Principles of Purpose:  Trusting Your Gut

Tentatively titled Principles of Purpose: A Guide To Living Wisely, is an ongoing draft of a concept I might one day publish a book on. It’s essentially 30 Principles that I think are essential to living life wisely. Some are principles that I wished I had learned much earlier in life. Many are principles that I only learned in recovery in 2016-2017. Still other principles were ones I had applied off and on during my 56 years.

PrefaceIntroduction
Principles of Purpose Trust Your Gut

“Follow reason, but don’t ignore that gut feeling. We create reasons with our limited knowledge and experience, but gut feelings often come from universal knowledge.”

Debasish Mridha

What does it mean “Trusting Your Gut“? What is your gut instinct? Your gut instinct is known by many names: “instincts”, “fleeting thoughts”, “nagging doubts”, “voice in your head”, “sense of dread’, and so on. How many times have you ignored your gut, with unpleasant results? Trusting your gut can be tricky. Most experts agree, however, that ignoring it usually does not end well.

To make the best choices, it is wise to observe both your sensations and your thoughts, so you can read what your reactions are telling you. Your instincts can reveal themselves on a physical level–an overall chill, nausea, fatigue or loss of energy, a sense of warmth, increased heart rate, rapid breathing. Your instincts can be on an emotional level–feeling of dread, increased anxiety, nervousness, you. Learning to interpret these revelations is crucial, if you are going to get it right…but it can be tricky.

Your Gut and Experience

According to the BBC “Intuition tends to get a bad reputation as something that’s flaky and based upon no evidence. [But is] a careful analysis of all the options…more likely to give us the right answer? Not necessarily.” Our gut instincts are not always as random as they seem. They can be based on a rapid appraisal of the situation. We might not realize it, but the brain is constantly comparing our current situation with our memories of previous situations. So, when a decision feels intuitive, it might in fact be based on years of experience.

The BBC suggests that “the problem with fast thinking (instinct) is…dozens of different cognitive biases…we tend to be over-optimistic; we may prefer simpler solutions; perhaps we notice and remember information that confirms what we already think; and we favour continuing down paths we’ve already invested time or money in.”

So: if your gut instinct feels too good to be true, it probably is. Likewise, trusting your gut, if it feels gut-wrenching, it could be right (yeah, it’s brutal to break-up with your deadbeat partner, but when you look back at that choice in 10 years, you’ll be glad you made it).

Trusting Your Gut Is Easier For Some

Some people are better at making intuitive judgements than others. Studies on this has shown that we are not very good at judging the veracity of our intuitions. According to the Association for Psychological Science, intuitive performance plummets in the midst of anxiety-something especially common before or after one makes a big decision. This explains why it can be harder to hear our intuition during moments of crisis. We’re so obsessed with making “the right choice” that we become overwhelmed with thoughts and options, and are then cut off from our gut instincts. But, according to one source, good leaders also follow gut instincts.

In other words, our intuition is steady and rational, while our responses to it might not be. Important decision making, like debating whether to take a job or call an ex, might also spur anxiety, which can ultimately separate from the calm hum of intuitive thought. In these cases, it might be best to take action and know that intuition will come when and where it needs to.

It is important to learn how to listen to and to trust your gut. It is also important to weigh facts to ensure you consider all the options. The voice in your gut is wise, and it can push you to do something that feels right when another option might yield better results. You need to listen to both your gut and head to calculate your next best move. Here’s what the experts suggest:

Trusting Your Gut
  • Observe sensations as well as thoughts
  • Pay attention to physical reactions
  • Take a deep breath and put your awareness in the center of your body
  • Observe the chatter in your head
  • Ask yourself if you need courage to follow, or minimize the risk for now
  • Ask yourself “What is my gut saying? Does my gut reaction match what I most value, or am I too scared to say or do what my gut is saying?”
  • Explore the context. Are other people telling me what I should do but my gut is rebelling? What social rules are hindering me from listening to my gut?
Counterpoint

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