Trust your Gut?

How many times have you been advised to “Trust your gut?”  I read today that Scott Brown, the newly minted Senator from Massachusetts, told the graduating class at Nichols College that “…when you set a goal and everyone tells you that it cannot be done, if your gut tells you otherwise, then go with your gut.”  Sure, that’s easy for Senator Brown to say: he defied those who told him that he, a Republican, could never win the Senate seat left vacant by the passing of the iconic democrat, Ted Kennedy.

But what about those who have trusted their instincts and made the wrong decision – with sometimes disastrous results?  These folks are not always given a stage to tell others not to trust their guts!  There is something more to success than just trusting your gut.  Sometimes those who are telling you it cannot be done are right.

How do you know when your instincts are correct, and when they are not?  The confusion may lie in semantics.  What some may call their “instinct” is really a highly developed sense of reality developed from years of experience and study.  Decisions that emanate from such simmering wisdom may come so easily to experts that even they are unaware of all that lies behind their successful choices.

A talent is something that comes easily to someone, and can be so effortless that talented people are puzzled by the envy of others: doesn’t everyone do it this way?  Scott Brown has political talent that comes from years of experience: as a lawyer, as a town selectman, in the Massachusetts legislature, in the JAG Corp of the Massachusetts National Guard.

It was a disservice to those young minds in the audience at Nichols College for Scott Brown to tell them to simply trust their gut.  At an age when they desperately need the guidance of a mentor, Mr. Brown tells them to ignore the naysayers if their gut tells them otherwise.  On too many occasions, “trusting their gut” has ended tragically for high school and college age young adults.  This is because the prefrontal cortex, the “logic region” of our brain, does not fully develop until the mid-twenties for men, and a year or two earlier for women.

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink, and more recently in his January 18, 2010 article in The New Yorker “How Entrepreneurs Really Succeed,” talks about the myth of the successful risk taker.  Gladwell‘s research has shown that what really underlies success is hard work, the relentless search for facts, and the constantly sought advice of wise counsel.

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