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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Trust your gut

Chances are, you ignore your gut feelings pretty often. Don’t! 


By YASMEEN O’BRIEN — yjobrien@ucdavis.edu


Having a gut feeling is one of the only times we feel like we truly know something, but even so, trusting it is surprisingly hard to do. I’ve been in situations where I was extremely unhappy — and I’m sure you have too — where my body felt like it was in a constant state of anxiety. It was screaming at me to get out of the stressful situation, but my “logical” mind ignored it for a very long time, even though my gut was right all along.

I have also been in situations where I’ve felt unexplainably unsafe or uncomfortable and have removed myself from these situations without any “logical” explanation. I didn’t stick around to see if I was right about these scenarios; I didn’t need to know. The feeling my gut gave me was all I needed. 

A gut feeling — interchangeable with an intuition, instinct or hunch — is difficult to define. It’s the ability to immediately understand something without active reasoning. It’s that feeling we get in the pit of our stomachs or in the deepest parts of our consciousness. Sometimes it whispers, sometimes it screams. But, because our gut feelings come from within us, they have our best interests at heart.

This may seem obvious — of course, our gut feelings come from within us, all of our thoughts and feelings do. However, in my research, I found some very compelling evidence of just how true this is.

Our intuition is not something we’re encouraged to rely on in the age of big data, it is often deemed as unreliable or even mystical. Although it is true that intuition falters, studies show that pairing analytical thinking with gut feelings helps you make better, faster, more accurate decisions. These studies also show that this pairing gives you more confidence in your choices than relying solely on intellect does.

This becomes important when you are overthinking or making a decision with no clear-cut answer. Even the U.S. Navy has invested millions of dollars into helping sailors and Marines refine their “sixth sense,” precisely because intuition can override intellect in high-stakes situations such as on the battlefield.

There is actually a deep neurological basis for intuition. There is a wide-ranged neural network of 100 million neurons lining your entire digestive tract, which is more than in the spinal cord. The gut has incredible processing abilities. 

Essentially, when you approach a decision intuitively, your brain works in collaboration with your gut to instantaneously evaluate all your past learnings, memories, personal needs and preferences, and then uses this assessment to make the wisest decision given the context. This turns intuition into a form of emotional and experiential data that should be valued.

One of the biggest problems with trusting our gut, especially as young people, is that it can be hard to discern intuition from fear. Fear is often accompanied by constricting or minimizing bodily sensations that make you feel tense, panicky or desperate. I would describe fear as having a pushing energy, as if you’re trying to force something, or choosing a path because you want to avoid a threat. Fear is dominated by self-critical thoughts that encourage you to hide, conform or compromise yourself. 

You cannot let fear rule you. You would be doing yourself a great disservice to listen to this voice.

On the other hand, I would describe intuition as having a pulling energy, as if your decision is moving you toward your best interest, even if that comes with pursuing a risk or moving slower than others. This feeling is often accompanied by excitement and anticipation or ease and contentment. Physically, listening to a gut feeling tends to allow your body to relax because your intuitive inner voice is wiser and more grounded. It is your mentor.

Intuition is not perfect — but it is probably a decision-making tool you’re underestimating and underutilizing. Use it!


Written by: Yasmeen O’Brien — yjobrien@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.