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Gut instinct: when to listen to it and when to ignore it

If you let them, the brain and the gut can work hand in hand to assess your memories, experiences and needs to help you make the right decisions

A hunch, a feeling, a knowing – when you just know what the answer is without knowing exactly why, that’s your gut instinct.

In the age of data, trusting your gut may seem quaint. Too much data, however, can make decision-making harder rather than easier, says psychotherapist Monica Haughey, founder of the School of Conscious Living.

“Most of us think too much and over-analyse situations rather than drawing from a deeper, less ego-driven and more intuitive place,” says Haughey. “Our intuition is often more inspired and can help us to seize new opportunities and ways of doing things.”

What is gut instinct?

Gut instinct isn’t a myth; it has a neurological basis. Scientists call the stomach the “second brain” for a reason – there is a vast neural network in your digestive tract. If you let them, the brain and the gut can work hand in hand to assess your memories, experiences and needs to help you make the right decision.

Don’t overthink it

When faced with a dilemma, making a list of the pros and cons is an option. Doing this can shake out some data, but it might not bring you any closer to an answer. Lists are the work of our logical brain and can give us a feeling of control. Just leave some room for your feelings and intuition too.

How do I listen to my gut?

In a world of distraction and data, tuning into your gut isn’t easy. A mindfulness practice like meditation is a great way to connect with yourself and give yourself permission to sit with what arises, says Haughey.

If meditation isn’t for you, something repetitive like running, swimming or knitting can work too. “When we engage in these things, we are stepping out of our minds and so our inner knowing and intuition can come to the surface,” says Haughey. “When we are not thinking about something, the solution can come.”

As we become more mindful, answers may just emerge. “It could be in those in-between moments, when you are coming out of the shower or just waking up,” says Haughey.

Go big

When faced with a decision, think “big picture” too, says Haughey. “When we visualise our future in a bigger, wider way, bypassing our conscious, busy minds, then we access our higher, more intuitive insights,” she says. By focusing on the big picture of what you want to achieve, things can fall into place a little more. “You can feel strong nudges or intuition and you just know what to do next.”

Developing a more intuitive way of being, where you are able to listen to yourself and know what you really want, can help with small decisions too. “It can help you decide if you want to go away for the weekend,” says Haughey. “By listening to your gut, you may become more aligned to how you naturally are rather than conforming to family or societal expectations of you. You may even end up living in a way that is more sustainable for you, for example, prioritising your satisfaction over high earnings.”