Can You Always Trust Your Gut?


In my last blog post, I wrote about the benefits of trusting your gut.

I claimed that your somatic—or gut—intelligence, when combined with your feelings and intellect, provides everything you could ever want in a state-of-the-art guidance system.

I alleged that by listening to your gut, you can not only make better decisions, but find the right path every time.

But is it really true?  Can you always trust your gut?

I can imagine some legitimate pushback:

How can our gut possibly take into account—let alone process—all the information out there about conflicting preferences, possible choices, and probable outcomes?

What about those times when I listened to my gut and it steered me wrong?

If we all listened to our guts all of the time, wouldn’t we be prejudiced, irrational, and impulsive?

The cold, hard truth

The science isn’t prolific, but it is consistent: you can absolutely trust your gut.

Researchers have found that the network of nerves lining our guts is so extensive that many scientists now refer to it as our “second brain.”  It contains over 100 million neurons, can act independently from our primary brain, and according to one expert at UCLA, is “ way too complicated to have evolved only to make sure things move out of your colon.”

Studies have shown that when it comes to making major life decisions, “trusting your intuition leads to better outcomes than trusting your logical, thinking brain.”

One study has even shown that our bodies can accurately tell us the best choice to make before that choice has come into existence.  In this study, researchers found that physiological responses of participants accurately predicted which curtain on a computer screen an object would lay behind—2-3 seconds before the computer itself selected which curtain to use.

Not just in the labs

One of my clients owns a small business.  He recently had an opportunity to consult with another entrepreneur who was looking to make his business investment-ready.  My client was excited by the idea of consulting but worried that it would pull him off-course from his own endeavors.

His concerns were valid.  And yet when he checked in with his gut, he found that his state-of-the-art guidance system was telling him to do it.

He trusted his gut and was pleased with the results.  He found that consulting and giving back to others energized him so much that he was able to bring back renewed vitality to his own projects.

He also discovered benefits that he couldn’t have anticipated—for example, while working on the project, he reconnected with some key investors just before he developed a new business idea that he found out would soon need financial support.

Far from pulling him off-course, listening to his gut made him even more powerful in pursuing his goals in ways he hadn’t dreamed of.

The caveats

You can trust your gut—always—but it is important to understand more about how our bodies work.

We can, for instance, be reprogrammed by traumatic experiences.  This can lead our bodies to give us false signals.  If you’re in a bad car wreck, for example, your fight or flight system might begin to send you warning signals any time you approach a car in the future, whether or not there’s any real danger present.

And there are subtleties in how our guts respond that we need to learn how to untangle.

We need to learn, for example, the difference between what feels good because it’s easy and what feels good because it’s right for us.

We have to be able to distinguish between when we feel frightened because something is new and when we’re anxious because we’re not on the right path.

Our bodies themselves can help us make these distinctions.  As we learn how to speak their language more fluently, we discover that each scenario feels different in the body: easy feels different than right, and fear when something is new feels different than anxiety when something is fundamentally wrong.

Trusting your gut doesn’t mean immediately reacting to the first thing you feel.  It means listening for and interpreting what your body is telling you.  When you integrate that with what your emotions and your rational mind are telling you as well, good things happen.  Very good things.

I met my husband because I trusted my gut.

I got married earlier this month, and I never would have met my husband if I hadn’t trusted my gut.

There were a whole host of choices I made that led up to our lives converging.  One was my decision to start training capoeira 10 years ago in San Francisco, something I was terrified of but felt instinctively drawn to nonetheless.

Another was my decision, 7 years later, to move back to Atlanta after nearly 15 years in the Bay Area.  I had rational reasons for staying and going, but in the end it was my gut that told me to move back.

It was also my gut that told me that there was something special about the handsome and playful Brazilian instructor who visited my new capoeira group in Atlanta soon after I moved back.  It suggested I would do well to stay close to him and get to know him better.

I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did.

Over to you

When have you trusted your gut and had good or surprising results?

We would love to hear from you, so please share your comments below.  (As an added service to our community, a link to your latest blog post–if you have one–will appear after your comment.)

Learn how to let your gut guide you.

It takes skill and practice and lots of courage to trust your gut.  If you don’t know what your gut is telling you, or if you’re having a hard time doing what you feel you should, coaching can help.  Click here to request a Clarity Call and find out how you can learn to trust your gut and discover good things in your future.

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Photo credit: Hey Paul Studios // CC

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