You drive along admiring the fall colors when suddenly the check engine light comes on in your car. What does that mean? For most of us, the check engine light indicates that something is wrong inside the car. We best find out what it is.
You have an internal check engine light. It’s the nagging feeling you get when something isn’t sitting right. Do you diagnose your nagging feeling just as you diagnose your car?
You tape over it. At a recent keynote address, I asked the audience what they do when their car’s check engine light comes on. A woman on the front row said, “I tape over it!” When your check engine light comes on, do you tape over it, ignore or discount it? As with your car, ignoring it is unlikely to be a sound solution. The source of the nagging feeling is still there.
Much in our culture reinforces the misguided notion that feelings lack validity or are not worthy of notice. We may be embarrassed by them or simply not have the skill to notice. The nagging feeling typically arises because the situation is incongruent with your brain’s expectation. Maybe the situation (or person) flies in the face of your value system. That always sets off the check engine light. Maybe the person has a communication or work style approach that radically differs from yours and it feels uncomfortable. Maybe your experience leads you to see the situation differently from your colleagues.
Incongruence increases stress, causes you to over-react, make a poor decision or create an upset with a colleague. You can prevent those unhealthy outcomes if, like in your car, you notice it.
Notice the check engine light. You notice the light in your car and you know that you need to do something … soon. Unfortunately, many of us power through the day without attending to the emotion that bubbles under the surface. We shove it aside.
It’s time that we relearn how to notice the nagging feeling in the gut. The feeling brings information and wisdom to your situation. The best way to notice the feeling is to practice naming it. “I feel annoyed by that discussion.” “My boss frustrates me!” “Something doesn’t feel right about this decision.”
Give voice to the gut feeling. It’s like acknowledging the check engine light and the need to attend to your car. You need to attend to your inner wisdom.
Understand the problem. The best action is to dive under the hood of the car (for real or with a mechanic) to find the source of the alert. Maybe it’s an indication of a big problem or maybe it’s an easy fix. It’s the same for you. The wisest of us notices the check engine light and dives under the hood to understand the nagging feeling.
What is incongruent for you? Does their behavior fly in the face of your values? Does the decision you face challenge your assumptions? Does the person conduct their work differently from you? These are examples of incongruence in the brain. Your experience doesn’t square up with your expectations. When that happens, the check engine light goes off. It’s your job to understand why and decide if the reason is valid.
Your car may break down if you ignore the check engine light. Your health, life and leadership depend on noticing and resolving the nagging feeling inside. What’s your check engine light telling you?