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How to Listen to Your Gut and Make the Right Decision Every Time

We’ve all been told to follow our heart. Go with our gut. Trust our intuition. But how, exactly? This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen explains the “what” and the “how” of going with your gut.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
August 4, 2017
Episode #164

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So how to tap into the power of both? Enter Wise Mind. Wise Mind is a peaceful sense of knowing. It’s a gut feeling of truth. It’s a way to combine both reason and emotion and—ta da!—it’s remarkably similar to the intuition we’ve been talking about.

How do you know you’re in it? Here’s an example. Answer this question: how do you know racism is wrong? The answer has both reasonable and emotional elements: you could write out a logical list of why racism is wrong, and at the same time, you probably have a strong emotional reaction to the concept of racism—maybe anger or indignation. Put the logical and the emotional together, and you have Wise Mind: the deep “knowing” that racism is wrong. You can explain why, you can feel why, and you just know that it is. Wise Mind is the feeling you get when you know something to be true.

But what if your gut is clouded by fear? For our listener, does she know, with a sense of Wise Mind’s peace and truth, that she’ll never find true love? Or does she fear she’ll never find true love? My money’s on the latter. What to do? Next, try...

Method #2: Discern the difference between intuition and fear.

Intuition is knowing. It could be knowing something good, like this is the person you will marry, or something bad, like this guy is definitely trying to scam you.

Fear, on the other hand, is more about uncertainty. It’s not knowing. It’s the “what ifs.” In contrast to intuition, which can predict something good or bad, fear predicts the worst. For example, “When I talk to my roommate about not smoking in the house, she’s going to yell at me.” Or, “What if the car dealership tries to put one over on me?” Or, “What if the fortune teller was right and I never find love?”

In sum, intuition is a quiet: “yes, this is.” Even if the result is negative, like breaking up with someone or sensing that you shouldn’t get in the car with this particular Uber driver, intuition says “Yes, this is the truth,” while fear says, “Oh no, what if this is the truth?”

Method #3: Tap into the calm that follows chaos.                               

This one can’t be orchestrated (nor would you want to) but you can recognize and take advantage of it when it happens naturally.

After a crisis—a big fight, a period of upheaval, or an emergency—there is often a period where you feel spent but calm in which you can feel your intuition strongly. The sense of “knowing” what to do is particularly clear.

This might have happened to you. After a blowout fight with a partner, did you suddenly know it was time to break up? After a personal crisis, did you suddenly know what you had to do to get your life on track? Why you can see most clearly when your eyes were just full of tears is anyone’s guess, but it’s a useful moment to tap into.

Like I said, this has to come naturalistically. Don’t go pick a fight or start some drama. But do see it as a silver lining to the cloud of hard times.

Don’t go pick a fight or start some drama. But do see it as a silver lining to the cloud of hard times.

Method #4: What would you tell a friend?

This one is pretty straightforward: if a friend came to you with the same idea, what would you tell them? “I just have a feeling that I shouldn’t sign this contract.” “Everyone is telling me otherwise, but I just know this is the person we should hire.” Regardless of the answer, it can be helpful to look at it from an outside perspective. If a friend told you the same thing, would you dismiss it? Look more closely? Encourage them to reason it through? Or go with their gut? Do the same for yourself.

So tap into that calm voice that knows, not the fear that whispers “what if.” For our listener, and possibly for you, her gut feeling sounds closer to fear than truth. Although that means there’s work to be done, the good news is that fear can be faced.

In the meantime, dig under that fear and ask your gut for the truth. It may be quiet, it may be rusty, but in time, you’ll hear it loud and clear.

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