A week ago my wife and I attended a junior high band concert where one of my sons was playing.
As anyone who has been in a school cafeteria in the last 20 years knows, the chairs they have are the fold up metal ones.
They’ve been around for decades and are not likely to ever be replaced.
As we walked into the crowded cafeteria before the concert began, we passed behind a family sitting in a row of chairs. At the end of the row, a 3-year old was standing on one of the chairs, doing what 3-year olds do best: jumping around and playing.
As soon as we took our seats, I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “See that kid over there on the chair?”
She nodded, trying to get me to keep quiet.
“Ten bucks says that by the end of the night, that chair is going to buckle and he’s going to fall on the floor.”
What is Gut Instinct?
I haven’t always listened to my gut.
There have been too many times to count that I’ve ignored what I knew deep down was the best course of action I should take at a given moment.
Most of the time, the consequences of not listening to myself have been a bit have merely been inconvenient; however, there have been times when I really set myself back by not taking action on what I knew deep down inside I should be doing.
The results have been setback and disappointments that could have surely been avoided, or at least mitigated somewhat.
But what does it mean to listen to your gut?
Successful business people talk about it all the time.
What listening to your gut means is that you acknowledge that while outside counsel and opinions can be valuable, only you have the inner knowledge to know whether a decision you make is good or not.
Gut instinct is not just a random series of thoughts that come to your mind void of any background contextual information.
Instead, it is something that whispers to your conscious and is based on your past experiences and understanding of the world as it relates to you.
Some of those experiences might not even be directly related to the issue or issues you’re trying to decide at that moment.
But the sum total of those experiences are woven together to form a basis for your gut instinct on a wide variety of events that you face on a daily basis.
Take the kid-in-the-seat example.
I know you’re waiting to find out what happened.
Well, about 3/4 of the way through the concert, all of a sudden a loud crash happens over to my left. I didn’t even have to look over to know what happened.
The kid on the chair had misjudged his balance, the chair folded, and the kid ended up sprawled on the floor with the chair next to him.
How did I know this was going to happen?
Because I have boys. I know how they behave on those chairs. And I know that those chairs have a tendency to buckle if the person standing on them loses their balance even for a second.
And 3-year olds don’t have great balance.
As soon as we walked into that cafeteria and saw how the kid was acting on the chair, I knew it was just a matter of time.
The Power of Gut Instincts
The reason gut instincts are so powerful is because they are based on prior knowledge and experience.
A gut instinct does not usually manifest itself based on something that you read or something you saw on TV. Instead, it’s based in reality: your own personal reality.
And nothing is more powerful than the reality you have constructed for yourself based on your experiences and understanding of the world around you.
But the real reason why our gut instinct can be so powerful is based on psychology.
And to understand that, it’s important to go to the science of psychology, and in this case, a study that was done in 1997 by researchers at the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine.
In the study, subjects were presented with two different stacks of playing cards and asked to draw cards from either deck in order to earn money. Unbeknownst to the subjects, one deck was rigged so that the cards drawn would yield big rewards but with big risk. The other deck was rigged to yield small incremental gains over time with no risk of loss.
After time, most subjects were able to realize that one of the decks provided more guaranteed rewards without any risk.
The interesting part of the experiment, however, dealt with the subjects’ physiological responses.
According to the researchers, the subjects
“…began to generate anticipatory skin conductance responses (SCRs) whenever they pondered a choice that turned out to be risky, before they knew explicitly that it was a risky choice…”
The results of the study demonstrated that our “non-conscious biases guide behavior before conscious knowledge does.”
How to Use Your Gut Feelings to be Successful
So now that you know that your subconscious is rather important in making conscious decisions, how can you use that to your advantage, especially as a translator or entrepreneur engaged in business pursuits?
Know Who To Trust
Your intuition can be really good at knowing who you should work with and who you should ignore. This is especially true if you are a halfway social creature who interacts with others on a regular basis.
Knowing who to trust and who to spend your time with will save you lots of headaches and wasted time.
It can also help you as you decide on which clients are worth working for and which clients are not worth the trouble.
This technique can take some time to figure out, though. Our BS filter isn’t always 100% effective but over time, it can be honed to recognize when something isn’t right.
How to Improve
The best way to become better at reading people and their intentions is to practice reading people.
It sounds circular, I know, but it’s the truth. The more you spend time dealing with other people, the better you will become at having instincts about other people you meet.
When I first started out translating, I had a tendency to take any job that was offered to me without question just because I wanted to get my business going.
However, I should have been more discerning and listened to my gut more because there were a couple of jobs I knew I shouldn’t have taken but I did anyway. Those clients ended up never paying me for the work.
I learned the hard way, but at least I learned. And now I’m less inclined to make those same mistakes again.
Know When to Say No
Knowing how to say ‘no’ is an essential skill in business and in life in general.
Many people don’t have that ability, let alone the gut instinct to know “when” to say no and when to say yes.
These people feel guilty that they aren’t everything to everyone.
But here’s the secret. There is no way to ever do everything people want you to do.
You have to learn to prioritize. Figure out the most important tasks and work on those.
And listening to your gut can help you figure those out.
How to Improve
If you have a tough time saying to no to anything, then it’s best if you just start saying no to the small things first.
For example, when I started this website, I felt like I had to post articles everyday on the site, engage on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and basically be everywhere at once.
I found that this didn’t leave me much time to get anything else done.
So I learned to say no.
But first I listened to my gut to know what I could stand to cut back on.
My instincts told me that I didn’t have to engage on so many social media sites right out of the gate, so now I only focus on using Twitter.
I also had the impression that I didn’t need to be churning out articles every single day for my readers.
Instead, I felt that you as the readers would be better served by me posting more in-depth pieces spread out over the course of a week or two.
Since I’ve made those changes, my social media engagement with people interested in translation and business has actually gone up, not down. In addition, more people than ever are finding this site.
Know When It’s Time to Do Something Else
Another area to work on in terms of listening to your gut is understanding when your subconscious is telling you to move in a new direction or try something new.
We have all been in a situation where we know we should move on and do something else, but for some reason, we hold back, too afraid to embark on a new journey or unknown adventure.
But sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.
After spending years as a translator, I was starting to feel bored and burned out. I knew I needed something else to do to feel alive again and find the passion that got me into translation to begin with.
But I was afraid.
I was scared that if I branched out and did something else, I would be betraying my original passion.
That doesn’t make much sense to me now, but it was a very real concern at the time.
Plus, I didn’t know where I could channel my energies.
However, I did know that I love to teach. I love to share experiences with other people and help them achieve their goals.
And I love to write.
So when I really spent some time thinking about my life and where I wanted to go, I realized that my gut was telling me start a website where I could do all of those things.
And that’s where TranslationRules was born.
If I hadn’t of listened to those promptings, you wouldn’t be reading this now.
How to Improve
The best way I’ve found for being open to new adventures and opportunities is to simply open your eyes to the world around you.
People have so many opportunities these days to do things that would have been impossible, and even unimaginable, 20 years ago.
But there are still plenty of people in the world who don’t see these opportunities because they don’t take time to look up and see what’s around them.
Take some time each day to learn something.
Learn a new skill. I started writing for fun and found that I enjoyed it.
If you make it a goal to learn something new every week, or try something new each week, pretty soon your experiences will expand and your instinct will have something to work with when it’s time to tell your conscious mind that a change is needed.
P.S. If you want more tips on how to become a successful freelance translator, be sure to buy my book.