Intuition, or having a ‘gut feeling’, can be a fickle thing — mostly because we struggle to trust it. Scientific thinking often trumps the feelings or signs your brain and body reveal, which isn’t really surprising. As The Conversation points out, relying on your intuition largely has a bad reputation — especially in the Western world where analytic thinking reigns supreme.
“Emotions are actually not dumb responses that always need to be ignored or even corrected by rational faculties,” Valerie van Mulukom from Coventry University in the UK wrote for The Conversation. “They are appraisals of what you have just experienced or thought of — in this sense, they are also a form of information processing.”
According to van Mulukom, research suggests that the brain is constantly comparing information and present experiences against the information it has stored of previous memories in order to predict what will come next. This allows the brain to always be “prepared to deal with the current situation as optimally as possible”.
While logic and reason obviously help you to make the most informed decision, science does suggest that intuition can also be valuable in certain circumstances as well. In fact, research suggests that intuition is largely based on past experiences and can unconsciously guide you based on this.
Another factor to consider is that many people often find it hard to tell the difference between intuition and anxiety. When you’re prone to anxiety, it can be hard to ‘trust your gut’ as the feelings can overlap. A good rule of thumb to remember is that anxiety is often louder than intuition. While intuition comes from a mindful state, anxiety is often unbalanced and overwhelming when it strikes.
A gut feeling, on the other hand, is also usually associated with the present, while anxiety often concerns itself with the past or the future. To try hone in on your gut feeling, Healthline recommends paying attention to the following signs of intuition including a flash of clarity, goosebumps or prickling, stomach “butterflies”, a sinking sensation in your stomach and thoughts that keep returning to a particular person or situation.
Feelings of peace, safety or happiness after you’ve made a decision are also good signifiers of the ‘gut feeling’. There are also a number of instances where it’s likely better to rely on your gut feeling thanks to the lack of data in the situation or when there’s simply not enough to clinch the decision. Healthline points to the example of deciding between two jobs.
You might have scored two job offers at the same time and on paper, both jobs look similar. When neither position is emerging as better than the other, this would be a great time to tap into your gut feeling. “Your emotions can play an important role in decisions, so trust them,” says Healthline. “The choice you make might resonate more soundly with your sense of self.”
When it comes to gut instincts, van Mulukom is calling for the “witch hunt” to stop, so we can see intuition for what it is: “A fast, automatic, subconscious processing style that can provide us with very useful information that deliberate analysing can’t,” van Mulukom said. “We need to accept that intuitive and analytic thinking should occur together, and be weighed up against each other in difficult decision-making situations.”