You hear it a lot, “Trust your gut," "go with your instincts," "follow your intuition." But what does that mean? How can you develop your instinct if you don’t understand what it means to feel it?
Firstly, what exactly is instinct? Where are these magical feelings located and why should we place so much trust in them? Surely common sense and logic are more reliable?
Merriam-Webster defines instinct as:
A natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity. A largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason. Behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level.
It appears that instinct or intuition – we tend to use those terms interchangeably, although they are different – is something we either have, or haven’t. The truth is, we are all capable of developing and using our instincts to enhance our lives. Here are some suggestions to help you increase your intuition and how to use it.
Where Do I Feel my Instincts?
Generally speaking, your instinct can be felt as a strong sensation in your gut, more precisely your solar plexus. The solar plexus is a cluster of complex nerves just below your diaphragm. Hindus describe it as the third major chakra.
The solar plexus is not the only place you might feel your instinct kicking in. It could be your heart region. How many times have you heard people say, “I felt it in my heart.”? Others will cite their subconscious, “I just knew. I don’t know how I knew, I just did.” An old British expression goes, “I feel it in my water,” meaning in the bladder. It is also equated with the more common, “I feel it in my bones.”
The way to test where you feel your instincts is to focus on someone who makes you uncomfortable. Hold them in your mind. Visualize them walking towards you. Where do you feel the discomfort? In your solar plexus? Perhaps you feel a chill running up your spine? Maybe your heart begins to beat faster? Allow yourself to explore the feeling without trying to over-think it. If you can’t think of a real person, then how about something you are afraid of? Spiders, heights, fast traffic, perhaps? Simply locate where in your body the fear manifests. That will probably be the same place that your instinct resides. The sensation of fear is instinct going into overdrive.
Developing Your Instincts
You can start to trust your instincts by practicing throughout your normal day. Instead of blithely carrying out your tasks, making minor decisions, and interacting with people, try pausing, mentally, and connect with the area of your body where you feel your instinct most strongly. At first, you might not feel anything at all, just keep trying. Ask your instinct, “Does this feel good?” “Is this person on my wavelength?” Don’t judge with your mind; allow your body to give you the information.
This might take a while. Your instincts are there all the time, passing you messages, but you have trained yourself to ignore them for so long. Don’t expect them to shout out, loud and clear, “Hi!” It will be much more subtle than that.
Practicing Instinctive Behavior
Pay attention when making decisions. Should you take the stairs instead of the elevator? Yes? You just avoided someone you didn’t want to meet. Feel an urge to take one route instead of another? You might have avoided a collision. Feel strongly you shouldn’t go to that party? Don’t. Remember that each time you override your instinct, you are telling it that it doesn’t have a say. Of course, there are times when you have to do stuff that you don’t want to do. Don’t mistake reluctance for instinct.
How to Know When Your Instinct is Working
You will know when your instinct is working in the presence of new people. You will be drawn to some and feel repelled by others. You begin to make choices by consciously tuning into your body. It becomes a habit to check your feelings before taking a certain turning, accepting a job offer or arranging a second date.
Choose Food Instinctively
Take one week out of your diet, nutrition plan or your mission to try every junk food on the planet. Instead, play a game with yourself. Start in the supermarket. Move to a section where an item you regularly buy is displayed. Pick it up. Feel what’s happening in your gut – or wherever you have determined your instinctive messages are given. Is it a good feeling (green light), bad (red light) or neutral (amber/yellow)? If good, place it in the trolley. If red, mentally say, “No, thanks,” and move on to the next item. If the feeling is neutral, then let your rational mind make the choice instead.
You might end up with a trolley full of chocolate cake and ice-cream. Hopefully, it will be a good balance of healthy foods with some treats in there too.
Do the same when you are actually choosing food at home to eat. Your instinct may recommend one food one day, and shun it the next. See how you feel after a week. You may decide to continue this method of grocery shopping and eating. The body has a way of balancing out its nutritional requirements over a week or even a month, so if you crave chocolate cake, let your body have chocolate cake. However, make sure you pay homage to your instinct so you know when to stop.
It’s not possible to live one hundred percent instinctively – life would be a complete mess if you only relied on gut feelings. You need your logical mind to help you behave rationally and sensibly. However, life becomes richer and more meaningful when you acknowledge your body’s deeper messages. They keep you out of danger, guide you to well-being and generally make you an all-around better person.
The secret to healthy instinctive living is to listen to those instincts and allow them to mesh with the rational mind. It’s a way of being in the moment, of making smarter choices, and living life to your fullest capacity.