Listen to your inner Voice

You’re on a date. He asks you if you want to come home with him – pause, there’s a knot in your stomach, not good. He paid for your drinks and dinner, has been so polite the whole afternoon, and made sure that you had a good time. You have seen his mum; you have seen his sister – in pictures. He’s a good man. Would you go home with him? Hopefully not, you probably should listen to your body.

In many different languages, there are phrases connected to a thing called your gut feeling, it may also be known as your inner voice, instinct, or even intuition. An Italian proverb states that “Intuition is Intelligence with excessive speed”, and even Albert Einstein himself highlighted the importance of the gut feeling: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant”. 

So, what is this gut feeling? Some theories state that there are two parts of your brain responsible for decisions. The limbic system, responsible for fast and intuitive decisions, and the neocortex, the part that acts logically, carefully, and consciously. Many Psychologists locate your intuition in the limbic system but also add sensory perceptions such as seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting to those initiate reactions. 

US-Neurophysiologist Benjamin Libet found out that our brain is active seconds before we make a decision, this means – to put it in a very exaggerated way – you have decided before you even know. Studies at Harvard University proved that 220 – 260 milliseconds after a stimulus we feel the urge: “I want that”. But only from the 480th – 640th millisecond, the mind starts to process. To put it simply, the gut decision is about twice as fast as the mind. So, is this reason enough to base all your decisions on it?

That might not be the best idea as it doesn’t take complex and new situations into account. The information that you have received isn’t organized and your plans, your future, and strategic concepts are not taken into consideration. The information processed in this short period is based on past experiences. Another reason why you shouldn’t solely listen to your intuition is that every person has something they stand for, they intentionally portray themselves in a way they want to be perceived by themselves and others. This can, for example, be based on moral and ethical judgments or their environment’s expectations. There are many factors and facts a decision is based on. Just basing them on the underlying feeling you have will not take into consideration who you are and what you stand for.

On the other hand, it is basically impossible to make rational decisions. Your perception of our surroundings simply proves that. About 11 million Bit/sec are reaching us and go directly to our subconsciousness, then only 50 Bit/sec of those 11 million Bit/sec are processed in our minds. To put it in another way, some information that you receive through your senses will not be processed in your mind but is stored in the subconsciousness which is part of your gut feeling. Your gut feeling might identify aspects more quickly that are important for decision-making but also will focus on aspects that have been important in similar situations before. An example for this is when you meet new people, some people might seem more friendly or less friendly to you at an instant. Sometimes you feel like something is off with a person. This is usually not based on facts or rationality but on your intuition telling you to keep a distance, probably from experience.

There are many ways to improve your gut feeling. One thing is to simply start watching your bodily sensors. Do you get goosebumps when something or someone touches you? Do you feel butterflies in your stomach? Or is the bare thought shaking you in disgust? These seem to be obvious indicators of how you feel but acknowledging the importance of those is necessary to understand yourself. Another thing is, to reflect on the situation consciously and to be aware of possible biases. Another thing is, to let the situation and feelings run through your mind to remove biases, and to let it rest a little, get “a night’s sleep on it”. This allows you to take a new perspective. You may also think about possible arguments as well as consequences at the same time. Question yourself. Is this what I really want? What is important to me in the future and what is important to me now? Weight up your options to get a good overlook of the situation.

All in all, it is important to listen to your own gut feeling. It speaks from experience. Though a gut feeling shouldn’t rule your life and the chances or possibilities you may get. What if a job opportunity that you really wanted didn’t work out the first time but now, they offer you a job? Your body knows this situation, there’s shame and rejection connected to this company. What if this is the best opportunity of your life? But the lingering bad feelings rob you of this chance. Your gut feeling is great, your intuition is a lot faster than your logical mind, you use experience which may protect you, and you can simplify complex structures and processes emotions. Rationality without feelings will lead you directly to arbitrary decisions. Don’t be afraid to listen to your body – though consider its flaws. Find the balance between gut and mind.

Marie Kiel 

Karrierebibel – Bauchgefühl: Wann auf den Bauch hören – wie trainieren?

Carpe diem – Was ist das Bauchgefühl?

National Library of Medicine – The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems

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