Provision #462: Blink Moments

Laser Provision

There’s much to be said for figuring things out the hard way. It can certainly generate a great sense of satisfaction. But there are times when we see everything clearly, in an instant, based upon our feelings, patterns, hunches, habits, impulses, and environments. Do we trust and even cultivate those times of rapid cognition? We do if we have worked with a masterful coach for any period of time. If you’re looking for the light bulb to go off, then perhaps you’re working too hard. Perhaps, after reading this Provision, you’ll be ready to blink.

LifeTrek Provision


Bob: The word “blink” came to our attention as a form of intelligence in 2005 thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s book by the same name. After his enormously successful 2000 book, The Tipping Point, which focused on how little things can make a big difference (remember Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”), Gladwell wroteBlink to explore what he calls, “thinking without thinking,” “instinctive intelligence,” or “rapid cognition.”

What is rapid cognition? It is a judgment made in the blink of an eye. We’ve all been there. We see someone or something and, in less than two seconds, we draw conclusions as to his, her, or its nature, quality, authenticity, and competence. Sometimes our snap judgments are right; other times they are wrong. Gladwell wrote his book to explore and understand these dynamics more fully, hoping that people could better learn to use this form of often unconscious wisdom.

Although it would be impossible to fully summarize Gladwell’s book in this Provision, here are six salient points for our work as coaches:

1) Instinctive intelligence happens in the whole body. It is not just a mind trip. Our sweat glands, for example, reveal stress and anxiety long before our mind becomes aware of the feeling. Logical reasoning requires a lot of data and time; instinctive intelligence can size up situations in an instant. In many respects, mindfulness is nothing more than becoming aware of the intelligence of the body. What the body knows, the mind can learn as long as we are paying attention. Sometimes, an aching back is more than just an aching back. It is a message worth decoding.

2) Instinctive intelligence relies on the unconscious recognition of patterns. We may see something for only two seconds, but its connection with patterns leads immediately to conclusions. That’s why it so often works; that’s also why it sometimes fails. If we connect a thin slice of experience with the wrong pattern we may reach the wrong conclusion. This can happen for many reasons, especially becoming emotionally invested in a particular outcome. When we want things to work out a particular way, our internal computer can be thrown off. “Love is blind” and the dynamics of prejudice are cases in point.

3) Instinctive intelligence can predict the future. That, too, relates to patterns. If we correctly connect the dots, then we have a sense of not only what is going on but also of what is about to happen. We call that having a hunch, and it can happen in relation to both good and bad fortune. We know when things are going to work out, and we also know when something terrible is going to happen. Hunches can be private or shared experiences. Sometimes we have better hunches for others than we have for ourselves, because we can be more open to a wide variety of inputs.

4) Instinctive intelligence can impact performance. We may not even realize it at the time. When college students were asked to identify their race on a pretest questionnaire, the results on a standardized test were 50% lower for some racial groups than when they were not asked to identify their race. Similar dynamics were played out when students were first asked to identify their gender. So, too, when it comes to negative words. Our often unconscious associations with stereotypes and negative energy can upset even the most confident of equilibriums.

5) Instinctive intelligence can be easily overridden. We can, and often do, talk ourselves out of decisions made on the basis of gut feelings or reactions. In our culture, data reign supreme. We want analysis and proof; the more scientific the better. When data and instinct come into conflict, instinctive intelligence typically loses. Introspection works against instinctive intelligence. The more we think about things, the more we come up with reasons to not trust our gut. It’s a counter-cultural act to trust our intuition.

6) Instinctive intelligence is environmentally conditioned. Our assumptions determine if and what we notice, but the environment can be manipulated to challenge our assumptions. When musicians sit behind a screen for musical auditions, more women and minorities are selected to play top positions than when the judges can see the performers with their eyes. The screen levels the playing field by eliminating extraneous material and focusing the attention where it belongs: how well is the music played? Such environmental manipulation makes instinctive intelligence more reliable.

Coaches understand the dynamics of blink and use them in multiple ways to assist our clients. Sometimes, it is the coach who gets a gut feeling as to what needs to happen. Other times, it is the client who gets the feeling. Either way, the feelings become part of the coaching conversation in service of the client’s goals.

Anyone who thinks that coaching is a totally rational process misses the mark entirely. We don’t meet with our clients just to analyze their situation and plan their course of action. We also meet with our clients to hear their stories and to glimpse their potential. Sometimes, just listening to the story is enough to surface those gut feelings and to get things moving in new directions. No advice is needed; we just pull on the thread of experience until the client connects the dots with a sudden knowing of what must be done.

“Aha!” is the way that sudden knowing often manifests itself. Just two weeks ago I was talking with a client in Vietnam about a new business venture. Although I have never been to Vietnam and could not, myself, head up this business venture, I can serve as a foil for instinctive intelligence. In talking about where to locate a potential new facility, I asked whether it could be built as the first module of a larger campus. “Aha!” was the client’s reaction. “That’s an excellent idea. I don’t know why we hadn’t thought of that.”

There was instant recognition of the idea’s merit. The light bulb went off and it was all we could do to keep talking to the end of our appointed time. “As soon as we get done,” he said with excitement in his voice, “I’m calling my business partners to run this by them. If it makes as much sense to them as it does to me, we’ll know where to look and what to do.” That was a blink moment. An idea surfaced in the course of the conversation and it changed everything. It changed the energy between us. Suddenly, we were leaning into the conversation, on the edges of our chairs, with newfound interest and curiosity. It also changed our thinking. The dots were connected and we moved in new directions.

New ideas can often emerge from the clients themselves, through the process of inquiry and permission giving. As coaches who understand blink, we ask different questions and encourage different answers. It’s that difference which can lead to client breakthroughs.

1) How do you feel that in your body? That’s a favorite coaching move: to get clients more connected with and trustful of what their bodies are telling them. Remember, instinctive intelligence expresses itself in the body long before the mind is aware of what’s going on. “Where do you feel that?” and “What does that feeling tell you?” are two great coaching questions.

I remember one client who, in the face of a business challenge, felt the restlessness in her legs. “What does that feeling tell you?” I asked. “That I need to start dancing again!” came her immediate reply. Now that was not exactly what I expected. But within a week she was both dancing again and handling the business challenge more successfully. She may well have come to that on her own; but it happened more quickly through our mindful exploration of what was happening now. She blinked, and knew what she had to do.

2) Have you ever seen that before? That another favorite coaching move: to get clients more connected with and trustful of what their own experience is telling them. Too often, clients fail to recognize the patterns just because they are not paying attention to their own history. That’s especially true when it comes to their own positive past. People are more likely to remember their traumas than their triumphs.

I remember one client who had gained and lost weight many times in her life. Her goal was to stop yo-yoing, but all she could remember were the many times that she had blown her diet. “Have you ever maintained a healthy weight at any point in your life?” I asked. “I did for about five years in the 1980s,” was her immediate reply, “but that was so long ago.” By getting her to tell the story of those five years, in detail, she reconnected with the positive energy, the motivation, and the strategies that had once worked for her and that could work for her again. As soon as she told the story, she knew what she had to do.

3) What do you think will happen? I have always enjoyed the adage, “If we don’t change direction, we’re going to end up where we’re headed.” Too often, clients fail to pay attention to the trajectory of their own lives. They do not connect the dots between what is going on now and where that will take them. But deep down they know the truth. Creative visualizations can bring that truth to the surface in powerful and moving ways.

I remember one client who wanted to do a better job at managing his money. “What do you think will happen if things continue the way they are?” I asked. “I don’t know,” came the immediate reply. “I have no idea where I stand or how things are going.” That truth came home in a big way when his credit card charge for coaching was declined for payment. The scales fell from his eyes and he quickly developed new systems and procedures, including an automatic savings plan with clear targets for the future.

4) How do you start your day? Coaches understand the importance of priming the pump. Just as negative associations can negatively impact performance, so too can positive associations work their magic in positive ways. Years ago I went to a workshop on handwriting analysis. The presenter suggested that handwriting not only reveals much about our personality, it also influences our personality. Writing affirmations in the morning can start the day on a positive note, not only because of the content of the affirmation but also because of how they are written.

I remember one client who lacked the confidence to start a new relationship. “How do you start your day?” I asked. “I just get up and get going,” came the immediate reply. “Would you be willing to write out an affirmation, in cursive, on a blank page, with an uphill slant, multiple times until you fill the page, using both hands, before you do anything else?” There was dead silence on the other end of the phone. Finally, the silence was broken. “What kind of affirmation? And could I just type it up on the computer, once I get to work?”

Through conversation, we developed a single sentence of my client’s desired future state, written in the present tense as though it were already true. “I express love fully and completely.” We also decided to try my curious instructions for two weeks: “in cursive, on a blank page, with an uphill slant, multiple times, filling the page, using both hands, before doing anything else. And don’t forget to cross your t’s high on the crossbar.” “That was weird,” was all he had to say after the first week. But after two weeks the exercise was having its intended effect. The pump was primed for love.

5) Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Too often, clients talk themselves out of their own best ideas. They get dismissed for a variety of “good reasons.” Too expensive! Too impractical! Too selfish! Too provocative! Too off beat! Too impossible! The litany of reasons and excuses goes on and on. Sometimes these cautions are worth heeding. But many times they need to be set aside if we hope to reach our full potential. That’s a big role for coaches. We encourage our clients to explore their wild and crazy ideas.

I remember one client who wanted to leave her day job in order to start her own company. It was crazy. She had kids to support. She had never run a business before. She had no infrastructure. So she set that dream aside. But it kept bothering her. The sense that she should be doing something different would not go away. “Maybe it’s not either / or,” I suggested, “maybe it’s both / and. Maybe you could keep your day job and start your own company at the same time.” That possibility was both remarkably liberating and incredibly successful. Six months after starting her company she was ready to leave the security of her day job and make her business a full-time pursuit. It was an idea whose time had come.

6) What could assist you to be your very best? That may seem like an obvious question, but it all too often goes unasked and unanswered. In the spirit of the “self-made man” or “self-made woman” who pulls himself or herself up by the bootstraps, clients all too often think that if they are not getting where they want to go then the problem must be inside them. But more often than not, the problem has to do with the environment. Something is getting in the way of their true greatness. Something is taking them off course. Something is distracting them from their own wisdom and intelligence.

I remember one client who wanted to start his days with a bike ride. Week after week, we would make plans and set goals during our coaching session. Week after week, those plans and goals would go unmet. After about a month of that, I asked my client to go over to the bike. “Right now?” he asked. “Right now,” I said. “Take the phone with you, go over to your bike, and tell me what you see.” He went downstairs to where he kept his bike. “Where is it?” “Well, I can’t actually see it,” he said. “I store it in the corner, behind some boxes.” “Is that the best place for your bike if you want to ride it every day?” “No,” he said, “I guess not. For the next week, I’m just going to leave it in the front hall.”

Now that’s an idea I would never have come up with on my own. But it worked. The next week, he had ridden his bicycle each and every day, all because he would see the bike in the front hall and blink. In an instant, he was connected with his ambition. His excuses fell away as, without even thinking about it, he went out the door to ride. The environmental modification worked so well that he mounted a bike hanger on the wall and made the front hall a permanent resting place for his bike. It’s a good thing my client followed his intuition for life.

Those are the blink moments that we coaches yearn to share with our clients. By paying attention to feelings, patterns, hunches, habits, impulses, and environments, we can make better use of our built-in instinctive intelligence. Everyone has this ability; it is not the purview of the intuitive few. But we do have to open ourselves to its expression and guidance in life.

Christina: A coach’s work with a client can be similar to the work of an artist who creates “connect the dots” activities. We work to create situations where our clients can explore and begin to see more clearly the patterns and relationships among things present in their lives. Coaches trained in adult learning theory use a similar concept called discovery learning in their work with clients. Discovery learning is defined as creating a situation where individuals are free to explore and the ends of learning are not predetermined, according to Seels and Glasgow, authors of Exercises in Instructional Design.

Practicing the art of discovery learning with my clients is sometimes one of the most difficult parts of my work as a coach. For clients to connect the dots themselves sometimes requires that I hold back from sharing the patterns and relationships that I might see. By allowing my client the space to discover key learnings on his/her own, I often learn that they may see things quite differently than I do. Sharing what I see during a coaching conversation at the wrong moment can taint the picture and/or lessen the impact of the learning for my client.

Given all that goes into creating this enriching environment of discovery, I’ve gained a great appreciation for those times when my clients have blink moments, connecting the dots easily and effortlessly on their own.

One client I remember in particular is a recently divorced stay-at-home mom. Her intention was to identify a full-time job outside of the home so she could begin to earn an income, even though she most wanted to continue to primarily focus on raising her children. After several sessions where our work focused on painting pictures of her career options that aligned with her strengths and desires, we began once again to discuss what was really in her heart. The thought of not being the one to put her children on the bus in the morning and picking them at dinner time from the childcare center each day, terrified her. She looked at the career options she’d articulated that sat in front of her and at that moment, she said, “None of this is what I really want. What am I doing?”

Relieved and excited to see her connect the dots, we immediately begin to brainstorm options for how she could have first and foremost what she really wanted, to be with her children, and then secondly, an income to support them. My client found a creative way to reduce her lifestyle related expenses and organize her investments so that she could simply live off of the interest. This creative approach allowed her to continue to stay at home with her children and earn the income she needed to support them. And it would never have happened if she had not blinked in the face of what seemed so obviously necessary at the time.

Kate: I had to blink myself, when I ran into a past coaching client this week. We were catching up with each other, when she suggested I use the same process I had taught her, in order to solve a career issue that is currently challenging me. Wow. I think she got it! Her advice was exactly what I needed to do. She was right on, and the teacher-student roles were reversed.

I loved that moment. Not only had she applied the lesson in her own life to find her ideal mate, but she was open and astute about applying it in other areas of life, and to sharing the process with others.

To connect the dots, we need to be open to new information, patterns, and process. You can’t get to “blink” without opening yourself to new learning and practice. This client did exactly that, and her progress was both swift and satisfying.

Coaching Inquiries: Are there things that you are failing to look at? Are you talking yourself out of what your gut knows to be true? How could your feelings, patterns, hunches, habits, impulses, and environments better assist you to be your very best? Who could you talk with about these things? What do you need to discover and design for life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


Your Provision on Tear Jerk Moments Click was quite touching. You made yourself vulnerable in ways that helped me to understand myself better and to move me forward. Thanks for sharing this.


I have been subscribing to Provisions for just over a month. I really enjoy your writing. But, wow, what a lot of work! (Ed. Note: It’s more habit than work. After 20 years of writing and delivering a sermon every week, this is easy! 🙂 Thanks for the affirmation.)


The Provision on Tear Jerk Moments was great. Write a book. Seriously. 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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