How Intuition Works and Why You Should Trust Your Gut Instinct

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

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Hunch. Gut feeling. Intuition.

Each time we get an instant feeling of right or wrong in our body, we use either of these words to describe it.

Everyone has experienced this feeling at least once. Sometimes it occurs when we are taking a new job, buying or investing in something valuable, or sometimes it happens when we first meet someone. 

Intuition is part of human nature. Although most of us might think it isn’t logical, psychologists and neuroscientists gathered some very interesting findings in the past years demonstrating that our intuition can lead us the right way and help us make better decisions.

This article will explain how intuition works and why it’s important. So if you are a pro and con list kind of person, make sure to read on. 

The science of intuition

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In our scientific world, we often process our thoughts and emotions through a logical lens. We weigh decisions based on data and knowledge. Yet, sometimes, even when all logic points toward one thing – it doesn’t seem right. There is an underlying and unconscious process that influences our choice. 

So why does this happen to us? And when should we trust it?

Neuroscientists asked themselves the same questions, and the University of Iowa researchers Antoine Bechara, Antonio Damasio, Hanna Damasio, and Steven Anderson came up with a task to test our emotional response in the decision-making process.

The Iowa Gambling Task required participants to pick a card from four decks of cards. Each time they would pick a card, they either won or lost money. Decks A and B either won or cost them $250, and decks C and D either won or cost them $50. They, of course, didn’t know when they would win or lose.

The task found that participants with impaired decision-making were arguably prone to go after immediate rewards instead of thinking of the long-term consequences of their decision. 

One of the researchers in the study, Antonio Damasio, theorized that humans evolved to use bodily cues (somatic markers) – akin to intuition – that acted as a warning to prevent one from making the wrong decision. He argued the participants who didn’t “win” IGT lacked these somatic markers. 

Another finding from the research was how important emotion-based learning was in making decisions. Emotion-based learning systems help us gather and remember data about the emotional consequences of our actions (thanks to our Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex), so we can unconsciously make the right decision (especially when under pressure or quicker).

The human mind is constantly gathering data and seeing patterns. It stores insights from our past experiences. So sometimes we can make decisions on auto-pilot. But when exactly can we trust our intuition?

How to trust your gut instinct

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Better emotion-based learning comes down to one thing: emotional intelligence. There are four key components of emotional intelligence; self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and social skills.

First, getting in touch with your emotions is necessary to fine-tune your intuition and build your emotional intelligence. As you listen to what you’re feeling, you can begin working on each emotional intelligence component.

Self-awareness: To be self-aware means understanding your own emotions, where they come from, and the impact you have on others. When you become self-aware, you have the ability to understand your behavior patterns and coping mechanisms. The first step to changing these is by being aware of them.

Self-regulation: Self-awareness prompts you to manage your emotions and regulate your mood. As you begin to self-regulate, you can stop wrong coping mechanisms from emerging again. People with strong self-regulation skills become more persistent in dealing with negative situations and controlling their impulses.

Social awareness: Social awareness is understanding and empathizing with the emotions of others. Practicing becoming socially aware and in tune with others increases our empathy levels. We can understand how others feel and create space for them to share. 

Social skills: Social skills are necessary for building relationships. A person with good social skills can communicate with others easily, resolve conflict, work with others and positively influence people around them.

Becoming more emotionally intelligent impacts your quality of life. It helps you build better relationships, understand your needs and wants, and build emotional resilience that comes in handy during adversity. 

Your intuition isn’t going to be the only thing that will impact your decision-making, but it can be an essential guide.

Therapy is a great way to get in touch with yourself in a deeper sense and become more emotionally intelligent. 

At Tikvah Lake, our professional team specializes in helping people overcome mental health struggles and behavioral patterns they would like to change. 

We believe therapy is for anyone who wants to become a better version of themselves. Call us today to learn how we can help.

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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