The infamous gut feeling – can we trust it?

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In certain situations we may need to make decisions based on limited information. Some rely on a gut feeling consciously or subconsciously. But do we question how well our gut feeling does in retrospect? It’s hard to say because we can’t live our lives in parallel universes.

As a rationally inclined person, I use the gut feeling as the last resort in absence of all other information. After contemplating and reflecting on my past “gut decisions”, here is a few things I’ve been pondering on about trusting the gut feeling.

It’s now a common knowledge that “gut” has its own decision making process via the enteric nervous system, also known as “second brain”, which “can and does operate independently of the brain and spinal cord” [wiki]. So in a sense we resort to the second brain in the gut to make important life decisions.

The second brain takes care of many essential life functions, and produces a myriad of feelings and senses. What we eat and how well we absorb nutrients and eliminate toxins will surely affect our overall sense of well-being. To get a scientific perspective, read an article by Adam Hadhazy “Think Twice: How the Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well-Being”.

So then, can we trust our gut feelings? It depends. There are exceptional individuals who stuck to their gut feeling against all odds and became highly successful. For example, Steve Jobs. For a regular person like me, though, gut feelings tend to be much more banal – being afraid of the unknown and resisting the change.

From a statistical perspective, the second brain operations are largely based on past information and build-in mechanisms of dealing with new information, such as unfamiliar food, feelings, or ideas. If we have an unsettling reaction to the latter, we’ll try to avoid it at all costs. What if it is really good for us and can prove highly beneficial in the long term? What if we need to stick our gut and overcome the challenge? Most of the time following the gut feeling means sinking deeper in the old familiar self and missing a great opportunity.

Of course, we don’t need to challenge every decision our second brain makes. This will be an impossible task. Then how to tell when it’s time to override that decision? The first essential component is the ability to observe one’s own gut feelings and reactions.

With practice of harmony meditation the frequency of moments when a person is successful at recognizing himself or herself resisting new challenges and is able to question the second brain’s defensive reaction increases substantially.

When these precious moments of awakening happen, we can gently steer ourselves out of the rut and see new opportunities. We can take charge of the course of our day and ultimately, our lives. What else do we need? Direction. More on that later.


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