How often have you heard the phrase "trust your gut?" Or "whatever decision you make will be right for you?"
For someone who has limited life experience and who has not had to make many tough decisions, I could never understand how these platitudes could be true.
However, in the past week, I had to make a very unexpected decision — quite a significant one in the space of just a day. During this process, I realised the importance of trusting your gut.
As a notorious pro and con list maker and opportunity cost weigher, this concept was rather foreign to me. How on earth can people place any weight on their personal feelings towards something over what research suggests? It did get me thinking though, about the idea of trusting your gut.
The classic expression is not referring to your literal stomach. It instead references your intuition. This is the initial instinct or voice that can influence every decision we make, especially difficult ones.
The brain signals the sympathetic nervous system to send neural impulses that gives the driving feeling in your stomach. This instinctive response is designed to protect you from making what the mind perceives to be a bad decision.
Yet, relying on our intuition generally has a reputation for disastrous ramifications. You may associate it with the burning rage that results in doors slamming or teary confrontations. This poor reputation is particularly perpetuated in the Western part of the world where pragmatic thinking has been encouraged for decades.
Gradually, many have come to think that humans have evolved from primitive thought processes to analytical thinking. As a result, you may view intuition or our emotions as fallible.
Granted, acting on your emotions in the moment can perhaps lead to poor choices. However, intuition is actually separate from emotion. It is imperative that we notice this chasm between them. The brain gathers information in the form of patterns.
Research on the predictive processing framework suggests that the brain is a large predictive machine. This is because it is continuously comparing experiences and sensory information against stored expertise and memories. This is what allows the brain to predict what is coming next in the form of intuition.
Next time instead of snapping into research mode and making decision-based purely based on findings, take a moment. Personally, I have learned that things are not always what they seem. More often than not your gut will be trying to tell you just that. So when that inner voice tries to make itself heard, it might be time for you to listen.
• Writer Lilli Scott is a former journalism intern at NZME, dux of Aquinas College, and proud recipient of the University of Otago Academic Excellence Entrance Scholarship. Now studying English and politics at Otago, with dreams of one day being a foreign correspondent, Lilli writes monthly for Indulge.