I’m a big believer in trusting my gut. The instinctual feeling that rises up at times without much thought. It’s the knawing in my mind when something’s not right; it’s the hair standing up at the back of my neck in eerie places and the weird feeling that comes over me when I don't quite trust someone.
It’s also been an indescribable confidence that comes over me when I have to make a decision and 'I just know’ what the right thing is to do.
People are full of inspirational words of wisdom about how our gut always knows best. We get ‘a hunch’ and then go with it or we make a decision and ‘trust our instinct’. We’re told that our gut feelings are always accurate, and if our intuition tells us there is something is wrong, chances are there is.
So, our gut apparently never lies, and if we follow it we'll be blissfully happy forever more.
But sometimes our gut does get it wrong. And that’s when we often get ourselves into trouble, or just limit our potential in life. I think my gut has been right most of the time, but with hindsight, not all of the time.
Before our frontal lobes in our brain grew into big overthinking bulbs, our long-lost ancestors used other parts of their brains to guide them in life. Their instinct would lead them in the right direction and most importantly would tell them who and what to avoid. Us humans just ‘knew’ because our gut told us. Then over time our brains got bigger, and thinking took over a little too much, and started to complicate things.
However, many of us still allow our gut to have big say in decision-making and we repeatedly get it wrong.
Our gut instinct only works well when we are functioning at our best. If our mental wellbeing is compromised somehow, like when we are too stressed or anxious, our instinct doesn’t work as well.
In a recent study, researchers compared the intuitive decision-making abilities of anxious, neutral, and optimistic people. After altering participants moods at the beginning of the study, participants completed a questionnaire designed to assess their tendency to make intuitive decisions, as well as how effectively they did so.
The researchers found that the decision-making abilities of the optimistic and the neutral mood groups were unaffected by their moods, whereas the anxious group showed a significantly reduced ability to use their intuition. The study showed that perhaps if you’re anxious, your gut instinct might not be as good as you think it is. In fact, don’t trust it.
Although it is a small study, it does make sense. Anxiety does make us risk-avoidant, more negative, and lack self confidence. And we need all these qualities to make sure we make the right decision. If we don’t have confidence and trust, then we will probably ignore our gut, even when it’s right.
Anxiety makes it harder to listen to our intuition because it will always err on the side of caution, to keep us safe and protected. Just because you feel we need to be wary, doesn’t mean we should be. Sometimes the best decision for us is to take risks and chances whether it’s to quit the job, leave the relationship, start the business, get on the flight or just be brave, in anything.
Conscious decision-making is secondary to survival, so when our stress and anxiety levels are heightened, our gut instinct is focused on keeping us alive, and pretty much ignoring everything else, good and bad.
When we are mentally healthy, our thinking brain as well as our gut will help us make the right life decisions. So we always need to make sure that our mental health is priority. Until then, don’t believe a word your gut says.