While pondering whether or not to do something, we might remember the old platitude, “Trust your gut.” This is one of those pithy sayings that seems like an old wives tale to me. Whenever I’ve gone along with trusting my intuition, it’s had about a 50% success and 50% failure rate. So, trusting my intuition is about as helpful as flipping a coin to make a decision.
Trusting my gut or intuition or “instincts” has not been reliable. A lot of the time, my intuition gives me “the feels” to do or not to do something and it fails. For instance, my intuition sometimes tells me to eat macaroni and cheese for lunch. I have to pause and use reason to examine why my gut is telling me that I should eat that food.
I remember that I love the flavor of macaroni and cheese. It’s a fast, convenient food to prepare. It’s also one of my comfort foods. What my intuition fails to remind me, is that macaroni and cheese is not a good food for me to eat. It spikes my blood glucose levels, and it’s not something I should eat to maintain control of my weight.
My reasoning tells me that listening to my gut regarding macaroni and cheese is a bad idea. In the case of macaroni and cheese, my intuition is just a conditioned craving for a particular type of food. If I follow my better reasoning and enjoy positive results, the new experiences begin to reprogram my “instincts”. My evolving instincts regarding food choices become a little more trustworthy.
Much of the time we go about our days on auto-pilot. We don’t pay attention to why we decide for or against things or why we might over-rule what our guts tell us. The people who practice good habits of self-awareness and mindfulness are better able to understand their habitual thinking and know when they can safely trust their guts.
We often forget how easily we can be manipulated. Commercials, print advertising, and popular culture tug at our brains and can alter our perceptions of good judgment. We may try to envision ourselves fitting in with society or popular culture if we do or don’t buy particular products. At the very least, the social messages remain in the background of our awareness.
What we call intuition is often our brains recalling or remembering scenarios of the past. We encounter situations throughout life that have different subjects in different places, but we forget that the situations have very similar outcomes. So when we are confronted with a difficult situation we are blinded by the urgency of the new situation. At the same time, other parts of the brain recognize aspects of the new situation that are similar to past experiences. Those old, conditioned memories, “subconsciously” manifest themselves as intuition.
If we analyze our “instincts”, we discover that some of them are better than others. Oftentimes, this is because they are well-conditioned or trained better than others. For instance, in my hobby of flower arranging, I am still learning how to use shapes, sizes, types, and colors of flowers in different combinations with different types of greenery and containers.
I cringe when I see photos of some of my early projects. There are a precious few that somehow “click” with my friends’ and my own tastes. Through the process of trial and error plus repetition, my “instincts” for balance, composition, shape, and style hopefully become more sophisticated and pleasing to other people’s tastes. So, my “instincts” are becoming better trained than they were a few years ago. This fact makes my floral instincts more reliable than they were in the past.
So in the case of flower arranging, I can trust my gut a little more often. On the other hand, my instincts in this subject are still unreliable, because sometimes they enable over-confidence. Some of my experimental compositions should never have been displayed. The flubs happen when I assume my intuition is well-trained.
When all things are considered, it turns out that our trustworthy gut feelings develop from poor past judgments. It’s the ages-old process of making mistakes and learning from them. Fine-tuning our gut feelings comes about through repetition and conscious practice. This happens through mindfulness. Then we better understand how and when to trust or distrust our own instincts.
Anyway, I have a good feeling about this.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor Tony Goldwyn. “Empathy goes a long way, for sure. We cannot have healthy, loving, mutually respectful relationships without it. But we’re not psychic. At least I’m not. And intuition can only take you so far, especially when a person’s sense of safety, comfort, and self-worth hangs in the balance.”