The Practice of Trusting Your Gut

Trust your gut.

It’s advice I have received many times, and advice I have generously given to others. But what does trusting your gut really mean, and how do you do it?

I like to think of my gut instinct, or intuition, as my “inner knowing.” It’s when I barely have to think and experience an immediate understanding of what I need to do. It’s a personal, unique feeling, one that is hard to describe. Because it’s not something others can weigh in on, trusting your gut is the epitome of trusting yourself.

In my work as a therapist, I see so many factors that get in the way of my clients trusting themselves. Here are some things that may be blocking your own inner knowing:

  1. Anxiety: When you deal with anxiety, it can feel impossible to identify an anxious thought from your intuition. Remember how intuition is something we barely have to think about? Well, this is difficult for overthinkers. Ruminating, fearing that you’ll make the wrong decision, obsessing over outcomes, and rationalizing are just some of the ways anxiety can interfere.
  2. Expectations: Thinking about what you should do often leads you away from your true, authentic self. When you operate based on your “shoulds,” you are often attempting to meet unrealistic expectations about who you think you need to be. This disconnects you from your inner world of personal values and feelings and into the external world of pressures: “I really need to watch my calories” or “I should buy what that other customer recommended” are just some examples. If you take away the “shoulds,” what do you really want?
  3. Other Voices: How much are you relying on the opinions of others? Do you need reassurance when you make decisions? While it’s great to have a supportive spouse, friend, or parent, how much are they influencing your decision making? The more you depend on the needs, opinions, or advice of others, the more you lose your inner voice.
  4. Past Experiences: It could be helpful to think about your upbringing and how the experiences you’ve had have shaped who you’ve become. What sorts of messages did you receive in your childhood? Did you learn that your feelings mattered and were worth listening to? Did other people attend to your emotions? If you grew up in an environment that lacked attentiveness to who you were and what you needed, answering questions like Who am I? What am I feeling? or What do I need? in adulthood may be daunting.

It’s important to know what gets in the way of trusting yourself. When you are unaware, busy, and out of touch with your feelings and needs you’ll have trouble trusting your gut. Identifying and working through these pitfalls are an essential part of the process. Here are some ways to discover and strengthen your inner knowing:

  1. Be Still. Living in a fast-paced society, it’s easy to become overstimulated and lose sight of your needs. It’s never a good idea to make an important decision when you’re checked out or overwhelmed. Perhaps you can push back deadlines or set boundaries with others by saying no. Perhaps you can even take a day off or a relaxing vacation. If this feels hard for you, ask yourself if there’s a should you’re using.
  2. Identify and Name Your Feelings. Once you have slowed down a bit, you can better listen to your feelings. Learning to feel and identify your emotions and having words to express them can be empowering and give you insight. Getting in touch with your inner world will help you quiet the external pressures and other peoples’ voices and guide you down the path of knowing more about yourself. Begin asking yourself questions like What am I feeling right now? If you don’t know, check in with your body, which we’ve learned is where feelings reside. What do I feel in my body? See if you can then sit with and identify the feeling. You can then think, What could be the reason I’m feeling this way?
  3. Be Nice to Yourself. Once you’ve paused and begun checking in on your feelings, it’s vital that you listen and believe what your emotions are telling you. Instead of pushing your feelings to the side, judging them, or shaming yourself, start validating these feelings. When you can get curious about your inner world, it will start to speak louder. Ask yourself what you need, and think about how you can fulfill this need. Trusting your gut is an individual activity. This has to come from you and you alone.

The more you engage in these practices, the better you will be at knowing yourself. And the better you know yourself, the better you will be at listening to your feelings and making decisions that best serve you.

Trusting your gut is an invaluable skill, especially when you have an important decision to make. It’s time to start privileging your feelings over your thinking and your voice over the voices of others. If you are willing to put in some time, self-exploration, and compassion, you’re on the path to trusting your gut.

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