You’ve probably been told to “trust your gut” more than once in the past, but is this always good advice? Yes, a gut feeling (your intuition) can be a powerful guide when figuring out what you really want in life, but it can sometimes lead you astray. So, should you always trust your gut? Not always. In fact, here are four times when following your intuition may be a bad idea.
Four times you shouldn’t trust your gut
1. You’re blindly following your gut
It’s easy to misinterpret situations in life if you lack context. A stranger reaching into your colleague’s purse during work drinks may look like a thief, unless you know that stranger is her best friend and that your colleague asked her to grab something from her purse. Yes, this is a very literal example of why you need full context about a situation before making a decision, but you get the idea.
When you encounter a situation you’ve never experienced before, your gut will draw inspiration from any past experiences that feel similar. But, without all the details, it’s basically guessing that both experiences are the same. In short, your intuition is a good guide, but you can’t 100% trust it unless you’ve thoroughly researched a situation. Once you have all the details you need, you can better interpret the cues your gut is giving you.
2. You’re ignoring what your head and heart are telling you
Your intuition is a powerful tool, but research says the best decisions are those that are made using your head, heart and gut. Your head deals with the intellectual part of decision making – it’s the cautious friend who stops you from doing something you’ll regret because you’re caught up in the moment. Your heart handles the emotional part of making decisions – it can keep you safe, but may also stop you from doing what you truly want because of fear. Finally, your gut (or intuition) offers you prompts based on previous life experiences that you’ve long forgotten about or rationalised away.
All three can lead you astray if considered in isolation, but when you combine what makes sense on paper (head) with what feels good (heart) and your natural instinct (gut), you’re more likely to make a decision that serves your best interests.
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3. You’re out of touch with your intuition
It’s easy to confuse emotions with gut feelings, and this is even more likely if it’s been a while since you’ve tapped into your intuition. If you’ve been making intellectual decisions for a long time or simply operating on autopilot, you’re more likely to mistake negative feelings like fear as your gut warning you to not do something, or positive emotions like excitement as a sign that you’re on the right track.
However, we’ve all experienced being deathly afraid of a situation that turned out to be the right thing for us, and excited about something that turned out to be a terrible idea.
So, how can you tell the difference between your intuition and emotions?
There are two effective ways.
Firstly, emotions are usually temporary, but gut feelings continue to nag at you.
Secondly, emotions are triggered by thinking about a specific event/person/outcome, whereas gut feelings are just there and you can’t really tell why you feel the way you do.
For example, if you’ve been offered your dream job but you want to say no because you’re scared you’re not qualified enough and that you’ll end up looking incompetent, that’s an emotional response. However, if something about taking the job feels ‘off’, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, that’s a gut feeling.
4. You’re caught up in the moment
As mentioned above, gut feelings persist, while emotions tend to fade with time. We all get caught up in an exciting moment and romanticise the idea of taking a big leap of faith; however, acting on your gut instincts without giving yourself enough time can be a recipe for disaster. Of course, this doesn’t apply to a gut instinct that’s warning you of an immediate threat, for example by telling you to get out of a taxi because it feels unsafe or go into a public place when you feel like you’re being followed. However, for life and career decisions, it’s worth giving yourself at least 24 to 48 hours before acting on a gut instinct. If it’s truly your intuition at work, you’ll still feel the same way in a day or two. If, however, you were caught up in the moment, you’re likely to feel a little differently as time passes.
These are just a few ways to check if you can trust your gut when you’ve got a big decision to make. If you need more guidance, take a look at this article on six crystal-clear signs you’re about to make a decision you’ll regret.
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