Gut feeling and intuition: when to trust it
Leadership coach and communications consultant Annie McCubbin shares her tips on how to use your “gut” in the most effective way.
Trust your instincts!
We hear that all the time. There are a lot of messages that tell us to “tune in to your gut feelings and take their advice.” It implies that you are connecting to a universal storehouse of truth, but in fact there is nothing mystical about your intuition.
It just comes from the part of your brain that makes lightning-fast decisions. Your intuition is your ability to make quick and accurate judgments about something without going through a rational analytical process.
It’s when you “know things”. It can tell us things like “I really like this person I’m interviewing”, or “This guy is really nice” or “This diet on my smartphone looks really good”.
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It feels good to go with your gut feeling, but our intuition is susceptible to error and manipulation. Our thinking is littered with biases that can make it difficult to assess the validity of our gut responses. So when should you listen to your gut and when should you question it?
Listen to your instincts if you sense danger
If you have a bad feeling about someone who just offered to drive you home after a party, or if you don’t feel safe in the parking lot late at night, respect that sentiment and take action.
Your unconscious scanned the environment and sensed the danger. Don’t doubt yourself. Respect your intuition. It could save your life.
Don’t trust your gut if you meet someone amazing at a party
When faced with charismatic individuals, we are more likely to suspend our critical thinking. So an amazing guy with washboard abs and a killer smile just poured you a drink and said he loves your hair. Two hours later he told you you were beautiful and you suddenly know this relationship was meant to be, you can feel it in your guts.
Hold it there. You have no idea who this person is. They could be a Médecins Sans Frontières frontline worker saving daily lives, or they could lead an international drug union. At this point, it’s a total guess work.
The fact that you have a strong feeling is neither here nor there. The charm can blunt our radar, exposing us to a relationship with someone with big abs but a bad attitude.
Don’t trust your gut with online wellness gurus
Wellness guru Jasmine has promised that you’ll have clear skin with reduced brain fog if you meditate on a rose quartz crystal and take its organic antioxidant and detoxifying DHA slow-release enzymes. This phrase sounds good, but it actually doesn’t make sense.
Walk away from your laptop, you buy hope and expensive water.
Confirmation bias confuses our brain
Confirmation bias, a very common cognitive bias, keeps us convinced that our intuition is correct. This ensures that you ONLY notice the information that supports your position and simply filters out anything that is in opposition to what you already believe. You literally don’t notice things if they go against your carefully guarded opinion.
For example, you’ll happily recount the time you chose Megan’s ex to be horrible, when everyone else thought he was great. But you conveniently forgot about the days when you hired Emily based on a deep feeling that she would be perfect for the work culture, and then had a three-month horror trying to deal with her.
We want our instinctive answers to be right. It’s a nice and heartwarming feeling to be able to say, “I knew I was right”. I could feel it in my guts, but unfortunately it’s very hit or miss.
And being smart doesn’t mean your gut is going to be precise
The truth is, we are all irrational. We make an emotional decision in the unconscious part of our brain and then post-rationalize it in the conscious part of our brain. This is a quick subconscious process and being smart doesn’t lessen the danger of automatically trusting your instincts. In fact, having a high IQ often means that your job rationalizations seem more compelling to yourself and others.
Often times, the feeling that we are right can be supported by a strong feeling. The point is, sometimes your feelings are right and sometimes they are not. Just because you feel your opinion is right doesn’t mean it is. It’s just a strong feeling.
The reality is that your instincts can be right and maybe wrong, so looking for evidence from people who don’t automatically agree with you, instead of compulsively trusting your instincts, is a really good way to determine. if your gut feeling is right. or give you fake news.
Annie McCubbin is the author of Why Smart Women Make Bad Decisions: and how critique thinking can protect (Major Street Publishing, June 2021), leadership coach, communications consultant who has literally trained thousands of women leaders develop evidence-based perspectives and the courage to speak up.