Why You Shouldn't Always Trust Your Gut Instinct

by Paul Hudson

Our life is a chain reaction of decisions. One decision leads to future events that require further decision-making — which in turn require more decision-making. We’ve all heard discussions about the validity of “destiny” and whether or not we as people are capable of writing our own. There are those that will vouch for either side, some strongly believing that we are no more capable of deciding our futures than a ball has when dropped from a height. These people believe fate to be like gravity — a force with one single calculable path.

Most, however, believe that the decisions that we do make we could have opted out of by our free will — that our decisions are not predetermined by our current state. Personally, I don’t think it matters which side is correct. Sure, for philosophical amusement, it’s nice to argue for either side; but because we don’t and likely never will know whether we are in control of our lives or whether we are no more than a domino in a long chain of actions and reactions, it’s best to do what we can to make decisions that are most likely to bring about positive results — results that we want.

There are two ways that we choose to make a decision; both of which we are all familiar with because we have been using them all our lives. Of course, some opt for one more often than the other, but regardless, we have all either took the time to rationalize before making a decision or went with what we call our “gut instinct.” How many of you have heard the saying: “your gut instinct is right 90% of the time”?

What exactly does this even mean? Gut instincts are our initial reaction to a situation; it’s the first thought or thoughts that pop into our heads when we are presented with options. Gut instinct is another name for intuition — the ability to understand something immediately without cognitive reasoning. “Without cognitive reasoning” is a dangerous combination of words. Take a moment to rationalize how likely it is that a decision that we make on a whim is the correct one (assuming there is a correct one, of course).

When most people go on their gut feelings, they are not hedging their bets on a 90% success rate, but rather on a 50% success rate; you are either right or wrong — 50-50. There are only three acceptable explanations for why a person would decide to dominantly rely on their intuition. One, they have gotten lucky with the coin flip several times in the past and are under the illusion that their gut instinct produces decisions of substance.

Two, they believe there is some outside force directing them towards the correct decision — call it God, fate, lady luck or some spiritual energy that keeps the world in balance. Or three, they have been making such decisions for years and have mastered the subject matter — they have the experience necessary to make a gut instinct a reliable one. Rationally speaking, unless you have the experience, you should not be relying on your intuition as much as you currently are.

I hear people explain their actions and their decision-making process in the same poor matter too often: it felt right; I had a feeling… I had a feeling in my gut too once… then I took some Pepto and cleared it up nice and quick. Our minds and thinking, in their most basic workings, function on two levels. First, we are presented with our intuition — not just sometimes, but always.

When you experience something — see something, smell something, taste something — you have an initial reaction to what you are experiencing. The same goes for when you are presented with two or more options, with a decision to make. Firstly, our intuitive thought presents itself — it’s something that none of us can help; it simply happens. Then we have rational thought or reasoning.

This is the level of our thought process that distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom. We are able to take a step back, take in all the information that is being presented to us, and reason what most likely result will come of each possible decision that we have an option of deciding on.

I am sure that most of you believe this to be common sense — great. The problem is that many of us take into account our gut intuitions while we are rationalizing. This is a huge problem; while we think that we are being rational and impartial, we are actually allowing our emotions and “gut feelings” (feelings being the key word) to enter into our rationalization of a situation. Again, unless you are truly a veteran in whatever subject matter you are making the decision for, it’s best to use reasoning rather than intuition.

This applies to almost every situation that you could possibly find yourself in. When making business decisions and deciding which candidate to hire, which manufacturer to enter into contract with or whether or not to merge with a competitor, etc., rational thinking is the only mode of decision-making that we should be relying on. Rational thinking is what brought the human race to the top of the food chain. However, this is not to say that each one of us has mastered it; it doesn’t come naturally, but must be trained — like a muscle.

Relying on reasoning rather than gut intuition will make a huge difference in your life. It seems like something small and overlookable. It’s not. I’m one of those people that don’t believe that anyone is evil by nature, but rather that some have a skewed misconception of the world and fail to use reasoning and rational thought properly or efficiently.

Each individual has good as the final goal — maybe not good for the masses, but at the very least, good for themselves. Even those that do nothing more than wish to make themselves happy would benefit from rational thought. Reasoning allows us to see past the first layer and into the depths and possibilities of the future. Incorporate rational thought into each and every decision you make — no matter how small or seemingly unimportant — and I promise you that your life will benefit. It may take time to tune your reasoning skills, but in the end you will be better for it.

Of course, that is not to say that rational thought is the end-all to every predicament. There are times when we simply do not have the information necessary to make an informed decision based on reasoning. Nevertheless, rationality still plays a role. If you don’t have all the information then you gamble — you place your bets on what you believe has the best possible outcome, calculating for risk.

Yet, there is some subject matter that rationality tends to fail — matters of the heart. But if we were to do our best to be rational when overwhelmed by emotion — although admittedly difficult — we would still be more likely to come out the other end of that tunnel happier than were we to rely strictly on our intuition, on our gut feeling. Do your best to be rational. It’s the simplest and most important of tools allotted to human beings. If the world were only 50% more rational then we are now we would all be much better off for it. Most of us would finally be shown the stupidity of our ways and maybe, just maybe, we would all be able to get along and prosper as a species.

Photo Courtesy: Alexander Safonov, Tumblr