The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. Carl Rogers

@ Peace Counselling Blog

Thoughts and ideas on mental health.

Gut Feelings - making decisions with your body and mind.

"The only real valuable thing is intuition."   Albert Einstein


What is the best way to make a decision? Some people make the classic list of pros and cons, putting pen to paper to see their options written down. Others talk things over with a trusted friend or a colleague to get a different perspective. But with any method there is the added element of our gut feeling and most of us have, at some stage, used this to come to a decision about something or someone.

What are “gut feelings”?

According to experts, a gut feeling (also known as intuition) is a neurological based behaviour which has evolved to ensure that we humans can respond quickly when faced with any sort of dilemma.

Simone Wright, author of First Intelligence: Using the Science and Spirit of Intuition, says:

“We’re all intuitively wired. Our intuition comes from our body’s desire to survive. Every single cell in our environment is able to gather information from the environment and feed it back to our nervous system.”

Our brains have a type of structure called the limbic system which is essential to the control of our emotional responses. The limbic system is quite primitive from an evolutionary point of view and relates strongly to our survival. The amygdala and hippocampus play crucial roles in storing our memories and when we recognise patterns or behaviours that we’ve seen before our brain reminds us of how the scene plays out, and then warns us from repeating it. Our gut feelings are a key part of our self-preservation.

Neuroscientist Dr Daniel Reisel researched free will and decision-making and found that we frequently make our decisions unconsciously and then build conscious arguments to support those decisions. Or we just act on the decision without even being fully aware of how we’ve come to our conclusions. So what you think is a gut feeling may well be the fact that your brain has already made its decision, which is why you feel so strongly that a particular option is the right one for you.

What are the advantages of following your gut feelings?


There are receptors to these molecules in your immune system, in your gut and in your heart. So when you say, 'I have a gut feeling' or 'my heart is sad' or 'I am bursting with joy,' you're not speaking metaphorically. You're speaking literally.” - Deepak Chopra

There are several advantages to following your gut feeling:

  • Often complex problems require complex solutions. But there are no rules and the opposite can be true. Gut feelings can be used as an emotional starting point for more rational and fact based solutions.    
  • We’ve evolved to make decisions about our personal safety very swiftly with the fight or flight response. When time is of the essence and you can’t assess the facts, your survival instinct kicks in and your decision is based on what feels like the safest way to self-preservation.
  • If you feel manipulated by someone, or defensive, the likelihood is you that feel this for good reason. Feeling your way through a situation is just as important as thinking your way through it.
  • Sometimes it isn’t clear from the facts what the right choice is. Things are not black and white and often the advice in this kind of situation is to “go with your gut”. In other words, rather than it being the starting point, the final call is what feels right to you.

When should you not follow your gut feelings?

  • Legal and financial issues require proper advice from appropriately qualified professionals. However, you can use your intuition (amongst other things) when choosing your advisers.
  • Don’t rely on intuition to look after you if you are doing something very risky at which you are not an expert (skiing, mountaineering etc.)

Don’t expect the outcome to always be perfect when
you follow your gut. People can be misleading and our trust in others can
sometimes be misplaced. But by the same count, don’t get too hung up on the potential for regret.  We can only do the best with the information we have at hand.

Three more tips about decision making

  • Sometimes there is a good reason for not making a decision right away. It can be difficult to deal with the uncertainty, but if you don’t have enough information it might be the wisest thing you can do. Think about the information you need, who can give it to you and when you can get it before you make your decision.
  • There is no such thing as a perfect decision but thinking that there is such a thing can be paralysing. In this case make your decision, live with it for a while and see what happens. Often you’ll find things are not as irreversible or as set in stone as they first seem.
  • A decision that you later think has been a bad one can sometimes be something to learn from. Very few decisions are really life or death ones. The more decisions you make confidently, the more you’ll feel comfortable making them.

    If you are struggling to make a decision about something and need someone to talk to, I am here to help.   Together we can explore how you can recognise, reflect on and act on the gut feelings you have so you can feel more in control, and more at peace.




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