Trust Your Intuition: the Gut/Brain Connection
It can be hard to trust your intuition. It’s a funny thing. We have many names for it: sixth sense, hunch, gut feeling, instinct. All of them say something about it. None of them quite capture it fully. However, whichever way you choose to dress it, when we are talking about it, we are mostly talking about insight, seemingly unfounded (or at least without an immediately apparent foundation), that often comes in a sudden flash.
We’ve all been told to trust out guts. This is where we are coming from: trusting these sudden flashes of inspiration, these deep-seated convictions.
Doing so – trusting your gut, going with your intuition – can be a wonderful thing. It can open up avenues that may have previously been closed. It can show you answers before your conscious brain and any associated rationale can catch up with it.
However, it can be hard to do. It can also be hard to know when and if to trust your gut. After all, we don’t all have good intuitions, do we? And very few of us have good intuition all the time. This is a shame, as intuition can form a strong core for addiction recovery. It can at least be a very good tool as you learn new paradigms for living.
What to do? Well, for starters, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about your intuition and what it can mean for you.
Finding your gut feeling
What does your intuition look like? Or, more importantly, what do your gut feelings feel like?
It might be a nagging something, like there is something on the tip of your tongue, or just out of sight. It may be nebulous or hard to define. Have you ever felt uncomfortable in a situation without quite knowing why, only to later find out there was trouble brewing? Or have you ever taken against someone on first sight, with no reason to, only to later find out that you were bang on the money?
There is nothing tangible about it. You just feel your skin crawling, your hair standing on end, your gut feeling uneasy.
This is all very negative, of course, which I don’t want to be. Opposed to the situations above, have you ever had a sudden rush of goodwill towards someone or something? Have you ever bought something on a whim, decided to go somewhere just because, taken a chance on someone, only to be thoroughly vindicated retrospectively?
This is also intuition.
Positive or negative, it can be a great source of information. If you learn to use it right, it can be a great way of making tough decisions and navigating your daily life.
What your intuition feels like
There are plenty of ways to describe intuition or gut feeling. You may experience it entirely differently to someone else. Yours may be a Spidey-sense or a Peter-tingle (full marks to anyone who got those references), or it may be something else entirely.
There are some common signs to look out for, however. These include:
- Sudden flashes of clarity
- A change in bodily tension – either a sudden tightness, or conversely a release
- Goosebumps, skin prickling, and stomach butterflies
- Nausea or a sinking feeling in your stomach
- Sweaty palms, feet, or mid-back
- Anxiety and tunnel vision
- Catharsis as you make a decision
Where do these gut feelings come from?
If it feels like your brain is trying to talk you into something, or steer you down a particular path, there will be a good reason for it – it kind of is.
Intuition may sometimes seem unfounded. This isn’t the case, however. There is nothing unfounded, random, or irrational about it. Gut feelings are often very legitimate, with a very concrete beginning.
There are several potential explanations for the physical and emotional symptoms associated with intuition.
Unconscious analysis in intuition
For example, some sources link moments of intuition and inspiration to select brain processes. These can include those involved in decoding nonverbal cues like emotion. Your brain will collect sensory data from all around you. Some of this will be obvious and you will be aware of it. Sometimes things are less obvious; however, your brain will still make decisions based on the information it is given.
For example, you might intuit that somebody isn’t trustworthy, or at least that they aren’t telling you the truth at that exact moment. This gut feeling may seem to come out of nowhere. However, there are plenty of nonverbal cues people can give to signify they are lying – they may be blinking too much or refusing to meet your eye, suggesting anxiety, or they might be touching their face and mouth too much, which are classic signs that somebody isn’t being honest.
Even if you don’t consciously register this, your brain unconsciously does. It responds accordingly. You get a feeling that this person isn’t being honest with you.
Bias and past experience
You can also experience intuition and gut feelings based on your past experience of any given situation.
When we say bias, we don’t necessarily mean it in a bad way. If you have bad experiences with big, loud, aggressive dogs, and your gut tells you that a seemingly big, scary, aggressive dog up ahead should be avoided, this is likely a legitimate survival method. Even if the second dog is absolutely fine, it is very logical for you to intuit in this way.
Memories you don’t recall or experiences of which you are not consciously aware can also play into your intuition. You may not remember experiencing the big, loud, aggressive dog – it may be a memory from infancy that you cannot recall but which nevertheless informs your brain’s processing.
We have all heard of hidden marketing, subliminal messaging, and so on. This is where notions or images are planted into our brains without us realising it. Studies have shown that this kind of subliminal messaging can have a very profound effect on how you view the world. You can make instant, snap judgements – intuition by any other name – based on something you have no knowledge of knowing!
When do you trust your intuition: when is it paranoia?
Paranoia is common during addiction recovery. It may never leave you entirely. Therefore, it’s important to be able to tell the difference between helpful, healthy intuition and paranoia. It’s important to know when your bias is healthy rather than destructive and unwarranted.
In fact, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between intuition and anxiety. As we have seen, there are several physical symptoms commonly associated with gut feelings. Many of them are also commonly associated with paranoia. This is unhelpful to say the least.
You can feel for sure that something isn’t right about someone. You can get the physical sensations, the corresponding thoughts, the fear and discomfort. However, how are you to know if you are having an insightful experience or fearing them unjustly, judging them based on paranoia rather than unconscious reasoning?
There are a few things to bear in mind. Some or all of them may help you to disentangle your gut feelings and intuition from paranoia and unjust fear.
Clear paths versus inaction
A gut feeling or intuition should always open up a clear path to action. It should steer you in a clear direction. Using it, you should be able to come out with a concrete decision. However, you will be more likely to freeze when experiencing anxiety. It may be more future than present focussed, may have less definition, or may make you feel like a deer in the headlights.
Intuition also often revolves around what we can control or handle. Anxiety often isn’t. Anxiety can be abstract, or it can be over something over which we have no control. If you have a gut feeling about something that is out of your hands, it is possibly therefore anxiety. It is probably unhelpful, either way.
Fact V’s Fiction
Paranoia is irrational. Or, at least, it has no basis in fact. Somebody may be completely harmless, yet you expect them to hurt you. These feelings won’t usually be directed just at one person, either. If you’re paranoid about one person, you’ll be paranoid about others.
Though you may not know where a gut feeling comes from, it will always be based in some kind of fact. Your intuition will always be evidence based in the end, no matter how out of sight the evidence is.
Try to be specific if you can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction. If you are scared quite generally by people, it is probably paranoia. If you ask yourself, what exactly makes me unsure about this person?, and find some kind of answer, your intuition is spot on.
Temporary versus lasting unease
Gut feelings are a one-time thing. You get a flash of intuition, make a decision, and carry on with your life.
Anxiety and paranoia tend to stick around, however. They will linger or recur.
If you find yourself on high alert for danger or discomfort, it is probably paranoia. If your unease leaves when you change the situation, it will be intuition and insight. In acting on it, you’ve removed the threat, made yourself feel comfortable, and are back to a level playing field.
When should you trust your intuition?
Everything above has hopefully given you some insight into intuition, its value, where it comes from, and what it looks like in comparison to anxiety, paranoia, or simple bias. If you manage to put the above suggestions into place and find the illumination helpful, you’re already halfway there. You will have a far clearer idea of when to trust your intuition.
You will, in short, be learning to trust your intuition and gut feelings. This is a powerful gift.
However, there is more. We can further isolate instances when trusting your intuition isn’t only appropriate but is actively helpful. Instances like this include the following.
Trust your intuition separately to wishful thinking
Wishful thinking is fine. We all do it. It can actually be helpful in defining our priorities. However, it isn’t real in a strict sense – simply wishing for something to be the case doesn’t make it the case.
However, if you know that intuiting that you would make a good musician, for example, is different to wishing you were one, you have something to go on. Follow it with action. Poke it. See what happens. See where it gets you.
If it gets you nowhere, it was maybe wishful thinking, but at least you gave it a shot. If it gets you somewhere, it was intuition. Your instincts were right.
Trust your intuition for fast decision making
We all make snap judgements, second-long decisions. Though we should maybe give important decisions a bit more time, small, everyday decisions can be made in this way very healthily. In fact, in not agonising over decisions – in allowing intuition to do the work – you will be lowering your overall anxiety levels.
Intuition can also work for bigger decisions. We all know the cliché. Toss a coin on a decision and go with the outcome. If you like the outcome, your choice is made. If you don’t like the outcome, ignore it and go the other way. Your choice is also made. Back this up with careful thought and analysis, but let your intuition give you some of the earliest, most crucial information.
Trust your intuition to know thyself
Learning to trust your intuition is about far more than simple decision making, however. Logic, reason, and analysis are limited. They often don’t speak to who we are. As you get to know yourself, as we all should, as anyone going through addiction and recovery should, you need to know yourself.
If you find yourself knee-jerk reacting against going to bars and pubs, there will be a good reason. You don’t feel comfortable with them; you might just not be that kind of person. Don’t go. Making yourself go would be a disservice to yourself.
If you don’t find a certain type of job appealing, don’t apply to them. It isn’t the right route for you. If you are able, go in a different direction. Trust your gut and build the life you want, not the one you feel you should have, that you feel is sensible.
Trusting your intuition
None of this is easy. None of it is concrete. This nebulous nature can make intuition hard to pin down. It can be hard to articulate, to recognise, and to improve upon. However, as with most things, time, patience and practice will get you there.
Try some of the advice contained in this article. Learn a little bit more about yourself, about what makes you tick. Try seeking out professional help – a therapist or psychologist will be able to guide you on this journey. Tease out the gut feelings from fear and paranoia, then learn to trust your judgement.
It will take you to some fantastic places if you let it.
- What Are Gut Feelings & How Can You Know When To Trust Them?https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/gut-feelings-what-they-really-are-when-to-trust-them
- The brain-gut connection https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection
- Pay attention to your gut-brain connection – it may contribute to your anxiety and digestion problems https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection