Most successful people say that following their instincts is key to achieving success that is not only fulfilling but also financially rewarding. Seems like a simple concept--just trust your gut.

According to psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, "Gut feelings are tools for an uncertain world. They're not caprice. They are not a sixth sense or God's voice. They are based on lots of experience, an unconscious form of intelligence. I've worked with large, international companies and asked decision makers how often they base an important professional decision on that gut feeling. About 50 percent of all decisions are at the end a gut decision."

While it seems simple enough, the practice of managing by instinct is much more complicated than the concept. Your decision-making processes can be skewed by a million outside influences, and even more so when you feel insecure or somehow not educated enough to know what to do. You then seek out advice and data to provide the solution you can't seem to conjure up yourself. The key is finding a balance--Michael Moritz, chairman of Sequoia Capital, interprets "following your instincts" as this:

"Do your homework well, analyze things carefully, assess the options, but eventually trust your judgment and have the courage of your convictions--even if they are unpopular."

Trusting your interpretation of the world around you is a critical step toward getting the "gut" decisions you seek. However, the challenge is to hear your instinct--and then to honor it.

Here are five ways you can start tapping into your instincts for the next big decision you have to make:

1. Acknowledge the message you get from your body as much as your mind's rational response. In other words, when you feel that initial "yes" or "no" or you just have a feeling--pay attention.

2. When getting advice or ideas from others, don't give their opinions more weight than your own, if you feel differently. If you don't feel their advice is right, then honor your "wrong" just as much as their "right."

3. After giving the decision some time, you still may have a niggling feeling that something isn't right. If that feeling is there, don't force yourself to ignore it. Take that niggling feeling as real data for your decision-making process.

4. Honor the experience and wisdom that you bring to the table. Part of the challenge with honoring your instincts is that people constantly devalue their own perspective.

5. Track how well your instincts guide you over time. If you are honoring your instincts and getting the kinds of results you want, then it builds the case for continuing to do so. If not, then investigate further as to what could be causing decisions that aren't optimal for you.

In the end, as an entrepreneur, you have to make decisions on a daily basis. Listening to your instinct can be a powerful guide if you are able to hear it--and abide by it.

Published on: Nov 19, 2014