thoughts you have about the issue:

There is no such thing as a purely logical decision. The brain uses a combination of logic and emotion when making decisions of any kind. That specific emotion, innate to us as humans, is intuition. We possess the capacity to feel, and thereby the ability to know things without consciously reasoning. The “gut feeling” is real, and we use it all the time.

“Going with our gut,” however, implies uncertainty and does not guarantee a good outcome. (But) I think we can sharpen our intuition just as a golfer sharpens his or her skills.

To hone intuition, it’s all about giving our brain more emotional information to work with through life experience to increase the probability of success for any given gut decision. Basically, the more we experience the more accurate our guts become.

And Andy Jacob, CEO of Leadpile puts the issue even more plainly:

Great entrepreneurs need more than just balance sheets, wireframes, and systems, (etc.) They learn to identify character and trust their intuition. Business geniuses often rely on instinct—that internal thermometer—to help them make good decisions. They go with their gut.

So the next time you’re faced with a nerve-wracking, or even, an everyday decision, stop, and take a deep breath. Remind yourself that everything you’ve learned up to this point, and all of your life experiences, weren’t in vain-they made you the capable business leader you are (or are becoming).

While you don’t want to make irrational decisions, don’t worry that making intuitive decisions makes you look flaky, unprofessional, or narcissistic.

Quite the opposite, becoming attuned with your gut feelings and learning to call upon the power of your subconscious make you appear to be wise, sure, and steady.


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by Terri Scott
Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time. You can view her work at, and she'd love to hear from you: