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Gut Feeling Might Help You Make Better Decisions

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Have you ever been struck by a of uncertainty or caution when going about your day? You could be walking down the street, totally normal, when you subconsciously notice someone and you think:

“Hey, keep away from that guy” or “Don’t stay here too long”

These feelings can strike at times when everything seems normal. We call these experiences “gut feelings” or “gut instinct” as if it is something bodily and disconnected from the mind.

However this name is not inaccurate. There is a close connection between the gut and the brain composed of a extremely complex network [1] of chemicals and neurons which inform your brain about issues in your body, not just the digestive system as you may expect. Not only does it inform your brain about hunger and thirst, but also stress and unease. Here lies the gut instinct.

But you’re a reasonable person, how can something reactionary, some trigger deep down in your brain stand to intelligent analysis?

Surely these feelings are residual evolutionary stuff, as useful for us today as the tail bone. Well, this is untrue.

Some studies [2] have shown that it is often a good idea to trust your gut. In 2011 a group of researchers designed a card game wherein there was no real strategic way to play the game, and instead players had to rely on gut instinct.

When people started to win, most credited their victory on trusting their gut instinct. The sweat responses and heart rate of the players was measured to indicate when reactions occurred. Though some gut instincts lead players into playing badly, the general success rate implies that trusting gut instincts and reactions can be a good idea, however it is not a foolproof system (where would the fun in that be?).

When to trust your gut feeling

Though its not always accurate, sometimes its the best indicator you have when picking up trouble. Especially with these examples

Your health: what not to eat

Your enteric nervous system (the above mentioned complex network of chemical reactions and neurons connecting your gut to your brain) is extremely effective at picking up warning signs [3] from your body.

So if you ever suddenly think you shouldn’t have eaten that thing, or a part of your body doesn’t feel right, you should pay attention.

Paying close attention to feelings in your body, especially if it is as severe as triggering a gut reaction has its benefits.

Some people train and exercise according to attention paid to the body and how it feels, this is called intuitive training, or autoregulatory [4] training.

Dangers and threats: Who not to get close with

Imagine you’re walking home at night, like you have done a million times before and you see a guy on the street corner. He seems totally ordinary, but something just isn’t right. As you get near you get a gut reaction to avoid him.

There are many stories [5]where people have had these reactions and later realized that they were saved from some horrible fate. We have evolved to have immediate responses to dangers that are beyond conscious thought.

Though it is always worth analysing [6] a situation if possible. These gut feelings of danger are always worth consideration.

It is important to consider I think, we are all descendants of those who survived. Those who didn’t have senses tuned to potential dangers didn’t last.

Though of course perhaps 9 times out of ten you were warned of a non existent danger. Its to be safe than sorry.

When not to trust your gut feeling: threats from objects

Life in the 21st century is stressful. If you live in a modern city, from the moment you leave your front door, you are bombarded by smells, sounds sights, upon sights than easily put your senses to the test. Though we have evolved enough to be able to function with when we live in places containing more sensory information than anyone in history evolved to deal with. Our ability to spot dangers has not evolved so much.

We, as human beings developed and evolved as in the wild, we were part of the food chain. Being killed by a wild animal was a real and every-day threat, instead of an unusual occurrence. As such we evolved to be able to spot animals extremely quickly and identify them as potential dangers.

You have experienced this yourself. However our bodies have not adapted to the reality that a car, is far more of a threat than an animal. It has not totally got the message that we are no longer hunter gatherers.

In a study [7] people were shown photographs of animals and inanimate objects. Each photograph had a nearly identical duplicate immediately after, safe for one slight change. Test subjects were able to identify changes in animal scenes 100% of the time, and objects around 70% of the time.

Because of this, you might get a gut reaction alerting you to a danger that simply isn’t there.

Also, if you have a panic disorder, or problems with your amygdala [8] then you might get gut reactions alerting you to danger, the flight or fight response at times when there is no danger at all. It might even occur randomly.
This I know from experience.

But as demonstrated above, we get these reactions for a reason. Though some times the course of action they lead us towards may be the wrong one, maybe the danger we are alerted to isn’t a danger at all.

There are times when, listening to your gut is the best thing you can do.

Reference

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