December 13, 2023
 - Tuning Into The Gut
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December 13, 2023

“I felt it in my gut” is more than just a figure of speech - it’s an acknowledgement of our powerful intuitive capacity. As cognitive scientist Daniel Kahneman’s stated in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” we have two distinct systems guiding our judgment: System 1, which operates automatically on gut instinct, and the slower, analytical System 2. Both have biases, but our intuitive reactions often distill truth efficiently. 

In a society which venerates only rationality, we learn to chronically mistrust our instincts. We prize logic, spreadsheets, data - things that can be quantified, measured and explained. When making big decisions, we convince ourselves that emotionless analysis is always optimal. So we program spreadsheets, research every option, weigh pros and cons - all in the quest for certainty.

In reality, this often leads us astray. We see our gut reactions as too fuzzy, too risky compared to reasoned logic. But as Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” What we dismiss as illogical hunches are often our subconscious drawing connections the conscious mind misses.

Intuition works through pattern recognition, emotional intelligence, metaphor, symbols - things our linear minds often short circuit around. There are modes of understanding uniquely wired into in our mammal brains, instincts attuned over our evolution which allow us to effortlessly "size up" complex dynamics. Think Malcolm Gladwell's concept of thin-slicing.

When it comes to major decisions, could it be that hyper-analysis leads us awry precisely due to overconfidence in our conscious limits? Do we in fact have a far deeper wisdom available if we learn to get out of our own way? One that patiently works through symbols, sensations, pullings - whispering truths we need to slow down to hear over the din of data and logic? Often what the mind convinces us is certainty based on rationality, yet it turns out to be anything but. We end up cutting ourselves off from truths that can only be channeled through presence.

How I Overrode Intuition

In my own life, one pivotal example came early in my 10-year marriage. My wife and I were house hunting in Boulder, Colorado when I felt an immediate, positive gut reaction to one listing. Beyond the practical assets, something about it felt curiously right in ways I couldn’t pinpoint. 

But wanting a new construction home, my wife insisted we buy in a distant suburb instead. I knew intrinsically this didn’t align with my personal goals or lifestyle aspirations, or what her and I previously shared as goals. With compromise in mind, I ignored my misgivings. 

Over the next decade, those initial instincts only grew louder with each time I ignored my gut instincts, signaling I’d betrayed my North Star. I became plagued by a sense of playing small - eventually manifesting through health impacts that further confirmed that truth. As research shows, overriding core intuitions day after day creates a real psycho-physiological toll. The body keeps the score. In this case, a divorce and the loss of my gallbladder. Interestingly in Chinese Medicine the gallbladder is tied to courage, and a lack of which leads to stagnation. Coincidence? I don't think so. 

Why We Stop Listening 

The reasons we learn to mistrust our inner wisdom vary, often tracing back to childhood. For some, pursuing gut feelings meant being scolded for selfishness or irrationality. For others, core intuitions went ignored so regularly that the instinct to defer to them eroded over time.  

In relationships, common themes also emerge in why we silence intuition: Conflict avoidance, fear of abandonment if we disrupt harmony, or feeling unworthy of advocating for our needs around certain partners. We may opt for logical analysis that preserves the status quo, even when it aligns far less with our souls. These are sins we commit against ourselves, I’ve certainly been guilty of this practice. 

The Inner Compass 

The good news is we all have an inner compass guiding us, however buried it may feel initially. A few good examples of gut feelings might be:

  • A strong sense of “knowing” without a rational reason
  • A slight physical cue like a churning in your stomach
  • An immediate positive or negative reaction, like attraction or aversion
  • Goosebumps, chills, or hair standing up
  • Nagging doubt, caution, or hesitation about a decision
  • Increase in heart rate or feelings of anxiety about a choice

Reconnecting starts with identifying why you override intuition in the first place. Simply bringing those patterns into consciousness can begin shifting them. Try slowing down for clarity by pausing to consult your intuition before deciding. Here are some simple steps that have worked for me:  

  1. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths.   
  2. State a clear question to yourself, say it out loud. 
  3. Pose two or more options to yourself. Say each option out loud so you can hear your vocal tone and intonation. 
  4. Notice which possibility makes your body feel open, energized, warm. Which elicits tension or nervousness?
  5. Choose the path aligned with the warm and open reaction.

Those sensations offer clues into which direction reflects your deeper truth. Start small by listening to guidance around low-stakes choices, then build confidence in your instincts over time. Eventually, pivotal moments become less overwhelming as you consistently strengthen the intuition muscle.  

Ultimately, reconnecting to your gut is about learning to have your back. It's about having confidence in the navigational abilities of the body as much as the mind. As my childhood icon, Bruce Lee once said - 

“What we are after is the root and not the branches. The root is real knowledge; the branches are surface knowledge. Real knowledge breeds “body feel” and personal expression; surface knowledge breeds mechanical conditioning and imposing limitation and squelches creativity. Don’t think – feel. Feeling exists here and now when not interrupted and dissected by ideas or concepts. The moment we stop analyzing and let go, we can start really seeing, feeling – as one whole.

Pay attention to when and why you override core inklings about what you need - then compassionately start building trust with yourself again. That inner wisdom has been speaking volumes all along, softly waiting for us to hear its gentle guidance once more.

author avatar
George Morris
I use my 20+ years of entrepreneurial experience and training to coach businesses on scaling up rapidly using Verne Harnish's Scaling Up framework. By doing so, my clients are more efficient and profitable, giving them the ability to make bigger impacts in the world. I deeply believe entrepreneurs are the best equipped to be the vehicle for meaningful change, and in the decade ahead, we'll see a substantial shift in how business is done. We'll move to a model where company purpose, impact, curiosity, and team health will be differentiators in overall business success. As Simon Sinek has pointed out, the finite games are the legacy of the past; we're moving to an infinite game.