There’s a thing I do that I call gut listening.

I do it in client meetings when I’m trying to understand what the client really wants and how that might be different from what they are saying. I do it with my Build Yourself coaching clients as I seek to understand the challenges they face and to compose personal challenge tasks that will move their goals forward.

Gut listening actually happens in my gut. When I know I need to do it, I move my awareness from my brain to my belly and try to be as receptive as possible to both what I’m officially hearing, and to reading between the lines.

For me, gut listening is a physical thing. And yeah, it’s pretty woo-woo. It also works.

Gut listening has helped me identify the core issues in a project early on, and has led to asking the right questions that pull out key findings. It’s led to breakthrough moments with coaching clients, identifying the unique knot of dynamics that are getting them stuck.

And it’s not something I’ve always done consciously–I recently picked up a performance review from a job I had in my early twenties. My boss wrote, “She has great instincts. I think if she learned to trust these things a bit more – and accept the failure that may come from time to time with the occasional misfire – she would truly have the freedom to pursue the more challenging tasks and journeys that I believe she’s capable of doing.”

Last spring, when I read Tara Mohr’s book Playing Big I was surprised to come upon her concept of the inner mentor. The inner critic, sure, I knew it. I’d been working on not being held back by my inner critic for years. But the idea that there was another side, a positive force who’s voice I never considered turning to had never occurred to me before.

This isn’t just “women’s intuition.” A former boss once told me that he makes almost all of his important decisions through gut instinct. Your subconscious mind is smart, he told me, and it has access to everything that your conscious mind has processed. So do your research, make your pros and cons and whatever else you need to do, and then just trust your subconscious, which is a powerful processor. it will do the nuanced analysis that you need.

Confident decision making is one of the things that I think separates boss ladies (adjective, not noun) from the rest of us. It doesn’t mean that decision making is easy or that we should shoot from the hip wildly, every chance we get. But when I see promising women who struggle over every choice and waffle in indecision I know that we’re missing out on some of her power. We miss out on her great ideas that don’t get voiced until they’re perfected, and they are less relevant and timely when she finally contributes them. She will miss out on the power of speed to drive progress, and on learning from things that don’t work and the things that do.

We don’t always make the right decisions, there will be misfires, but how long will we wait? How many missed opportunities will we have until we start to build a relationship with our instincts?

Smacking down the inner critic only takes you so far. Start listening to that inner mentor. Take her out of the dark, and listen to that small, quiet voice. Give her a platform. Take her to work with you. Let her help you solve your problems, and identify opportunities. Let her drive sometimes. She’s actually pretty good at it. She’ll bring you a feeling of freedom and confidence, And she’ll get better.

This is a lifelong relationship. The more you work together with your instincts, the better you’ll work.

And you can do great things together.

Hi I'm Maya

Mia Scharphie , career coach, headshot

I’m a career coach and strategist with a secret power (I mean, past career) as a designer. I love road trips, graphic novels and helping people like you design the career you love on your own terms.