By Heather Cherry—
Everyone knows what it feels like to have a pit in your stomach. Whether it’s because of a current or future decision—your gut feeling or intuition shows up even when you’re not asking it to. Regardless of how or why it shows up, consider what it’s trying to say.
“One of the most essential tenets of modern wisdom is that deep down; you know the truth about everything in your life, and by extension, your future. The idea is that you are an oracle unto yourself, and your feelings are apertures into not only what’s happening now, but what’s going to happen soon,” said Brianna Wiest, author of The Mountain Is You.
Wiest continues, “if you want to tune into yourself more, follow your heart, pursue your passion, find your soul—whatever it is—the first thing you have to understand is that your “gut instinct” can only respond to what’s happening in the present. If you have an “instinct” about a future event, you’re projecting.”
Here’s how to follow your gut and stop projecting the future.
Science Not Prediction
The insights your gut is giving you may be more directly related to science and less related to prediction. That’s because of how interconnected the brain and body truly are. Defined as the enteric nervous system (ENS), the ENS incorporates more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract. The ENS can operate independently of the brain and spinal cord but relies on the same type of neurons and neurotransmitters found in the central nervous system. And it depends on the vagus nerve—the nerve that conveys messages between the brain and gut—for communication.
Scientists suggest this communication pathway is why the stomach acts as the “second brain.” Additionally, the gut has a unique physiological stress response. For example, when you feel danger (whether real or perceived,) the flight or fight response of the central nervous system is triggered. The ENS is simultaneously activated by slowing down or stopping digestion to conserve the body’s energy so it can respond to the threat.
“The main role of the ENS is controlling digestion and releasing enzymes to help break down food,” said Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology. “It doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.”
Tuning Into Yourself
Your gut instinct functions to make things better—different from your imagination which can often make things worse. But how do you decipher instinctual feelings, fears, doubts, or limiting beliefs? It all starts with how you think. “Your feelings, while valid, are not often real. They are not always accurate reflections of reality—however, they are accurate reflections of your thoughts,” Wiest said.
Thoughts and feelings are a never-ending cycle—thoughts trigger emotions that feed the original thought.
Experts suggest that emotions are the reactions to the thoughts you focus on and how you feel about what you’re thinking about. Additionally, your thoughts create your experiences; thus, you experience what you think. “Once you make a conclusion about yourself, you’re likely to do two things—look for evidence that reinforces your belief or discount anything that runs contrary to your belief,” said psychotherapist and international bestselling author Amy Morin. “If you think you’re a failure, you’ll feel like a failure. Then you’ll act like a failure, reinforcing your belief that you must be a failure.”
Leveraging Intuition To Empower Decisions
Your gut feeling or intuition is like a muscle you can strengthen with intentional practice. “We try to use our instincts as fortune-telling mechanisms, and we end up stuck because we trust every single thing that we feel instead of discerning what’s an actual reaction and what’s a projection,” said Wiest.
Here are a few ways to leverage your intuition and stop projecting the future.
Assess your first reaction.
Your first reaction is often the wisest reaction because your body uses your subconscious mind—that is before your brain can second-guess it. Use this to your advantage by staying in the moment and asking yourself what is true—what is right now? Remember, first reactions may be an automatic response based on past experiences or trauma, so don’t listen to it entirely, but do assess what it means.
Identify the difference between instinct and fear.
Fear tends to be accompanied by bodily sensations—tension, panic, or desperation. In contrast, intuition is subtle and gentle. Intuition may feel like a guiding energy—often like the urge to move forward, even if that means pursuing a risk or moving slower.
Test your ability to listen to your intuition by practicing small decisions with minimal consequences. This might look like wearing an unexpected outfit without overthinking it or speaking up in a meeting without censoring yourself. Over time, this will boost your intuition comfort level.
Focus on your values.
Your core values represent what’s most important to you—informing the source of your frustration or leading you toward happiness. Revert to your core values to gain perspective on your situation. How do they support or conflict what your gut instinct is saying?
Find ways to practice self-care—eliminating stress and distractions—so you can be more keenly aware of what your gut is trying to communicate. “Intuition can’t flourish in busy, stressful environments. Give your mind space to wander and make connections,” said Melody Wilding, LMSW, executive coach and author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work.
Heather Cherry is a versatile writer and editor with 15 years’ experience creating content. She writes on a variety of topics, but specializes in health and wellness content. She is the author of the small business marketing guidebook, Market Your A$$ Off.