Has anyone ever told you to “trust your gut” when making a big decision? This nugget of wisdom is arguably one of the most popular—and overused pieces—of advice. But what does it actually mean? And how can you apply it to your life?
That “gut feeling” may be difficult to nail down, but it can be useful. Read on to learn how to evaluate if your gut is pointing you in the right direction—and the role it can play in your career.
What is your “gut” anyway?
Depending on who you speak to, your gut has, at best, a suspect reputation. Because the gut is another name for intuition, it is often relegated to areas outside of logic and hard data. It can then seem like your gut has no place in professional spaces, such as your career. But neuroscience research reminds us that intuition is just another way to process information.
Given our scientific and personal understanding, trusting your gut means paying attention to your inner voice and emotions. They themselves are tools to help you make sense of the world around you.
Questions to ask yourself
That being said, your gut is not perfect: your intuition may help you process information, but it has incomplete information. It is ignorant of any additional, relevant data that may help you in the decision-making process.
For instance, if you accept a job offer based solely on your gut, there is a chance that you did not make the best decision for you. Though your gut may tell you to accept the role right away because it “feels right,” other pieces of information—such as the salary, benefits, commute time, working hours, and organizational culture—will help you make a more informed, confident, and personally beneficial decision.
To make sure your gut is guiding you in the best possible direction, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you really listening to what your inner voice is advising? Or are you rushing to an answer to stop thinking about this decision?
- Are you trusting your gut because you have all the information you need? Or are you being too lazy to fill in any gaps you may have?
- As you fill in those information gaps, is your gut becoming more confident or more anxious?
- How much of what your gut is telling you is based on other people’s experiences, opinions, and expectations, and how much is based on your own experiences, opinions, and expectations?
Your answers will help you evaluate your gut response as objectively as possible. You will also be giving your intuition a workout—neuroscience also shows that your intuition improves with practice. That means that the more you pay attention to your inner voice and emotions, and the more you evaluate your intuition, the stronger and more confident you will feel to trust it.
As you answer the above questions for yourself, you are nurturing greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence—both of which are essential not just for strong decision-making, but also for being a more empathetic, intuitive person. Being more in touch with this side of yourself humanizes any answers you seek or decisions you must make, even if they’re still governed by hard data.
For instance, if you want to speak to your manager about a raise, you know you need to go into that meeting ready to talk about relevant details. You’ll have to review your tenure so far, consider how many promotions and raises you have earned, and present measurable results of your efforts on the job. All this data is important to have a real, logical conversation. But the decision whether or not to ask for a raise in the first place may very well be dictated by your gut, which can instinctively tell you if this is a good time to ask for that meeting with your manager.
Think of it this way: your gut is a gateway into new a question or decision. If you choose to walk through—or trust it—you still need to take intentional steps forward to arrive at your next destination.
Are there specific situations when you feel more confident trusting your gut? Tweet at us!
Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.