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What is intuition and when should you trust in it?

Some individuals take pride in possessing a strong gut instinct, many years of their experience now guides and determines their important life choices. On the contrary, some individuals are reluctant to base their decisions on gut feelings; they often consider intuition as something instinctively biased and emotional. 

Intuition is often mistakenly viewed as something developed all of a sudden. But in reality, it is something that develops over a period of time and is largely determined by a variety of factors such as past experiences, current knowledge, and professional experiences. It is generally defined as a sense of sudden realization, clarity, or surety about something without having a logical explanation or reason for this particular feeling. Intuition isn’t merely a thought, rather it is a strong uncontrollable urge that compels us to do a particular action either to avoid something, flee from it or pursue someone or some situation. This uncontrollable urge requires much effort to resist. 

Gut feeling or intuition should not always be viewed as a haphazard, dumb, or whimsical phenomenon. Rather, it is a much more sophisticated phenomenon based on objective and subjective experiences. Psychologist and author of “Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious” Gerd Gigerenzer considered intuition as a manifestation of unconscious intelligence. It usually encompasses perception of what you had experienced prior, that has now become a part of one’s unconscious mind, a form of “information processing”. Intuition usually manifests itself through a variety of sensations in the body such as racing heart, nausea, goosebumps, choking sensation, sweating, and butterflies in the stomach, etc; It is a small internal voice to do a particular task.

Neuroscientific basis of Intuition

Many researchers offer a different explanation for this phenomenon. Our brain consistently gathers and processes sensory information received through the environment. Intuition is also linked with complex brain processes such as evaluation and decoding of nonverbal cues from the environment. These cues largely work on a subconscious level, which simply means we are not observing or registering them consciously. Our brain automatically prepares us to deal with such situations. My own gut instinct has helped me multiple times in life. Once, I had been walking through an area under construction, suddenly I felt a strong urge to walk through the opposite side, there was no clear reason behind this urge, but I can’t resist it. A few moments later, few bricks fell down right there where I had been walking. I gaped in distrust, with a racing heart and sweaty palms. I felt glad that I relied on my gut instinct that helped me to avoid any serious injury. But the question is “How did I know that would happen? This gut sensation was not something unusual, maybe my brain observed something subconsciously, or had read some nonverbal cues such as a sound of something falling during construction without consciously registering them. It might be I had picked up that clue and followed it without realizing it. This clearly symbolizes our brain possesses a lot more information to compare already held information with our current encounters.

Certain areas in our brain provide a strong biological basis for our gut instincts. Amygdala is largely linked to our emotions particularly with relationship memories. The Hippocampus located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain serves the function of constantly comparing incoming sensory information with already gathered memories i.e. it is responsible to get a match or mismatch with already stored knowledge. It automatically makes this comparison between prior models and current experiences on a subconscious level. Whenever there is a discrepancy it does not get registered in our conscious mind, however,  signals us in the form of gut sensation.

Some neuroscientists suggest that the mind is an entwined system of our brain and body. This perspective supports the idea that autonomic nervous system arousal leads to physical signs of gut sensation, often resulted in responses such as palpitations, sweating, choking sensations, butterflies in the stomach, etc.

Others suggest that the origin of gut feelings has not been determined yet. But this is not something happening randomly – gut-brain connection is quite significant, our emotional experiences often manifest themselves as gastrointestinal distress. For instance, if an individual is walking down alone across a road in the darkness of the night – feeling anxious and fearful, might experiencing sudden discomfort in the stomach or a feeling of nausea, etc.  But that does not mean intuition and anxiousness are the same; there is a marked difference between the two. Once you make a decision, gut sensations tend to fade or pass away and you feel a sudden surge of peace swept through your mind and whole body. On the contrary, anxiety makes you constantly apprehensive, alerts you to potential threats. When your anxiousness about one thing gets resolved, you might start getting anxious about another situation or decision. So you need to identify whether it is your gut feeling that is pushing you to make a decision or your anxious thoughts?

When should you rely on our gut Instinct?

As it’s neuroscientifically proven that our brain possesses the ability to make predictions about situations by comparing it with incoming information through sensory modalities, present happenings, and previous experiences held in our unconscious mind.  So the question is “Under what circumstances, a person can rely on gut feeling? Here is a look at few scenarios where trusting in your gut feeling might be quite helpful for you:What is intuition and when should you trust in it - When should you rely on our gut Instinct - TDN Blog

  • When you have to deal with uncertain situations 

Intuition plays a significant role in uncertain circumstances, particularly where situations put you in dilemma, and you feel unable to make a final conclusion, just on the basis of gathered information and detailed analysis of the situation. For instance, surgeons while making surgeries often make abrupt decisions based on their gut instincts while employing unusual surgical steps, particularly to deal with matters of life and death. Similarly, players often take risks by relying on subtle signs and cues, taking quick decisions based on gut feeling particularly in a win or lose situation. 

Context is quite noteworthy in which a person is about to make a decision. If an individual is working in a situation where successful models have already been implemented and proven successful, and can be practiced in a new setting without having much uncertainty. In such scenarios, gut instinct is not really helpful. On the other hand, if a person is thinking about implementing unusual or some out-of-the-box idea, gut instinct is pretty helpful.

  • When time is very limited

At times it happens, that you don’t have enough time to ponder about things, weigh different options, take reviews from different individuals, or compare them to reach a final conclusion. For instance, you want to buy a piece of land, the location seems nice, the rates are reasonable, and the neighborhood is good enough. You want to buy it, but prefer to take few days to research potential flaws before reaching a final conclusion. As you are taking a quick tour, the marketing manager tells you that you have half an hour to decide, some other buyers are also interested and waiting, so I can’t give you much time to think. In that situation, it is your gut feeling that will help you to reach the final conclusion.

  • When its a matter of your safety and well-being

Our gut instincts are primal internal urges and alarms that play a significant role in our survival. Relying on them is critical in situations where a certain decision is responsible for maintaining our safety and wellbeing. For instance, you experience a sudden feeling of uneasiness or feel suspiciousness when you meet a particular person. You are unable to make a logical or reasonable explanation behind this uneasiness and suspiciousness, but your hunch warns you that something is not right.

What you really need at the moment, logical explanations sometimes are not able to answer it then your gut feelings provide the answer. After a hectic day, you are invited to attend a family wedding, but you really don’t want to go. You feel extremely tired and exhausted. Loud music and the crowded place does not seem fascinating much to you that you decide to spend that evening there. Even though logic and reason try to convince you that once you will get there, you will feel a little bit better, but deep inside your gut feelings warn you “Not to go there”. Here you need to listen and interpret your body signals to take an ultimate decision. Gut feelings here ensure your well-being (leave this gathering and take some rest) at the moment.

  • When you don’t have sufficient information

Often at times, it happens that we can’t only rely on facts, or we have some data not pretty enough to guide us to make a decision. When it happens, you can rely on your emotions – your sense of self is the guiding hand behind your decisions then.

So, logical and rational thinking skills are not workable always, there are situations when your intuition is quite helpful. The role of intuition cannot be disregarded in decision-making – both Intuition and analytic decision-making are essential skills in taking important life choices. 

Think differently and never ever ignore the voice of your gut instinct.

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