While some people think the notion of following their gut instinct is silly or illogical, there are many others who are guided by their gut on a daily basis. The feeling—which typically strikes as a pang-like sensation in the gut and carries with it undeniably strong vibes about a situation—may have its share of naysayers. However, the idea of going with your gut is actually backed by science, and plenty of people can vouch for its benefits.
The gut-mind connection
According to experts at the American Psychological Association, there’s a direct link between your brain activity and the microbiome (or bacteria) in your gut. These researchers have pointed to studies involving tests on rodents; when changes were made in their gut bacteria, changes in brain chemistry were also observed, including fluctuations in emotion, pain perception and how the rodents responded to stress. In fact, several experts call the gut—which actually has its own independent nervous system—our “second brain.”
Emeran Mayer, MD, who is the director of the Center for Neurobiology of Stress at the University of California, says that the gut plays “a critical role for mind states,” and its ability to interact with the brain helps keep people away from potentially dangerous situations.
Likewise, researchers have noted that this process also works the other way around; what your brain thinks can influence gut bacteria, as is the case when a person experiences high levels of stress and in turn develop knots in their stomach.
Clearly, the gut-mind connection is a strong one. There’s definitely something to be said for listening to your inner voice, so never dismiss its importance.
Trusting your gut to escape dangerous situations
Paying attention to your gut instinct can be as simple as meeting someone’s gaze and trusting that instant feeling that the person is up to no good. You may not be able to pinpoint their exact intent, but you just can’t shake the thought that something bad might happen. The other individual doesn’t have to say anything or reach out physically; the feeling that sweeps over you is one that renders you leery. If this happens, go with your gut and remove yourself from the situation. Walk to another section of the store, or leave it altogether. Change your seat on the subway, or get off a stop sooner.
Don’t fight the urge for fear you might look strange (who’s going to know what stop you were getting off at anyway?) or because you might be late to an appointment. It’s better to experience a slight inconvenience when a more threatening situation could have occurred. It’s even more important to listen to your gut if you are alone or in an unfamiliar environment.
Obtaining success by listening to your inner voice
If family members or friends are often suggesting you forego a career or personal dream but your gut has always told you otherwise, go for it! If you’re trying to decide how much attention to pay to a gut feeling about your life path, consider whether it continually tells you something in the face of resistance around you. If your gut instinct is strong and you’re always experiencing positive emotions when you think of your goals, consider taking steps to fulfill those aims.
The very successful Oprah Winfrey is a believer in trusting your gut instincts, saying that going against them can throw our lives off track either momentarily or for a long while. For her entire life, she’s embraced her inner voice. She explains that the only times she experienced setbacks were when she chose to ignore that guiding instinct.
A path towards happiness
While there are certain situations that drive life’s ebbs and flows (such as unforeseen problems or sudden challenges), your gut instinct will always remain, helping you to navigate. That inner voice isn’t always a dramatic nudging that has to do with avoiding dangerous circumstances or becoming a rising workplace star—gut instincts can be more subtle, yet just as crucial to happiness. Smaller life decisions such as making a purchase or befriending someone can also drive your emotional satisfaction. If getting together with a new friend “feels right,” and puts a smile on your face instead of zapping your energy, make it part of a routine.
From career changes and wanting to leave a party before you even knock on the door to simply choosing to jog on a different route or shop in a new store, several aspects of life allow you to experience the gut-mind balance firsthand. In these moments, the two are working together to help you do what’s best for you. Whether you listen to those gut instincts or not is entirely your call, but if you do, chances are you’ll be on your way to more happiness and success than ever before.