Following Your Gut Instincts

Katie Young
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Wednesday - December 10, 2008

Going with your gut and knowing when to speak up could save your life and the lives of people you love.

It’s that simple.

Many of us can attest to a time when we had a “gut instinct” that something wasn’t quite right.

But how many of us actually speak up when those intense feelings hit us? I would guess more of us should be speaking up than actually are.

It’s hard to tell someone - even someone you’re close to - that you have a bad feeling about something they’re about to do, like get on a plane or drive somewhere in the car. Understandably, you might feel silly saying something you have no hard evidence to prove.

Maybe you’ve been at a party with some friends who are drinking too much. Even if they’re not getting in a car to drive somewhere, perhaps you just feel uncomfortable about the amount of liquor they’ve consumed and what it might do to their body. But would you say something? Would you be willing to dial 911 before something really went wrong or would you assume your friend could sleep it off and everything would be OK?

Or let’s say you’re with some friends riding in a car and the driver is going so fast that the speed alone makes you a bit uneasy. It might be difficult or embarrassing to be the one to speak up and say, “Please slow down.” When you’re younger you run the risk of alienating your friends if you’re seen as the one guy who can’t just let loose, relax and have some fun.

A very dear friend of mine lost someone he really cared for because he didn’t speak up when he had the chance. He thought everything would work out and everything would be OK. He thought his job was to just “be around” and support his friend who was obviously in trouble. He thought his friend would figure things out for himself soon enough. But he didn’t. And he ended up accidentally taking his own life and the lives of two other friends in a car crash.

An article in Psychology Today explains, “Intuitions, or gut feelings, are sudden, strong judgments whose origin we can’t immediately explain. Although they seem to emerge from an obscure inner force, they actually begin with a perception of something outside.

“The best explanation psychologists now offer is that intuition is a mental matching game. The brain takes in a situation, does a very quick search of its files, and then finds its best analogue among the stored sprawl of memories and knowledge. Based on that analogy, you ascribe meaning to the situation in front of you.”

So intuition, then, comes from a very real place of thought - not just some passing psychic fancy. And the feelings you experience are quite real.

The article continues, “Experience is encoded in our brains as a web of fact and feeling. When a new experience calls up a similar pattern, it doesn’t unleash just stored knowledge but also an emotional state of mind and a predisposition to respond in a certain way.”

Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to be the one to go with your gut instinct and speak up about a situation that could potentially be life-threatening for you or someone you love. Perhaps the person involved might not listen to you anyway, so why bother, right? Ignoring those nagging feelings, however, could land you in a far worse situation.

More than that, failing to speak up could have far worse consequences down the road as well. We can’t assume that nothing bad could ever happen. And you don’t want to be left wondering in vain if you had just said something when you had that instinct, could it have made all the difference.

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