4 Ways to Get Dangerously Effective Gut Instincts


I remember cruising around Minneapolis where I went to university, legs up on the dashboard, my best friend navigating us down the road "from her gut." At the time I thought it was something so silly. Yet I've never heard her {or anyone actually} say, "I regret going with my gut!"

Most of us have experienced the sense of knowing something before we've known it - and can't explain why. Stalling at a green light and missing a biker you didn't see, breaking your no blind-date policy on a whim and meeting your life partner, or that sudden hunch that something's up. 

A little voice in the head. A twitchy tingle. A sudden urge. These are our gut feelings. But what are they saying? Should we listen?

According to researchers, intuition is far more tangible that it seems. 


Brain to GUT

The Autonomic Nervous system is made up of three parts - parasympathetic {PNS}, Sympathetic {SNS} and Enteric {ENS}. When our sympathetic nervous system freaks out in a fight or flight response, the body is flooded with stress hormones. The vagus nerve, extending like fiber optic cables into the organs, sends messages via it's tendrils to calm everything down. Centered in the solar plexus, this system has been described as a "second brain."



Gut to Brain

The gut uses the vagus as a walkie talkie with the brain, communicating the state of our viscera - over. crrrcht. Via electrical signals, the vagus tells the brain about our moods - like anxiety and fear. It tells our brain how we're really feeling.

Visceral, tactile senses and gut instincts are literally emotional knowings transferred up to our brains via the vagus nerve. Studies have shown that the data coming through the walkie talkie influences our mood.

In other words, gut instincts are real and they have a say in how we respond to fear.


Trust Your Feelings? Maybe Not.

David Myers, PhD, a social psychologist, explains that the intuitive right brain is “reading” our surroundings, even when our conscious left brain is doing something else. This data gets registered while the conscious mind remains blissfully unaware of what’s going on.

But gut instincts are far from perfectly wise. The right brain always identifies patterns that can trigger suspicions of unfamiliar {but not dangerous} things, or cause us to not like someone simply because they remind us of someone else. Also, we create unconscious beliefs through social conditioning - which factors into first impressions and decisions. But the unconscious reasons could be distorted. So, it can be good to check our gut feelings with our rational mind. 

So how do we choose which gut feelings to trust?

Judith Orloff, PhD, an intuitive psychiatrist and author of Second Sight, suggests that it’s a matter of “combining the linear mind and intuition,” and balancing gut instinct and rational thinking. Once we’ve noticed a feeling, we can weigh our choices and decide how best to act.

To that end, here are some gut feelings to pay attention to:

1. Bodily Cues

Physical experiences can also have symbolic value. Our bodies communicate when they're using more energy than they're getting. If we stay in a situation that makes us feel instantly depleted {like taking a job after a crappy-feeling interview}, it can easily lead to a situation where we feel stuck, depressed or anxious.

2. Survival Cues

In his book, Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, David G. Meyers writes that our survival gut instincts are socio-historical. He believes that the feeling we get about a person in the first 10 seconds is “ancient biological wisdom.” Early humans who could quickly tell whether a stranger was friend or foe were more likely to survive - creating more humans who could read emotions on faces.

3. Sympathy Instincts

Sympathy is a basic instinct. The parts of our brain that consider what other people are feeling have been favoured evolutionarily. 

Micro gestures can make a big difference in someone's day, and the sympathy instinct is what nudges us to strike up a convo with a nervous kid getting left out of the basketball game, or to change the topic when wedding talk makes a divorced friend shrink. The ability to identify empathetically with other people's faces is what would cause us to protest at Standing Rock, or donate to charity.

As it turns out, helping is a naturally rewarding process. There's a well-studied phenomenon called the “helper’s high,” where people helping others actually get boosts in mood, immunity and well-being.

Listening to gut instincts for sympathy and generosity is generally good investment in your own health and happiness, too.


4. Just Knowing

When we get signals that something or someone truly right for us, it often becomes strangely clear and we don't overthink it. 

When I made the decision to live, self-study, and teach at a meditation retreat center in Cambodia for six months - it was as if the idea came, it fell into place, and I just knew it was the next step for me.  

Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide agrees that when we’re making a big decision with consequences - we’re best off deciding from the gut. His research in the processes of decision-making actually recommends that we “think less about choices we care a lot about.”

This may be the sweetest reason to cultivate a dangerously strong gut instinct - it leads us to the most satisfying and fulfilling choices.


What's an Instinct Like?

The most helpful thing we can do for ourselves is to be present - which is where the feelings are. A moment-to-moment awareness is what opens us up to cues.

During a moment of intuition, the go-ahead instinctive responses could feel like:

  • Easy breathing
  • A sweeping wave of goosebumps
  • Warmth inside or a subtle spreading feeling in the chest
  • A softening in the gut, jaw and shoulders

During warning instincts, a heck-no could feel like:

  • A headache all of a sudden
  • Low energy
  • Being on-guard and ready to react
  • A nauseating chill
  • A twinge of pain somewhere in the body


Ready, Gut, Go!

Each and every one of us has an experiences centre - which stores info that our conscious minds don't always have access to. 

Trusting our gut is like trusting a masterful collection of experiences we've gained from years of living.

Our gut is fortified with info ready for us. The art is to simply notice and reflect but not overthink.

Developing our gut instincts helps us to find relationships that resonate and to connect with people from the heart. It helps us to be more clever decision-makers and to experience life more deeply instead of living by default.  By carving out reflection time, we have access to information that supports our self-respect so that we act in ways that we're proud of, and make decisions we're happier with. 

For daily mindful moments of guided reflection through some of these things, you can join me for free on the Aura App.

With Love,


Lauren Ziegler1 Comment