By Heather Cherry—
Everyone knows what it feels like to have a pit in your stomach. Whether it’s a current or future decision – your gut feeling or intuition will surface even if you don’t ask for it. Regardless of how or why it appears, consider what it’s trying to say.
“One of the most essential principles 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 to yourself and that your feelings are openings not only to what is happening now, but also to what is about to happen soon,” says Brianna Wiest, author of The mountain is you.
Wiest continues: “If you want to become more in tune with yourself, follow your heart, pursue your passion, find your soul – whatever it is – you must first understand that your ‘gut feeling’ can only respond to what is happening in the today. If you have an “instinct” about a future event, you are projecting.”
Here’s how to follow your gut and stop projecting the future.
Science, not prediction
The insights your gut gives you may be more directly related to science and less related to predictions. That’s because of the way the brain and body are really connected. Defined as the enteric nervous system (ENS), the ENS contains 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 carries messages between the brain and gut – for communication.
Scientists suggest that this communication pathway is why the stomach acts as the “second brain.” In addition, the gut has a unique physiological stress response. For example, when you sense danger (real or perceived), the central nervous system’s flight or fight response is activated. 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 to control digestion and release enzymes to break down food,” says Jay Pasricha, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology. “It seems incapable of thinking as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain — with profound results.”
Tune in to yourself
Your gut feeling functions to make things better – unlike your imagination, which can often make things worse. But how do you decipher instinctive feelings, fears, doubts or limiting beliefs? It all starts with how you think. “Your feelings, while valid, are not often real. They aren’t always accurate reflections of reality, but they are accurate reflections of your thoughts,” Wiest said.
Thoughts and feelings are a never-ending cycle – thoughts trigger emotions that fuel the original thought.
Experts suggest that emotions are the reactions to the thoughts you focus on and how you feel about what you are thinking about. In addition, your thoughts create your experiences; so you experience what you think. “Once you’ve come to a conclusion about yourself, you probably do two things: look for evidence that reinforces your belief or reject anything that contradicts your belief,” says psychotherapist and international best-selling author Amy Morin. “If you think you are a failure, you will feel like a failure. Then you act like a failure, which reinforces your belief that you must be a failure.”
Using intuition to empower decisions
Your gut feeling or intuition is like a muscle that you can strengthen with deliberate practice. “We try to use our instincts as mechanisms for divination, and we get stuck because we trust everything we feel instead of distinguishing what is an actual reaction and what is a projection,” Wiest said.
Here are a few ways to use your intuition and stop projecting the future.
Rate your first response.
Your first reaction is often the wisest response because your body uses your subconscious – before your brain can guess. Use this to your advantage by staying in the moment and asking yourself what is true – what is now? Remember that first reactions can be an automatic response based on past experience or trauma, so don’t listen to it completely, but judge what it means.
Identify the difference between instinct and fear.
Anxiety is often accompanied by bodily sensations – tension, panic or despair. Intuition, on the other hand, is subtle and gentle. Intuition can feel like a guiding energy – often like the urge to move forward, even if it means taking a risk or slowing down.
Test your ability to listen to your intuition by practicing small decisions with minimal consequences. This can look like wearing an unexpected outfit without thinking too much about it or speaking out in a meeting without censoring yourself. Over time, this will increase your intuitive comfort level.
Focus on your values.
Your core values represent what matters most to you: informing the source of your frustration or leading you to happiness. Return to your core values to gain perspective on your situation. How do they support or clash with what your instinct says?
Find ways to practice self-care—by eliminating stress and distractions—so you can become more aware of what your gut feeling is trying to convey. “Intuition cannot thrive in crowded, stressful environments. Allow your mind to wander and make connections,” says 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 of experience in content creation. She writes on a variety of topics but specializes in health and wellness content. She is the author of the Small Business Marketing Guide, Market your A$$ discount.