Steve Jobs, in an address to graduates, once said, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
The inner voice and intuition have previously been thought to be the stuff of the metaphysical however science has discovered that our body has two distinct operating systems – the first system is quick, intuitive, and mostly subconscious. It is controlled by our right brain and has a direct relation to the gut.
The second system is more analytical and controlled by our left brain. This system contemplates decisions much longer and is considered the relatively newer part of our brain. System one is shown to know the answer faster than system two. Because system one is largely unconscious, the answer often comes without meaning and when we hear ‘trust your gut,’ the left brain tends to draw issue as on the surface, it does not appear logical.
In life, and business, many those that appear to have reached immense success credit an inner guiding voice to assist them with making the best decisions. A study on business leaders, performed by Queen’s University, found that 41% still say they credit their gut in making decisions. Oprah, Henry Ford, Victoria Beckham, and others say that the key to their success is trusting their gut and that inner knowing of the right path to follow.
Over the years, I have learned to trust my gut. It is that wise voice that has guided me to make the best decisions and the same voice that when ignored, leads to certain failure.
I have kept employees for too long with horrific consequences when I didn’t listen to my gut. I lost a business when I ignored my gut for over a year. I have also done well by listening to my gut in starting a very successful business, working with my current start-up, and honed it carefully over the years to discern whom to trust.
My gut, this inner voice, which I feel is one and the same, has also been responsible for many athletic successes, powerful relationship decisions, and even saving my life.
In 2013, I was running my 4th Boston Marathon. The morning began like any other Boston with me shrouded in a very large garbage bag to protect me from the cold, boarding a school bus at [4:30] in the morning to Hopkinton – the start of the famous 26.2 mile race. In Hopkinton, I waited with my fellow runners – eating snacks, stretching, and warming-up.
When I went to put my gear bag on the bus, something felt off. At the last minute, I almost took my Blackberry with me although that would have been odd at the time. Today, we run with our phones however back then, it wasn’t common for the serious runners, like myself, who were attempting to get their course PB (Personal Best).
As I started running, a voice said, ‘be vigilant.’ This voice, one I had heard before, emanated from within. I looked around at the sea of runners and the fans lining the course. Everything looked fine and I continued on at 7-minute mile pace listening to my freshly charged iPod. At the 5-mile mark, my iPod stopped with no reason. It made absolutely no sense. I went through a laundry list of questions:
- Did it get wet?
- Was it charged?
- Did I grab the new one?
Again, the voice boomed, ‘be vigilant.’ Internally I knew that the iPod was not going to work and pressing the buttons incessantly would bear no better result. I clipped my headphones into the strap of my singlet and soldiered on.
By the time I reached the infamous Heartbreak Hill, the voice had commanded that I ‘be vigilant’ dozens of times. I looked at the fans lining the course, considered how pure this entire day was – people going for goals and others cheering them on – and then I thought, ‘how vulnerable we all are out here.’
When I saw the infamous Citgo sign at Fenway, experience told me that I was in the home stretch. I looked at my watch and estimated that I would finish in about [3:35]. I crossed the finish line feeling triumphant, knowing that I had re-qualified for next year’s Boston with over 10 minutes to spare.
It was as a volunteer wrapped me in a silver foil warming blanket, I heard the voice again, ‘be vigilant.’ I looked around and saw nothing but a sea of happy, satisfied runners, and enthusiastic family and friends looking for loved ones. I was pulled into the mass of runners walking proudly wearing their 2013 finishers medals. As one giant swarm we headed toward Copley Square, the same place we had boarded the busses those many hours ago.
I found the orange school bus that matched my bib number and requested my gear bag. I rifled around for my Blackberry and waited as it finally powered up. The first thing I did was have a fellow runner take my photo, the second was to text my husband. ‘Where are you?’
‘I am at the other end of Boylston,’ came the reply.
I was about to message, ‘let’s meet at the finish line,’ and the voice commanded, as though standing beside me, ‘go to your hotel. Go now.’
Startled, I looked around for the person who had spoken those words. There was no one within six feet of me. My gut told me that I needed to head back to the hotel. I texted my husband to meet me at the hotel instead.
I made my way through barriers, people, and painfully hobbled up onto the sidewalk as the chill and 26.2 miles finally overtook me. It was not a direct route to the hotel and it would have been faster to meet my husband at the finish however I knew that the voice was not suggesting, it was directing me.
We reached the lobby at the same time. I asked my husband to take a photo of me where I proudly held up four fingers to signify four Boston’s completed. It was at that moment that we heard a loud noise and the hotel shook ever so slightly. I knew it was some form of an IAD having trained as a correctional officer in Canada many years prior. A man came running in yelling ‘bomb. It’s a bomb.’
Suddenly, the world slowed down. We were ushered into the elevator by a hotel staffer. I found myself in our room staring out toward the finish. Shivering I gazed out waiting, terrified, and then a profound knowing as a second bomb went off.
The rest of what happened that day is written in many accounts however what is written here, for you, is my account – the story of how ‘the voice’ led my husband and I to safety that day. In my heart, I know that it was God who directed my steps and if I had not heeded those directions, Chris and I might have been injured or even killed.
I believe that we all have a voice that guides us and it speaks more often than we listen to it.
Whatever is going on in your life right now, I encourage you to pause and listen for that voice. From personal experience, I can attest, that it is most certainly guiding you in the right direction. Practices such as mindfulness can help with quieting your mind enough to hear your inner voice and for more strategies on how to be in tune with your inner voice, checkout this episode of The Susan Sly Project.