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Opportunity Decisions, part 1:
Blinking—and Thinking

Gabe Heilig

Founder, Action Resumes—Pentagon

It’s a truism that most of us only use 10% of our brain’s potential. What’s important, however, is not that we use only 10%—it’s which 10% we use, and when we use it.

In arriving at a decision, our brains go through steps. These occur in sequence, as our brains shuttle between imagination—what cognitive scientists call “divergent thinking”—and analysis or “convergent thinking.” This happens without consciously willing ourselves to do it. But if we can use our brain’s natural process to “ride the horse in the direction that it’s going,” we’re likely to get there sooner, safer, and happier.

The most useful decisions are ones where we leave the decision-making process feeling that we have exhausted all the major variables and decision factors that could possibly be brought to bear. Intuitive decisions can be accurate, as Malcolm Gladwell has shown in his book, Blink. However, our minds don’t always give us these intuitively accurate messages. Sometimes, we actually have to think .

A “blink moment” can be right on the money, but waiting for such a moment keeps us passive, waiting for signals about what to do. Sometimes we need to be more proactive. If we knew how to do it, we’d probably be proactive more of the time.

Once you begin understanding the methods of your own mind, you can begin planning and making opportunity decisions . Some of the times when we’d be wise to think rather than blink, are times when we want to make creative decisions. We often think of “being creative” as being “out there”—beyond thought, going with the flow, letting things happen, perhaps seizing a few moments here and there to intervene, while the rest of the time we’re “being creative.”

This is a misunderstanding of creativity. A laid-back attitude can be enjoyable, but in making creative decisions and getting these decisions to stand up and stay upright, a more proactive, deliberate process is called for. It’s hard to build a business by going with the flow. It’s hard to get a loan by waiting for a “blink moment” in the loan officer’s mind. It’s hard to launch a big project, wing it and expect it to fly.

To do these things, most of us need a method. In large undertakings, there are simply too many variables and forces in play to depend on opportunity knocking at just the right moment, or the universe giving us a blink and a wink, knowing everything’s going to happen exactly the way we drew it up in our mental blueprint.

Nature doesn’t use a blueprint, but it does have a pattern. It doesn’t use a formula, but it does follow a form. Creative decisions are not necessarily about colors and painting, words and writing, dancing, or acting onstage. Those are all creative expressions, and many of us love doing these things for the pure pleasure we take in doing them. Yet “being creative” actually has little to do with playing music or dancing, writing novels or making sculpture. Creative decisions involve bringing into being something that does not yet exist —whether that’s a garden, a room above the garage, a business we want to launch, or a better relationship with one of our children.

Whatever we want to bring into our lives, will require creative intention and creative action on our part. We can’t just snap our fingers and be running a business. We can’t just add water to our job and turn it into a career that both supports and fulfills us. There’s no “paint by the numbers” way to create what we want our lives to become. We have to grow it or build it, or both. That requires a blend of defining our objectives, investing our intention and taking deliberate steps that lead us toward our vision.

There may be a number of “blink moments” in such a process, but intuition by itself is not an architectural strategy. Lewis and Clark didn’t intuit their way across the West. They had a mission, an expedition and resources; they met challenges and overcame obstacles, and they crossed a continent and returned successfully. That took more than intuition. Lewis and Clark’s voyage also was a physical venture: crossing the lands of the Louisiana Purchase and documenting their resources. President Jefferson gave them a mission and they completed it, making and remaking detailed plans many times along the way.

Journeys of creation are different. As with Lewis and Clark, the more complex our objective, the more we need to think about it. Yet the thought process is different. Creating an outcome we want—a new room, a garden, a business opportunity, a better relationship—is different than traversing unmapped lands. Generating results we define and intend requires navigating your own thought processes. Lewis and Clark crossed a largely unknown continent. In the process of building creative decisions that help you get where you want to go, you will be exploring and using parts of your mind that also may be largely unknown at the outset. In the course of this kind of journey, you will learn things about how you think—and how you can think. In working to manifest new opportunities, you’ll also be strengthening the creative power of your mind.

Your life is your laboratory. You are both its main subject and its chief scientist. The beakers and chemicals you’ll be using are in the folds of your brain. In creating something that you want to bring into being, you’ll be making decisions about how to guide those aspects of the world over which we seem to have some influence to support your goal of creating your intended outcome. Yet it’s hard to say that any of us actually “makes” something happen. We do what we do. The universe gets a vote, too.

However, it does appear that luck favors a prepared mind. We can’t “make” Fortune bestow gifts to us, but there are things we can do to invite it to pay attention and smile on our efforts. We’ll look at more of this next time.

Gabe Heilig coaches and writes resumes for his clients. He has assisted ~5,300 people in creating their professional lives. He can be reached at gabe@ideadesign-dc.com