Two Ways to Cultivate Wisdom and get More of What Matters Most
“What do you think? Should I sell the company or not?” For the first time in our two-year relationship, Ed was stuck. His business acumen and intellect were of little help that day. The offer was alluring but there were big implications to this decision. Converting 98 percent of his net worth from illiquid private company stock to cash, having a boss for the first time in 18 years, the uncertain fate of 750 employees, and a high likelihood of being unemployed in 12 months was uncharted territory. There was no going back once he committed to sell.
I took a deep breath and pulled out one of my most handy coaching tools. It was a move I had developed and refined over my fifteen years of coaching CEOs and entrepreneurs. I responded, “I don’t know, Ed. What’s your heart tell you would bring you more happiness?” At this point, I could only guess that Ed was now questioning a decision he’d made two years earlier—hiring me! I was providing no help. I imagined him saying to himself, “I’ve been working with this guy for two years and paying him a load of money and this is the best he’s got?!” Yet, we both knew the answer to his question resided within him.
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What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Some decisions, especially those we face early in life, are easy to handle. The implications of such decisions are limited and if we make a choice we’re unhappy with we have time to recover. As we get older, we face problems that don’t lend themselves to optimal solutions. We face dilemmas and existential binds; “I’m damned if I do, I’m damned if I don’t” choices. “I know I should diversify my assets but I don’t want to sell or let go of my control of my business.” Or, “I’ve achieved my financial and career goals. I want to work less but I’d be bored if I retire or slow down too much.”
Hindsight is 20/20. If it’s someone else’s decision, it’s often clear to us what another should do. Why is it so tough to find clarity when we are in the thick of our own dilemma? Why do we miss the useful data that’s right under our nose?
Months after I got fired from a job I held for seven years it became very clear that I’d stayed in that job six months too long. With hindsight and a few martinis, it was easy to see how burned out, depressed and overwhelmed I was during the last year I’d held that position. I had managed to ignore an abundance of warning signs and was shocked when the chairman told me, “Thank you for your contribution, this is your last day.” What about you? What blinding glimpse of the obvious caught you by total surprise?
Tapping a Different Intelligence
We make choices all the time, mostly by using our analytical mind. This mind is an incredible asset. Yours may be a powerful computer that can manipulate reams of data at lightning-fast speed. Yet the analytical mind can be a liability. It can increase the size of your blind spot, conceal powerful possibilities, and lead you to ask the wrong questions. This aspect of your mind will fail you when it comes to decisions that have big emotional or spiritual components, basically any important decision you face over age forty.
Skillful and soulful decision making requires accessing your wisdom. Instead of wisdom you may use another word like intuition, gut, heart, or higher self. What we call it isn’t important. What’s important is acknowledging we all have an inner voice or vibe that connects us to a deeper intelligence. When the answer comes from this place we avoid self-deception and are aligned with our core values.
Clearing the Resistance to Your Deeper Truth
You know that when you don’t listen to that voice you often regret it. Maybe you don’t trust your inner experience enough to act on it. Or do you judge it to be too subtle, impractical or illogical? What’s the nature of the unconscious agreement you’ve made with your source of wisdom? If you want to change that agreement here are two simple but often challenging ways to cultivate a more productive relationship with your own wisdom:
Slow Down. Most people enable an estrangement from their wisdom by staying too busy or working too fast. Over time they become anesthetized to the subtle but critical aspects of their lives. There’s good research that shows that the faster we work, the more likely we will betray our core values.
When we move too quickly we lose our ability to see subtle data and patterns. Instead, we lapse into a default setting that leads to doing what it takes to be part of the crowd; we unconsciously conform to what others are doing.
Start by creating more white space in your calendar by saying “no” more often and taking short breaks during the day. Designate two hours each week at a set time for strategic and creative thinking. Notice what happens to the quality and integrity of your decisions.
Listen. Listening is the most critical and undervalued leadership skill. Start by listening to yourself. Learn to become patiently quiet. That soft voice of wisdom is buried beneath your need for acceptance. Learn to listen to the people in your personal and business systems.
Listening requires practice and boundaries. Start with five to thirty minutes a day of being still, present, open, and curious to develop your listening ability. If you can’t find the five minutes, combine this practice with walking, exercising or yoga. Try it today or tomorrow and for five minutes every day for two weeks. See if becomes a habit and notice what happens to the quality of your decision-making.
Reviving an Old Friendship
Your relationship with your wisdom is like a friendship. The more you rely on it, the more you get from it. With years of training that rewarded your IQ, you have neglected your old friend. Engaging and trusting your wisdom restores the connection to an inner ally that leads you to what matters most in your life. Hearing your wisdom will provide you with the courage to act on it. What is your wisdom telling you to act on today?