Welcome back Misti! Founder, Creator and chief advice giver at the advice site, Whyzze. Last month she talked to us about Procrastination and gave us the six best ways to break the habit. Today’s she’s got great insight on the mind-gut connection and the validity behind the old adage “trust your gut.” Enjoy!
Do I open my own yoga studio or get another job? Should I date Adam or Grant? Will I be better moving to the Pacific Northwest or Southern California?
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Some are fairly straightforward and easily answered with a pros/cons list. If both sides are equal – the advantages don’t outweigh the disadvantages and the outcome of one decision over another won’t have a catastrophic effect on your life – then you’re free to simply flip a coin.
But what about the ones that aren’t so easy to resolve?
This is when you need to use your “gut instincts.” Sometimes your gut can help clarify the outcome you truly want. However, in more instances than you may realize, it can help you make the best decision.
The Mind-Gut Connection
Your mind and gut are connected by an extensive network of neurons, hormones and chemicals called the enteric nervous system. In fact, J. Sonnenburg, PhD. notes in his Scientific American article, “the enteric nervous system is so extensive that it can operate as an independent entity without input from our central nervous system.”
Additionally, a UCLA study appearing in the online peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology has revealed that “bacteria ingested in food can affect brain functions in humans.”
In layman’s terms, these two evidences mean that your stomach and your brain are strongly aligned and the gut feeling you get when making a decision is actually acting as a secondary brain.
When to Use Your Gut
According to Dave Snowden, the director of the ‘Cynefin Centre for Organisational Complexity’ for IBM, there are four types of situations and two where gut instinct works best:
An issue with rules and parameters already built in.
Think moving violations or speeding tickets. If you choose to speed or park illegally, you’ll most likely receive a ticket and a financial penalty. The risks and rewards are clear (a fine vs. getting somewhere faster) and you can use this info to easily make your decision.
A tricky or complicated issue.
Perhaps you’ve been cheated on. You know what was done to you and you know what problems could arise if you stay; but you care for the other person so you contemplate continuing the relationship. Maybe it will work out, maybe it won’t.
A complex issue.
These are situations where the pros and cons are less clear. Stock market and company culture decisions fall into this category. In these instances, gut level thinking is useful.
Extreme or chaotic issues.
Crises or emergencies define this category. These are situations where you have to act swiftly and decisively in the face of high stakes. They are also prime gut instinct situations.
How to Use Your Gut
Intuition isn’t so much a gift as it is a skill. That being the case, it can be learned and improved upon with a bit of practice and focus. Here are four exercises to put that practice and focus into action:
Issues with clear cut rules as well as those that are more complicated, but still easier to decide on, can serve as helpful aids when dealing with circumstances where answers aren’t as clear. What types of opportunities, people, events and choices have worked well in the past? Take those qualities and apply them to your complex or chaotic issues. Then note how your gut feels with the evaluation.
When one door closes, open another one. Just go to the first available door that meets your criteria and turn the knob. If that choice works out, great! If it doesn’t, go to the next door and do the same thing. The point is to make a selection and test it.
Pretend the issue is happening to someone else and you have to consult them; what would you advise? Or imagine your ideal outcome then work backwards on how you would get there.
If someone were threatening your life and they told you to make a decision immediately, what would you choose? Sometimes upping the ante and figuratively turning a complex issue into a chaotic one allows us to activate our gut instincts more quickly and efficiently.
While every situation may not work out the way you planned or hoped, you can get better at listening to and using your gut instincts to become more intuitive. Leave a comment on what strategies help you to make hard decisions. If you have a specific challenge you can’t seem to solve, visit whyzze.com to get personalized advice.
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