Have you ever gone on a first date? And during that first date, you had a strange feeling to leave in the middle of dinner?
Well, that strange feeling was your intuition, or gut feeling, telling you to get out of the situation. The guy was probably a creep and showed plenty of red flags, and even though you met him for only a few minutes, you knew right away that it was going to end badly.
So what is your gut feeling really, and should you trust it? Let’s take a deeper look.
What Does “Trust Your Gut” Mean?
“Trust your gut” is a classic expression that means you should listen to what your intuition is telling you. Intuition, instinct, or gut feeling is defined as your immediate sensation about something without consciously thinking about it.
It’s your body’s first reaction to an immediate impression of a person, event, or object. You don’t have much information yet, but your mind and body has already reacted. That is your instinct.
The gut is your literal stomach but the expression actually talks about your mind. Your instinct or intuition is based on mental processes. It’s most typically used when you are faced with a challenging decision where you don’t really know what to do, so you listen to your gut feeling to help you decide.
When someone tells you to “trust your gut,” it means listen to yourself and not what other people are telling you, or what the logical thing to do is.
Explaining Gut Feeling: Why Does it Happen?
So you go out of your house at 12 midnight and you notice your garage door is open and all the lights are off. You want to get inside to turn on the lights, but suddenly your instincts are telling you not to. Why?
It may be because it’s 12 midnight and if someone were to steal something from you, that would be the perfect time; or they may be a stray dog or racoon who’s as scared as you; or there could be a ghost (who knows).
Your gut feeling kicks in when there is potential danger or when you need to need to make a decision you’re not sure of. But why?
Your gut feeling actually comes from your brain and not your actual stomach. Your brain sends signals to your gut, giving it that butterfly or nervous feeling that dictates how you react to someone or a situation.
Your instincts may actually come from your subconscious. You may have stored information in your brain about certain people or certain situations that your brain accesses to help you decide when you need it.
Take the garage door scenario for example. There is no logical explanation why you should be scared of entering your own garage, but what stopped you? You didn’t enter your garage because the environmental cues signalled danger. You learned, based on experience and knowledge that a dark garage in the middle of the night isn’t the safest place to be.
When making decisions, despite logical explanations, your subconscious brain actually works to give you more information so you can make better decisions.
How Do You Learn to Trust Your Gut?
Your gut instincts are a rich source of information that you may not easily access consciously. This is why your intuition is a powerful force in helping you make important decisions that can guide you in the right direction each and every time.
So how do you learn to trust your gut? Here are 5 steps how:
Step 1: Declutter Your Mind
The best way to listen to your gut is to clear your mind and slow down. You have to make space in your mind for your gut instincts to flourish.
When your mind is cluttered, stressed, and has too many distractions, your intuition will be clouded by all the information overload that it’s carrying.
To clear your mind, practice meditation so you are calm and free from any distractions. Studies suggest that repetitive action can calm your mind and open up your intuition. Running, pottery, or doing yoga are great ways to declutter your mind.
Step 2: Remember the Times When Your Instincts Worked
Take note of the times when you choose to listen to your gut feeling and it works to your favor. Also remember the times when you didn’t choose to listen to your gut and you regretted it.
The more you realize your gut feeling was right, the more confident you will be in listening to it the next time around.
Step 3: Listen to the Sensations in Your Body
When faced with a decision, listen to your body instead of what logic has to say.
For example, you are about to marry your significant other. But days before the wedding, you have a strange feeling that you’re about to make a big mistake.
On paper, your partner is everything you’re looking for: attractive, financially secure, kind, and generous. But why do you feel like you’re making a big mistake? Why do you feel scared, lonely, and even physically sick?
Listen to the sensations in your body. It may just prevent you from making the biggest mistake in your life.
Step 4: Set a Deadline
Set a deadline or ultimatum to yourself for making decisions. When you have a clear time frame, it prevents you from overthinking or overanalyzing the situation. It also keeps you from misguided advice from other people.
Step 5: Take Action
Pay attention to what your gut has to say and take action. The more you trust your gut, the more confident you are about its ability to lead you to the right direction. It is like a muscle, the more you practice, the stronger it becomes.
Are Your Gut Feelings Accurate?
The answer is a resounding “it depends.” Gut feelings are mostly accurate depending on the person and the situation.
Instincts are said to be based on the knowledge you gain from experience. For example, you are married and you called your spouse. Your spouse may have only said one word, but your gut feeling already tells you they’re upset.
If you used logical thinking, your spouse is not upset because they didn’t shout at you, didn’t say anything negative, and there was no argument. But your gut feeling knows that they are upset based on experience.
Gut feelings are also based on patterns. As humans, we have a tendency to seek patterns wherever we go. We store these patterns in our long-term memory, and whenever we encounter a similar experience, our mind searches for that memory and delivers the information to us.
For example, you meet someone for the first time and you automatically don’t like them. There is no logical explanation as to why you might not like them since you’ve only met them now. But your instinct tells you not to trust this person.
You may have met someone like them before, such as someone looking like them or acting in a similar fashion. Your brain searches for the memory of that person in your brain and tells you this person may not be trusted based on experience.
So when you meet this new person, your brain is actually telling you of their similarities with a person whom you had a bad experience with, and thus, your gut feeling kicked in.
The accuracy of your gut feeling depends on several factors, which includes your knowledge, your experience, as well as the situation.
The Bottom Line
While your instincts may not always be right, it’s a powerful way your mind and body connects with you to give you the ability to understand certain situations and decision based actions.
Having an emotion and cognitive basis, gut feelings can actually be reliable and accurate at times. All you need to do is stay quiet and listen.