Does Fear Cloud Your Intuition? The 5 Gut Instincts You Should Never Ignore
A quirky urge. A quiet murmur in your head. A queasy feeling in your gut. A subtle sense of foreboding. A subtle sense of foreboding or a profound yet explicable knowing that “this feels right”. That was the feeling I had soon after I began going out with my husband nearly twenty years ago (which I’m glad I listened to!)… and it’s the feeling I still rely on to help me make the big decisions today. And some smaller one’s too. Like to believe my seven year old son this morning when he said he couldn’t go to school because his tummy hurt. If I had a dollar for every time my kids fed me that line I’d be bathing in milk, but I had a gut feel this morning as I jockeyed my kids out the door that this time I needed to believe him. I handed him a bucket. Two minutes later it was put to good use. Ah… mothers instinct served me well. My floor rug too.
Uninhibited by our biases and judgments, wired only to perception, it can lead us to predictions we often marvel at. “Somehow I just knew,” we say later about a hidden danger we just knew to veer aware from or an opportunity we spontaneously seized despite knowing little about it. Beyond our conscious awareness, we read miniscule untaught signals, that point us to pay attention to something… or someone.
Sometimes our intuition gives rise to an acute feeling of fear. A primal emotion that exists to keep us safe, genuine fear is intended to be brief, not to hang around for a long period of time. So people who move through life constantly on ‘high alert’ for danger – whether in the form of killer viruses, catastrophes, or predatory people – have no capacity left to pick up the signals their intuition may be feeding them. Their anxiety keeps them from tuning in to those ‘gut instincts’ that truly do signal us to pay special attention.
The notion that “A little worry never hurt anyone” is simply untrue. Worry is a fear we manufacture. Of course if you like being a worry-wart, go for it. But do so knowing that worry is a choice, and like every choice, it has consequences. More people die in America every year of anxiety-related ailments – heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and nervous habits like smoking – than all the victims of super bug viruses, violent crimes and airplane crashes combined. One in three Americans fear being a victim of violent crime, only one in 150 actually will be. That makes for an awful lot of unnecessary worry, and a lost opportunity to benefit from the messages our intuition sends our way. As Gavin De Becker says in his book The Gift of Fear: “Precautions are constructive, whereas remaining in a state of fear is destructive.” I would add to that, that it’s also a real vampire when it comes to sucking all the fun and joy out of life.
When I was 21 I set off around the world with a backpack and sense of adventure. Along the way I met thousands of people and developed a keen sixth sense about those whom I could trust, and those whom I was best to steer clear of. I remember meeting a man on an Amtrak train from St. Petersburg to Miami who was an off duty Amtrak conductor. Upon learning that the Amtrak station in Miami was miles from the South Beach hostel where I was meeting up with my college girlfriend Mia, and that the public bus schedule on Sundays was very limited, this man offered to give me a lift. Not only would it save me a hefty cab fare but also hours of public bus joy. While I’m sure most parents would have been mortified by the idea of their 21 year old daughter jumping in a car with a near stranger, I had a strong sense that he was genuinely trying to help. And my intuition proved correct. As he dropped me off he told me that I probably shouldn’t have accepted the ride with him, was glad I did, but to be less trusting of strange men next time. I thanked him for his advice, promised him I’d be careful and continued on to travel to far more off the beaten track places and meet many other equally generous and genuine people, all the while guided by my ‘gut feel’.
Five Gut Instincts You Should Never Ignore
Of course our intuition isn’t only a powerful tool for keeping us safe. It also helps us to trust our judgment in business, to pay attention to our health, to come to the aid of people around us, perform at our peak and seize opportunities that appear risky. To help you become more adept at listening to yours, I’ve listed 5 gut instincts that you should never ignore.
1. Something feels wrong in my body. Our body is a powerful intuitive communicator. Most gut instincts are accompanied by some kind of physical sensation – from goose bumps to a tightness in our chest. Sometimes it gives us early warning signs that something is amiss in our body that we need to pay attention to.
2. I’m in danger. If you’re walking down the street at night and you get the feeling, “stay away from that person,” don’t ignore it. We have unconscious radars that can alert us to people and places that could put our safety in danger. Likewise, other times we can find ourselves feeling “off” in the company of someone who is toxic to us. Either way, our intuition is prodding us to attend to something or someone that may be harmful to our well being.
3. This feels right! It’s counter-intuitive, but the less you analyze the pros and cons when it comes to the big decisions in life, the more likely you will make a decision you are happy with in the long term. When it comes to big and often complex decisions – like whether to buy a house, leave a job, change career or get hitched – our risk aversive rational mind can lead us to over think, over analyze and make poorer decisions than if we just follow our intuition and do what ‘feels right.’ Indeed, fear of making a wrong decision can keep us from making a right one! Studies have found that the longer people mull over big decisions, the less satisfied they are afterward than had they spent less time deciding and simply “gone with their gut.”
4. I want to help. While gut instincts have evolved to help us avoid danger, we human beings have an equally powerful capacity to sense when our fellow human beings need our assistance. Compassion is one of our most primal emotions. We have developed an innate ability to read other faces and their emotional signals, and so we don’t always need to wait for a verbal cue before we reach out to help someone.
5. I can do this. Once you have developed mastery in a particular domain, it’s important to trust your emotions when making decisions in that area. If you know you can do it, trust your gut, not your head. Choking in elite athletes is a great case in point. It’s when they go into their heads that they miss the shot or freeze entirely. So when it comes to something you intellectually know you can do, get out of your head, and just trust yourself.