Ever had the experience where the evidence in front of you adds up; yet, there is a gnawing voice in your head that tells you, something is amiss? Well, now if you have ignored that voice and later realised and wished that you hadn’t then what you could have probably been experiencing is your gut speaking to you.
I have had long conversations with my gut. Not once but over and over again. There have been times when I have chosen to ignore it, hoping that my gut was wrong and my rational decision was correct. But sadly it never proved wrong and eventually I had to learn to take it seriously.
Such is our gut story. When people justify their decisions based on a gut feeling they are not taken seriously, yet you often see experienced CEOs, researchers and inventors taking major decisions on an instinct.
Based on a gut feeling, a cop stops a woman witha child and takes them for questioning. This was how the famous mystery of the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart got solved long after all hope was lost.
Another common example is Maya(name changed), whose gut instinct was telling her that her husband was cheating on her, yet she conveniently fought these irrational feelings because he made her believe otherwise until one day she came face to face with the evidence.
Because the world has been largely relying on logic rationality to solve problems, intuitive thinking has received a bad name. Viewed as some kind of magic, fantasy decision making process, a lot of rational thinkers have shied away from actually listening to their core and relying on their own gut emotions.
But science is now proving why we need to listen to our gut.
Research from various universities and medical centers including the John Hopkins University is claiming the existence of another brain in your gut. It is not a simple brain with a few brain cells but according to neuroscientist Linda Rinaman, there are over 500 million neurons( with neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin) embedded in the gut lining which are in constant communication with our brain via the Vagus nerve. This communication is not simple but a complex- two- way network which is 100 times larger than the surface of the skin and sends more signals to the brain than any other organ system in the body.
Our gut feeling is part of a large network of protective mechanism. It’s like a radar system that picks up signals that are harmful and sends messages to the brain to either evaluate or avoid the situation. According to Linda, these signals coming from the gastrointestinal tract work like red flags pointing to unsteady conditions. The enteric nervous system (ENS) that is embedded in the wall of the gut is now coming out as a team player in our physical and mental wellbeing.
What is further interesting is that the gut brain is also responsible for our reactions under stress. We seek to eat comfort food in times of stress and research is indicating that this urge is controlled by our gut rather than by our brain. So it is also not surprising that when you are stressed up you will go into your refrigerator and seek that chocolate or ice cream which in the long run might not be all that good for you.
So if comfort eating is actually unhealthy for you, should we always trust our gut? Because intuition relies on evolutionary automatic processing, it is important to understand when your intuition should be taken seriously and when it could be a cognitive bias.
Here are some facts about intuition:
- Intuition also relies on past experiences and information obtained, so when in doubt take a calculated risk.
- Intuitions combine facts and feelings together. So something beneficial will make you feel great and something that could be dangerous will make you feel uneasy.
- Because of connectivity of your neurons, you will experience the emotion like a physical sensation. Positive sensations mostly appear like a warm good feeling, lightness, breathe easily, relaxation, clarity in vision and hearing.
Negative sensation on the other hand are icy cold hands and overall chill, clenching or rumbling in your stomach, acidity, nausea, high alert, fatigue, loss of energy, headaches.
- Decision making using intuition needs practice. The more you tune yourself to your core and learn to listen to your gut the better you get at it. Sometimes you need to distract your thoughts and get in touch with your body to know how you are feeling and the answer will come to you. Intuition thus needs total awareness of the present moment.
Besides learning to listen to your gut you also need to take care of it. Our desi lifestyle of eating yogurt is apparently very healthy as it contains pre and probiotics which keep the gut healthy.
So the next time you are at a crossroads wondering which way to go; pause a few moments and listen to your gut and trust that it will show you the way. And don’t forget to eat your curd!
(The writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)