Instincts aren’t easy.
Few things are worse than realizing, after enduring a terrible experience, that you could’ve avoided the whole mess if you had just listened to your gut.
Why did I trust that guy? Why did I buy that car… accept that job… move to Alaska?
We all have innate instincts that try to point us in the right directions, but, too often, we second-guess or ignore those instincts out of fear or insecurity. We talk ourselves out of the power of our gut feelings.
We try to rationalize them away and yet they’re always there, trying to grab our attention from the backs of our brains, trying to let us know that we already KNOW what we should be doing — if only we’d listen.
Senior VP of YourTango Experts Melanie Gorman recently hosted a panel of our Experts — Clara Wisner, T-Ann Pierce, Kathryn Foster, and Helen Fisher — and asked them how people can start paying attention to what their gut feelings are telling them.
You can watch their full comments in the video above, but, taken from their discussion, here are 5 steps that you NEED to take if you want to start actually listening to your instincts and trusting your gut for a change.
Sounds simple, but it’s really not. If you want to train yourself to listen to your instincts more, you have to try it out occasionally. Let yourself embrace your gut feelings when the moment takes you. Maybe test it out on a low-stakes situation and gradually move onwards.
See how it feels. Make a decision that feels impulsive and see how it feels different than a decision you make after days of analysis and overthinking. If you want to trust your instincts, you have to use them in real world situations first and see what happens.
2. LITERALLY listen to your gut
Did you know that you actually have a whole other brain in your gut? It’s true. It’s called the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is completely separate from the nervous system that’s controlled by your brain. It produces neurotransmitters, it has memories and instincts, it can function completely on its own.
Perhaps that’s where the phrase “gut feeling” comes from, because human beings do carry an innate intelligence in our stomachs. The ENS can react and remember things, just like our brains do. So, when you feel a tightness in your stomach when faced with a big decision, that’s not just the Kung Pao Chicken you had for lunch. That’s your ENS trying to tell you something. The decision is up to you whether you listen or not.
3. Learn to become comfortable with just “knowing”
One of the hardest parts about listening to your instincts is simply opening yourself up to the experience. Because instinct offers us a much different mental experience than our usual decision-making process.
Normally, we make decisions by constructing mental arguments. We compare and contrast, we analyze. But, when it comes to instinct, it’s not about arguing, it’s about KNOWING. You just KNOW the answer. And your brain doesn’t always show the work, which can make it hard to trust. But if you open yourself up to the experience, you realize that innate knowing has just as much (if not more value) than any other mental rhetoric you might construct.
4. Believe in your brain
There is actual hard science that can explain how instinct works. Noted psychologist Daniel Kahneman actually won the 2002 Nobel Price for economics for his work on “prospect” theory, which is all about the physiology of how people make decisions when faced with risky situations. This is important to understand because, too often, we try to portray instinct as something ephemeral. We say “I just had a feeling” and that makes it easier to ignore.
But gut feelings aren’t emotions. They’re neurological responses to stimulus. When we have a gut feeling, our brain connects seemingly random chunks of memories and data to make patterns visible to us on an instinctive level. Our brains tell us — very very quickly — how to respond to something. And we need to trust it.
5. Accept that facts aren’t everything
We live in an age of too much information. You search for something on Google and get 10 million results. You want to find a recipe and Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram hit you over the head with a billion examples. How do we ever have time to process all that data?
The answer is — we don’t. This is why gut feelings are so important. Because you can’t always make decisions solely based on hard data. There’s just too much, too many variables. There comes a moment where you need to let all of the information wash over you and let your instincts point you in the right direction. It’s just as valid (heck, it’s way more valid) than basing your decision on some blog article you found via Wikipedia through the third page of Google search results. Trust yourself as a source too.
If you’re struggling with listening to your gut — or if you’re afraid to trust your instincts — please visit the websites of our Experts and contact T-Ann, Kathryn, Clara, and Helen directly. They’re here to help.