I talk to clients a lot (especially when I am doing Core Values ) about gut instincts, intuition or whatever else you want to call that feeling you get of deep knowing without being able to explain it.
And the reason why I talk about them so often is because too many people ignore them because they frequently don’t seem logical or rational.
In fact quite the opposite, they often seem dim, dumb or just plain bizarre.
The result when we dismiss the feeling because we don’t understand it, we frequently regret doing so at a later date.
I personally have been subject to that.
The Consequence of Ignoring Your Gut Instinct
A close friend of mine went through with a marriage even though her gut told her not to, even as she walked up the aisle. It didn’t end well.
I went away with a male friend for a week. We got on like a house on fire, good company, stunning venue, separate rooms. My instinct/gut was screaming at the top of my voice, “NO NO NO NO Karin, don’t listen to him….don’t do it”. I mean …. what can happen. End result was an absolute disaster on returning back home and that is putting it mildly. I can go as far as saying that even while there among the tranquility of the mountain, trees and sea in the distance, I felt uneasy all the time. But no …. I Ignored my gut instinct.
I had a friend who’s fiance was killed in a car accident. She was the one who felt uneasy from the get-go about him using the car to travel up country and tried to stop him. Many years later she still hasn’t fully let go.
The common theme with all of the above examples is that the gut feeling didn’t really make much sense at a conscious level and thus they were relatively easy to dismiss.
My friend marrying was the right thing to do and expected, I was being taken away on a much needed getaway complementary from my friend…I thought to myself “what the hell … just do it … stop second guessing yourself”.
My friend had no control over what she was feeling and trying to relate it to her fiance. Besides, being miles away getting a connecting flight to go overseas.
What could possibly go wrong?
It’s Tricky Analyzing A Gut Feeling Consciously
Your gut instincts come from the very old and highly evolved unconscious part of your brain.
Whereas analysis is done at the conscious level (the neo-cortex) which is a few hundred thousand years behind evolutionary speaking and nothing like as efficient at dealing with information.
The best analogy I have ever heard (which I think came from the awesome book, (Your Brain At Work) in illustrating the disparity of power, is to think of your conscious mind as being the change in your pocket and your unconscious mind as the RSA economy.
Have you ever had a feeling that you just know somebody is behind you even though you haven’t heard or seen anything?
Then when you turn round there is indeed somebody sneaking up on you with a large axe?
Ok, hopefully not a large axe, but maybe a friend planning to make you jump?
How did you know?
You will actually find it almost impossible to answer that question because the truth is you don’t know how you knew, you just did.
When anybody comes into close proximity to you there is a slight increase in temperature from their body heat and also movement of air as they move.
The changes are tiny and imperceptible at a conscious level because your conscious struggles to deal adequately with more than about 4 pieces of information at any one time.
The Limitations Of Your Conscious Mind
But your unconscious mind can deal with thousands of things at once and your amygdala, which is the part of your brain on alert for possible threats, has noticed the changes and sends you a warning signal.
Now imagine there really is a mad axeman behind you.
Are you better trying to work out what is giving you a sense of unease, or are you better acting on the uneasy feeling and getting out of the way?
Sitting there thinking, “I have no idea why I’m feeling like this and therefore I may as well ignore the message” is likely to end up with you minus a head.
I know that is a rather absurd and over the top example, but it clearly demonstrates why trying to analise such situations is rarely helpful.
Gut instinct quote: “Your Unconscious Is Much Smarter Than You Think”
At a conscious level my friend had no idea her husband was going to be jealous, abusive and controlling because he hadn’t overtly demonstrated that side of his character at that point.
I hadn’t noticed that I didn’t trust my male friend because there was nothing tangible to put my finger on. On the surface he seemed like a nice guy and said all the right things.
And the friend who lost her fiance in a horrific car accident consciously or had nothing tangible to go on that he shouldn’t take the car and go up country. She even voiced her gut feel to him.
But in each situation there were enough subtle clues to have the amygdala screaming at all of us, “WTH!! Did you see that, did you see that??”
Only the amygdala can’t talk or scream at you and it can’t explain to you the myriad of information it has gathered on your behalf to keep you safe.
All it can do is send a feeling that something isn’t quite right and then hopes to hell you won’t ignore it.
I’m not saying that you should never analyse gut feelings because I’m sure there are occasions when that’s useful, even if I’m struggling to think of any at the moment. Please let me know in the comments if you can come up with a great example.
However, I am saying that ignoring your gut feeling because you cannot make sense of it analytically is akin to ignoring the, “Don’t feed the Lions” sign at the zoo because you personally have never seen anybody eaten by a Lion.
What’s your take, do you listen to your intuition or rationalise the mickey out of it?
I’m also curious to know if you have ever ignored a really strong gut feeling and severely regretted it afterward.