Most of the time, when I have to make a decision, I rely on my instincts to make a good choice. I don’t spend time agonizing over every little choice in my life and, even though I’m careful about every significant decision, when I end up making it, I usually rely in large part on my gut feelings.
I have faith that my instincts will guide me well, not because I’m overconfident in myself, but because I’ve witnessed how so many of my little decisions made on instinct have turned out well, particularly over the last several years.
This isn’t a natural result, though.
Several years ago, trusting my intuition constantly led me to poor results. They left me with an empty bank account, a career path that I was beginning to distrust, and a strong sense that my parenting decisions (and my marital decisions) weren’t up to snuff.
How did I overcome this? I began to re-train my intuition. It took a long time and it led to some odd periods of indecisiveness, but it paid off in the long run.
Here’s the game plan.
First, you have to take a serious look at the choices you’re making and be willing to say, “Yes, I am making poor decisions.” That seems like a comically simple step for some, but for others it can be almost insurmountable. You have to be willing to say that you make a lot of mistakes, and that can be very hard for some people to do.
The next step is to look for a single decision that you make regularly in the wrong direction. It could be anything. Maybe you come home from work and vegetate for too long. Maybe you start drinking early in the evening. Maybe you buy magazines at the checkout counter at the grocery store.
Look for a single decision you make regularly in the wrong direction, then think deeply about a better decision you could make in those situations. Focus deeply on making that one wrong decision into the right decision.
For me, it works best if I continually turn it over and over in my head from a lot of angles. I repeatedly visualize myself doing the right thing in that position in the most natural way possible. I reflect on the reasons why it’s a better choice and how my life will improve if I consistently make that better choice.
In short, I mentally prepare myself to make the right choice.
Whenever I approach one of those decision points, I attempt to do things as close to my visualization as possible. The goal is to make the “right” way of doing things feel like the natural way of doing it.
After I establish a pattern of doing the right thing in those situations (after three or so weeks), I slowly let my guard down. Very slowly, I try to let my instinct tell me what to do in those situations.
Most of the time, my instinct now guides me to the right place, but sometimes I fall back on deeply ingrained bad habits. If that happens, I start the cycle over again, but I wait longer before trying to trust things as being instinct-based.
This is more or less the pattern I’ve followed to break every bad spending routine in my life and also drastically improve my career-related habits. For me, the challenge has really moved to a sense of figuring out the big picture and breaking it down into smaller little pieces, because I feel as though I can establish better behaviors, but the trick is figuring out which ones to establish.