When to Follow Your Gut Instinct

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How to use instinct to navigate a decision, with advice from Poppy King, author of Lessons of a Lipstick Queen: Finding and Developing the Great Idea that Can Change Your Life.

“Gut instinct”: ever wonder where the term comes from? Apparently, our stomach shares neurotransmitters similar to those in our brain, so that our emotions, feelings, and reactions flow directly from our brain to our stomach. What we feel in our gut can sometimes be closer to our instinct than what we reason with our brain.

While our brain can try to convince us to follow a certain path, our gut is what ultimately tells us whether or not that path is right for us. The thing to remember is that everyone is different. Two people can have entirely different gut instincts in response to the same stimulus.

We’ve all heard the old cliché that says gut instinct will never lead you astray. Well, it isn’t as simple as all that. While gut instinct may not tell you the best course or even necessarily the right course, it will tell you the course that you will be the most comfortable with — which is extremely important when embarking upon any venture.

But please don’t confuse comfort with ease. There are degrees of comfort. Ease is at the very top and terror is at the bottom. Your gut instinct should land you somewhere in the middle. While fear is a natural part of any challenge and is just nature’s way of telling us to proceed with caution, panic ups the ante, warning us of immediate danger. On the flip side, the lack of any fear or jitters is a sign that you’re not challenging yourself enough.

Somewhere in the middle is a healthy level of nerves.

My Story
The first time I knew I was using my instinct as a compass was when it came to deciding where my lipsticks would be sold. Lipsticks are sold with other cosmetics at department stores, drugstores, and apothecaries. At least these were the options when I first set out to sell my line to stores in Melbourne. For some reason, these places just didn’t feel right. In fact, I felt panicked at the idea of approaching department stores.

Now this wasn’t just your healthy, standard-issue fear of rejection, which everyone has when approaching outside parties. This was a sick feeling. But instead of chalking it up to cold feet and plunging ahead, I realized it was my instinct trying to tell me something. Specifically, that my little lipstick range would get swallowed up in these traditional outlets. When I envisioned it there, it just seemed out of place, uncomfortable, and wrong. Why was that?

While my brain told me that this was where all cosmetics such as face creams, eye shadows, foundations, fragrances, and lipsticks were sold, my instinct resisted. And when I tried to figure out why, I realized that my reluctance was due to the nature of my product. I had designed my lipsticks to be a fashion and glamour item first and a cosmetic second. If I was going to put these little soldiers into battle, their best chance was on the fashion front, not on the cosmetic one.

At that point, I decided to target the hippest clothing stores in the most fashionable areas of Melbourne. Immediately, I felt scared. Since these stores had no history of selling lipsticks, I was going to have to convince these retailers not only to take the brand but to take a whole new category. While the prospect of this challenge made me very nervous, I wasn’t nearly as panicked as I’d been when thinking about department stores.

Not only did nature provide us with a difference between fear and panic, it also provided us with some handy sensations to distinguish between the two. Just think about how you feel before a first date. If you are anything like me, you may feel anxious, an increased heart rate, and tingling with adrenaline. People like to call this “butterflies in the stomach,” but all it really means is that you’re feeling excitement mixed in with a little hope and fear.

In some way, a slight case of nerves is almost fun. Nausea, on the other hand, is not. If you feel genuinely sick to your stomach, your comfort level has been pushed beyond excitement and hope to a place where you are not likely to be effective. Your gut instinct would not put you there. Your gut instinct should put you where you are most likely to be effective.

Poppy King, author of Lessons of a Lipstick Queen: Finding and Developing the Great Idea that Can Change Your Life (Copyright © 2008 by Poppy King), is an internationally renowned trend spotter, color expert, and innovative business leader. At the age of eighteen, Poppy started Poppy Industries, when she could not find the type of lipstick she wanted. After ten years at the helm of her own company, she went on to become vice president for creative marketing at Prescriptives. Today, Poppy lives in New York City and has recently launched a new line of lipsticks, Lipstick Queen, available at fine retailers such as Barneys, Holt Renfrew, and Space NK. For more information visit www.lipstickqueen.com.



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