How Your Gut Reactions Work

There is some truth behind the saying trust your gut instinct. Sometimes our gut instincts can be wrong but I do believe there is something to this gut reaction thing. Here are three suggestions to help you make your gut reactions more useful.

There are a couple of interesting books on the market right now about how we make those split-second reactions. Blink, by Malcom Gladwell, is very interesting, readable, and entertaining. Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, by Gerd Gigerenzer, reads very much as if it were written by a German mathematician, because it was, but it’s still interesting in its conclusions.

Apparently we really can make intuitive decisions, at least some of the time. We really can “trust our guts,” if not always, at least often. Gladwell talks about the “closed door,” behind which our mind is making decisions that we just cannot understand, ever.


Most of our gut instinct decisions are not so opaque, however. We make the decision, Gladwell says, and then we start explaining how we made the decision. For instance, say you’re buying a new pair of glasses. You see the pair you want. The technician helping you wants you to try on at least half a dozen pairs of frames before you make the decision, so you do, but in the end nothing looks as good, in your mind, as that original pair.

Later you might say that you had seen a similar pair in a magazine, that you had tried on glasses like that before, that you had made up your mind before you got there. But the fact is, your mind decided on those glasses, or maybe your gut decided, and you followed that decision because it felt right.

If you spend time listening to your gut, you can really get an idea of how often it gives you the right messages, and how to recognize those messages. Actually trusting your “gut instinct” may be a little harder, but you will find that with practice, you can begin making split decisions more accurately.

Of course, as Gladwell points out, sometimes gut instincts are wrong. Gladwell points to Warren G. Harding as the ultimate example of gut feelings being wrong. I wasn’t around for Harding, but I know I’ve made some decisions, based on my gut, that turned out to be wrong.

That happens. But I’ll say this. I’ve made more right decisions based on gut reactions than I’ve ever made wrong decisions. It’s when I don’t listen to what my mind is trying to tell me that I’m more likely to make a mistake.

I honestly believe there’s something to this gut reaction thing. I don’t know if it’s brain chemistry, or some hocus-pocus in the subconscious, or little blue guys determining how the universe works. I also don’t think that matters.

If I know that my first instinct is correct most of the time, and even more, if I can get that to some high number like 85%, or even better, then I can allow my gut feelings to guide me more, and make the decision I should make more often.

Is it perfect? No. But neither are my skills at coming to a reasoned decision.

How can you make your gut reactions more useful?

  1. Start writing down when you know you’ve made a gut decision.
  2. Keep track of how often those decisions were right.
  3. Improve your ratio by making gut decisions more and ignoring them less.

Thanks to for including this in the Total Mind and Body Fitness Carnival, and to BrainBlogger for featuring this post in the Brain Blogging Blog Carnival.

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