Trusting Your Gut

Has this ever happened to you? There I am, driving home on I81 in the rain and fog. My phone alerts me to stopped traffic (not, unfortunately, unusual on 81). I quickly hop off at the next exit. I know the back route home – at least in daylight. I set my GPS just in case.

Then it happens. I’m pretty sure I want to go straight, but my GPS is telling me to turn. I do what most rational people do and listen to my phone. After all, it’s a computer. It knows better. Except… After about 10 minutes driving through the fog I see a cluster of bright lights. Wait, what?

My GPS, the voice of reason, had taken me back to the route it thought best, which happened to be I81. Still behind the accident I was trying to avoid.

Instead of kicking myself (as much) for not listening to my gut at the crucial intersection, I started thinking about how many times I’ve known my gut to be right in hindsight. It comes up for clients quite frequently as well. Why don’t we listen to our gut?

The reasons are complex for most of us, but it seems to have a lot to do with our early upbringing. What we think of as our “gut” is a huge collection of life experiences, personality traits, neural wiring, sensory input we don’t explicitly notice, and our behavioral and emotional reactions to all of that. The way our brains process these bits of information is at a level generally below our conscious cognitive process. But because it doesn’t seem “logical,” we hold this kind of knowing in suspicion. If you can’t explain it, or worse, if it doesn’t fit other (usually socially learned) expectations, your conclusion must not be “right.” But as you’ve no doubt discovered, it’s probably right more often than not. We should’ve listened.

By saying we should listen more to our gut I am not advocating just going with feelings – feelings are not facts. Nor am I suggesting the voice of reason and our learned social and cultural behaviors and values don’t have an important place. What we should do, though, is include our gut in our decision making process, whether in big decisions (getting married, getting a divorce) or in little ones (take this route, eat that food). We need to take time to reflect on what we think our gut is telling us about our decisions. We need to pause in our logical process (which may not be so logical after all, but that’s another post) and discern what exactly our gut seems to be saying. And we do need to remember that our interpretation of our gut could be wrong too.

Learning to listen to, and then trust, your gut is an important step in self-understanding and healing. You know more than you think you do. And after all, it’s your gut. It’s really about learning to know and trust yourself.

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