Intuition and Your Gut: How to Tell the Difference

Emotion is frequently mistaken as intuition. We often hear phrases like "go with your gut." But is our gut feeling the same as intuition?

In the past, there culturally seems to have been an emphasis in valuing analytic thinking as the ideal way to make important decisions in life. Even something as simple as writing out a list of pros and cons between two options, for example.

But things have slowly been evolving.

Emotions seem to carry a bit more weight now - as far as being a "valid" way to approach decision-making. We're often asked how we FEEL about something. For example, maybe we're debating whether to take a job opportunity that's been presented to us. If we're struggling with our decision, a friend might ask us something like, "how would taking this job make you feel?"

While I do think this question is helpful and certainly deserves attention, it presupposes that how we feel about something - the emotions we attach to something or a particular scenario, is what we should follow when making difficult decisions. We've all been told by others at some point to just "trust your gut" or "go with your gut instinct."

Understanding how we feel about things is definitely a good thing. It helps us to move beyond just experiencing the world through our thinking mind.

However, it becomes problematic if we rely solely on emotion to show us where to go when we're feeling lost.

Just like how we are not our thoughts, we are likewise not our emotions. They can't always be trusted as a means to guide us. I'm sure we can all think of previous experiences in our lives, where our emotions had led us astray.

You see, your gut gives you feedback about how you feel about something - based on your past experiences. For example, maybe you were cheated on by a previous partner. And now, whenever your current partner makes new friends, you feel anxious and threatened - because you're afraid your current partner will also cheat on you. Your gut is telling you you're unsafe - even though they would never do that and are totally committed to you.

Our mind has a deep-seated need to see patterns. It takes information from the past - and uses it to understand the present and anticipate the future. In this example, our gut is working to keep us safe from the pain and trauma we had experienced when we were cheated on in the past. It becomes part of our fight or flight response.

These patterns (or essentially conditioned responses), can show up in many facets of our lives - from work to our intimate relationships. And it's important to recognize that these patterns or conditioned responses have influenced our lives and brought us to where we are today.

Unfortunately, they are not always for our greatest good. In the example above, it doesn't serve us if we now run a pattern of becoming guarded or running away out of fear, whenever we're beginning to get too close to a new partner because we're afraid of getting hurt again.

We must learn to change these patterns so that we can create new and different experiences for ourselves in the future. Because so long as we're running the same patterns, we will manifest the same internal experiences.

For example, if we run away when we get too close in one relationship, we'll be presented with the same exact experience with the next person - even though it's a totally different person. Therefore, we must learn to shift our own emotional patterning, if our goal is to experience more fulfilling relationships.

For us to access new ways of being in the world, we cannot just follow our gut instincts. We cannot use emotions as our sole guide.

Now, I'm not saying emotions and the information we receive from our gut is not important. It's just that there is a difference between our emotions and intuition - and part of our self-development journey is learning how to differentiate between the two. By doing so, we can leverage our emotions to help us consciously create what we would like to invite into our lives, rather than letting hidden, conditioned patterns run the show.

Learning to recognize the trustworthy voice of intuition over that which is tainted by anxiety, fear or wishful thinking is a huge part of "just knowing" what is best for you. With intuition, there is a sense of calm - and a knowingness that is confident and secure. You can tell that there is no attachment to any particular outcome.

Whereas with gut instinct, there is a sense of wanting to run away. And sometimes it may even seem like you're running towards something. But if you look deeper, it's actually compelled by a feeling of wanting to run away from something else.

Unlike intuition, which comes across as calm and confident - instinct typically feels excited but insecure and driven by an attachment to something or wanting a particular outcome to happen.

There is a time and place for when gut instincts are helpful. They can be an indicator of real danger or when we're in an unhealthy situation. However, if you're finding that your gut instinct is often sabotaging your life or your healthy relationships due to anxiety or fear, try to practice things that can help calm your mind. For many, mindfulness practices such as meditation and journaling are beneficial in allowing you to access and trust your intuition.