Check-In with Yourself for Better On-the-Spot Decisions

By Gilly Weinstein, PCC. Can you think of a situation, in recent weeks, where you needed to make an on-the-spot-decision? Where you were suddenly stuck, slightly uncomfortable, possibly mid-meeting, with all eyes on you? You know that tugging sensation of arrrghhh, what do I do here? Or even: arrrghhh, someone, please! Just… tell me what to do? I’m not talking about life or death decisions—though sometimes the outcome of an in-the-minute choice can be life altering — just a choice that clearly has to be made now, by you.

So how do you get past it?

Time to share a trick I learned from my wise friend Judy.

The first time I saw Judy deploy this magic trick was when she co-led a group of 22 people, in the context of a specific leadership training. The formal trainers had, as they often did during this program, surrendered their “leader chairs” to us participants and step in organically, lead our own group, drawing on our own leadership and facilitation skills as coaches. We took turns doing this, we slipped into the skin of a group leader in messy situations (how our coaching clients sometimes feel!) and we simultaneously modeled ourselves on the coaches who were training us. We also relied on our common sense, intuition and experience.

At a particularly messy moment, when the formal trainers had left us to self-lead our group, when a sense of where-exactly-is-this-exercise-headed crept into the space, along with an awkward sense that anything could happen, or that things could careen and everyone would disengage completely, the person in the leader’s seat (my friend Judy) was tossed an idea on how we might proceed. In a moment I will never forget, Judy gracefully put one hand over her eyes, elegantly raised the other for a little silence, and said “hold on a sec’ please, I’m just checking in with myself.”

Little did she know then, that these words would go down in our group’s lore, forever.

We all waited for five pregnant seconds and then she smiled (beamed, in fact), stood up, and led us into an impromptu exercise that totally shifted the mood and restored everyone’s enthusiasm, instantaneously. Magic, really.

What she did specifically with the group for the rest of the session is almost irrelevant today. I actually don’t recall what we did at all. What’s important is that Judy knew (as in: had a deep sense of self-trust) that she had an answer somewhere, and certainly the internal resources and creativity to handle anything, even if she didn’t know what it was exactly she was looking for. 

By “checking in with herself” Judy consulted her intuition, listened to parts of herself that weren’t necessarily her left-brain (her gut? Her heart?), and took a brief but conscious and intentional break from her mind’s gotta-solve-this-problem stranglehold. I should mention that Judy also happens to be a brilliant, highly cerebral thinker. And simultaneously, she is also incredibly wise and knows how to create a solution in the moment, as warranted. What she learned (and shared with us later) was that, in many situations, she can’t rely exclusively on her mind to access solutions.

You with me so far? Good. Because this is the point of this post: when you find yourself in such a bind—sensing an almost physical pressure to choose, decide or make something happen now—do what Judy did: check in with yourself.

Here’s what works—for Judy, for me, for clients I’ve coached who are often in the leader’s seat in meetings: Hit an imaginary, mental pause button and make time stand still for a few seconds. Yes, really. Close your eyes, or look at the sky/ceiling/window, tune out noise, distraction, other people, and ask yourself one of these questions:

“What’s important here? What really matters?”
“If I wasn’t worried, what would I do, right now?”

Try also:

“Am I ok with this?”
“What’s my intent here?”
“How does this choice sit with me, here, in my belly?”
“Does this choice bring us closer to our goal, or further away?”

Radical as this may sound, I’m convinced that all of us have the answers to most things life throws at us; it’s just a matter of accessing them. Sometimes it’s a phone call or a quick text away, when we remember to reach out to our support network of colleagues, friends, and people who know us. Not least of which, our coach! And most often, accessing answers in the moment involves bypassing the supreme force exerted by our rational mind, dodging some rigid mental dictates in order to tap into other sources of wisdom we carry inside us. Cool thing is, those sources are always available to us, in every moment. If we have developed enough self-awareness and trust in ourselves, if we can truly listen to ourselves even when there is pressure, then remembering to quietly check in with ourselves might be all we need.

To learn more about leading organizational change and the human dimension, schedule a consultation with Gilly.