Think Like a Squirrel

If you have anyknowledge whatsoever about squirrels (and why exactly would you?), you may know that squirrels cannot think. Using their sensory system, they receive sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches, process this information, and execute their behavior accordingly. No thinking involved; pure execution.

If it weren’t for our cerebral cortex, we'd be just like our bushy-tailed friends. Ok, so we might not invade a bird feeder for our dinner, but you get the idea. Left to our thinking minds, we analyze people and situationsand just about everything—from every possible angle. To some extent, this is a good thing, particularly when it comes to making rational decisions. But when the pressure is on, such analysis can not only cripple our performance; it can shut us down completely.

At what point do you trust your instincts vs. relying on a persistent stream of critical thinking? We’ve all heard of “paralysis by analysis,” haven’t we? It’s not just an expression that offers a nice bit of rhythm and rhyme; it’s actually quite true. We spend far too much time thinking critically and evaluating ourselves.

Let’s bring our squirrel friends back into the picture to highlight this point. Imagine you’re faced with crossing a telephone wire 50 feet in the air. What would you do? Make no mistake, that voice inside your head would kick into overdrive with thoughts like, “I’ll never make it; it’s too far; it’s too high; the wire’s too small; I can’t balance on that tiny little wire; I’ll kill myself; this is crazy, etc.” And how would a squirrel take on this very same challenge? He'd simply scurry across the wire without thinking. (Some challenge!)

Ok, so I’m not saying you should climb atop a 50-ft telephone pole and scurry across its wires. I’m simply suggesting that if you want to traverse the things that have you stuck, sometimes you simply need to trust your inner squirrel.

The mere act of thinking about something doesn’t actually get it done. And while that may seem pretty obvious, you have to wonder why we spend so darn much time thinking about the things we want to do instead of actually doing them.

For example, thinking about making 10 follow-up calls after a business networking event isn't the same as, well, making 10 follow-up calls after a business networking event. The mind has a funny way of sneaking in and telling us all the reasons that we shouldn’t or can’t (those people don’t want to hear from me; I feel like such a pest; what if they say “no,” I don’t have time, etc.) and so we don’t ever get the job done.

Want to get from point A to point B? Resist the urge to be smart, cautious, or scientific. Get your inner squirrel on and scurry across the wire. (And just think how satisfying it will feel next time somebody asks you if you’re “out of your mind.”)

Check out John Eliot’s “Overachievement” to learn more about trusting your inner squirrel and other thought-provoking (I couldn't resist!) ideas on high performance.