Listen to Your Gut. It’s Most Probably Right.
Have you ever been in a spot where you just know something, but you have no rational reason for how or why you know it? You have. I have. We all have, at some point in our lives.
Intuition, gut feeling, hunch – we call it by many names. And ignore it, often.
The reason is quite simple; most of the time there is no apparent reason for the action or path this gut feeling provides us. We have been conditioned to prioritize our rational and analytical mind in every situation. We scoff at snap judgments and prefer decisions that have been made following careful consideration of all available facts.
Yet the most well-thought-out decisions often fail, while the snap judgments give you faster and better results.
So what is this mysterious force that works beyond the rational mind and yet seems to be functioning exactly like it, sometimes even better?
What is gut feeling?
The Oxford Dictionary of Psychiatry refers to gut feeling or intuition as “immediate understanding, knowledge, or awareness, derived neither from perception nor from reasoning.” In truth, this awareness is not something magical, but a function of your subconscious mind.
We come across millions and millions of facts every day, and our conscious brain, while extremely powerful, is not equipped to process all of them. So a lot of it goes into our subconscious mind, where the information is stored under the surface of our consciousness. We may not be aware of them, but they are there alright, and becoming part of our long-term memory process.
Now, over time all these separate pieces of information start falling into patterns inside the subconscious, much as it happens with our conscious brain. When a situation presents itself which falls into these patterns, your subconscious presents the next piece of the pattern, and you automatically know what to do before your conscious mind has even had the time to take in the information.
So, how does this work?
Suppose you are dating a person for some months, and you have begun to feel suffocated. You have this feeling in your gut that maybe you should break up with this person, but there are no logical reasons behind that feeling. The person is showing you love and care and is protective of you. So what’s wrong?
In fact, your subconscious has started picking up cues into their behavior. They are suspicious of your friends, they are always on the phone whenever you are out without them, and you often argue over things you should or should not be doing. These are all signs of controlling behavior that can turn abusive, and your gut is able to tell you that from the information it has gathered from your dating history and observations of other relationships around you.
Do you feel a sinking in your gut when you think about spending a lifetime with this person as if the air has been sucked out of it? If the answer is yes, there’s a strong chance that its time to move on for your own good.
The second brain
But wait. Why are we talking about “a feeling in the gut” while talking about decision making? That’s because this gut feeling may really reside in your gut, AKA stomach.
Over the past few decades, neuroscientists have increasingly become aware of an extremely fast information highway between the gut and the brain. Our gut is teeming with millions of microbes, and it is increasingly apparent that they play a huge role in processing information stored in the subconscious. The gut responds to situations lightening-quick, much faster than the analytical part of our brain. That is why we often “feel” things in our gut before logic kicks in.
The logical part of our brain functions on consciously available information, but it seems that the gut can access information that is below the surface. Hence, it often notices patterns that are unavailable to your rational brain and sends up a quick signal so that you can take action. The science behind this is still not very clear, but the correlation is too strong to be disregarded.
So the next time you feel butterflies in your stomach, pay more heed to it. Completely relying on gut feeling can feel scary, and in fact, is not advised. We can as easily make up wrong patterns and associate the wrong things, leading to false alarms and bad decisions. But ignoring it completely would mean leaving out a huge part of your innate abilities untapped. A healthy mix of giving the feelings in your gut enough importance and checking them with your rational mind is a good way forward.
At a loss about how to achieve that right mix? Watch this space!