I recently heard a story about a woman addressing a group on gut instinct. One day, she was leaving her house for a busy morning. As she locked her door, something told her she’d better go back and unplug her old toaster. But she was running late and had left the toaster plugged in before without event, so she didn’t go back inside.
By the time she got home, the toaster had shorted out, started a fire, and burned down her house.
So, she told the group, now she always listens to – and trusts – what she called her “toast voice.”
I’ll bet every one of us has a story of failing to trust our gut, with unfortunate results (though hopefully less drastic than our homes burning down!). Conversely, we all have stories about the benefits of trusting our guts or, put another way, our instincts.
But how do we ensure it’s really our instincts we are trusting?
Trusting our gut requires understanding ourselves better. We need to discern the difference between our instincts and our reactions, which are not always the same.
This discernment is a skill, and like any other learned skill, developing it takes practice.
The first step is to slow down (especially if you’re feeling rushed – that’s not a good place from which to make what might be a significant decision) and listen to what that inner voice is telling us.
But it can be hard to slow ourselves down, in this mad rush-rush world – and methods that work for one of us may not be the best method for another. Further, methods that are near-perfect for us sometimes may not be what we need at other times.
Some things that have helped me to slow down and be more mindful include:
When we have slowed ourselves to a strong and mindful place, we can try to hear what our gut is really telling us, and go from there.
Does our inner voice make us hesitate to say “yes” to something? Then, let’s not say it. Not until we determine what our reservations are. Maybe saying “yes” in this instance means embracing something that doesn’t truly align with our values or beliefs – and that could be a good reason to say “no” instead.
But perhaps we’re hesitant to jump into something new and a little afraid to trust ourselves to take that on successfully. In this case, we need to analyze whether those fears are well-founded or not. It might be that this is not a good fit for us after all. Or it might be that we’re fearful but have no good reason to think we can’t master this particular new thing.
Some reactions may stem from our not being well-rested or not having eaten well – a healthy gut speaks more clearly and confidently than an ill-fed one. There’s a reason we call it a “gut reaction!”
If we’re in a state of anxiety, exasperation, or anger, we may not be able to discern what our gut is telling us – these moods throw up a lot of static that may be hard for us to hear through.
Therefore, the time to trust our gut is when we know what it’s telling us and separate it from any other impulses or feelings we may have.
And we will make errors as well as good choices in trying to discern what our true instinct is saying. It takes practice, and practice means both trial and error.
But as we learn more about identifying what our gut is really saying from these mistakes and successes, we get better at making decisions that reflect our values and lead to better outcomes based on what our deepest self is telling us. “A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.” — Seneca
How do you determine what your gut is really telling you?
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Until next time –