Why do you have a gut feeling

Why your stomach knows more than your mind believes

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It's only been a few weeks since I wrote an article on gut feeling. In it I wrote how you can use your intuition to protect yourself from disappointment. I believed in my gut feeling because I was never negative surprised been. If relationships with other people broke up, I knew beforehand that it would end badly. So I wrote in that post:

“I've never felt really disappointed. This has not happened (so far) with the people I follow with my gut feeling. "

Then I let the text disappear into oblivion, because shortly before the publication someone disappointed me badly. I was ashamed of myself, of Jasmin, who already knew my thoughts, and of the potential readers. I was ashamed of it, so gross about mine infallible Write gut feeling. One moment I was so sure, the next someone questioned my convictions.

After a few days, I didn't want to deal with him and his motivations any further, but I didn't want to get cynical either. I didn't want to start with the bad at every new person just because my mind says: "It could go wrong!" Instead, I wanted to keep believing in my gut instinct, because it usually makes good decisions. But I needed some good persuasion to support my opinion. So I read the book How the stomach helps the head think by the Dutch author Bas Kast.

I read the book through in two days. Then I was and still am convinced: I should still more often listen to my gut feeling because intuition is not an irrational inspiration. Also, while reading, I learned why said friend disappointed me so much. He did something that is typical for him, but also for other - supposedly - rational people (more on that later). In the following I want to show you why you don't always listen to your mind and instead take your gut feeling more seriously.

The interplay of feelings and mind

Many people believe they need to make decisions as rationally as possible by gathering information, weighing pros and cons, and formulating sound arguments. Feelings have lost nothing in this. I would also describe myself as sober and rational and I like to protect myself with arguments. If I cannot explain a decision, it makes me uncomfortable. But that is unfounded, because the reality is different. Thinking and feeling cannot be separated from each other. Every thought, every memory, every perception is accompanied by feelings - whether we like it or not.

This becomes clear to me when I watch my thoughts over time. I would like to explain this with an example: How satisfied am I with my friendships? The answer depends on when I ask myself the question.

Yesterday I spent a large part of the day with Jasmin. We had an appointment for breakfast, took time for a good conversation, were inspired, wrote our respective texts and passed ideas to each other. In between there was a delicious lunch. In the evening I drove straight to an event where I met two other friends. We experienced the event together, then we went out to eat until we were complimented out, then we moved on because it was so nice and had a drink in a bar until it closed too. It was a great day from start to finish. I've been with my friends, had the best conversations, and been extremely happy with my friendships. Yesterday I thought the be the answer.

Today is a new day. I still have fond memories of yesterday, I am writing this text, afterwards I will go to sports and then to a reading. I don't see any friends today and probably not in the next three days either. So it will be a quiet weekend, I have to occupy myself and ask myself whether I am not too few Have friendsthat I can address at any time. But at least I have some very good ones. Today i think the is the answer. As a result, my thoughts have changed because today is not a perfect day, but a normal one.

A few weeks ago I found out about the aforementioned breach of trust. It took two days for it to really leak through to me, but then it came with full force. On the third day I was very sad. But not only that: I was also full of doubts. In this emotional hole I saw the situation in a different light: “If this one friendship can end overnight, what are my other friendships worth? What do I even know about friendship? I keep talking about it, and then something! "I felt lonely and thought it would stay that way forever. At that moment it was the for me the answer.

Of course it wasn't either realistic Answer to the question of how satisfied I am with my friendships. There is no such thing a so-is-it-really-answer. Do I feel good, my reality becomes a little more colorful, I feel bad, everything is gray. That is why you shouldn't make trend-setting decisions when the mood is low, but also not when the mood is high.

However, that doesn't mean we without Feelings would make the most rational decisions. On the contrary, we would no longer be able to make any decisions at all, because the mind does not know what to do with itself without feelings. This is shown by studies on people who have lost the ability to feel. The best-known case is called Elliot, a patient of the neuroscientist António Damásio. Elliot had part of the frontal lobe removed because of a brain tumor. After the operation he was discharged as healthy, was just as intelligent as before and yet no longer able to go about his work. He got bogged down with the smallest decisions, pondered for ages and still made an arbitrary decision, because every decision felt the same to him: after nothing. It was soon found that Elliot had almost completely lost his emotional world.

“If you want to think, you have to feel” - Bas Kast.

Even to people, whom only a If you lack feeling, you can see that they are not making rational decisions in certain situations. A woman who knows no fear puts herself in danger again and again despite warnings. A boy who feels no pain is a regular in the hospital and battered like an old man. While their minds understand the signals that normally trigger feelings such as fear and pain, these people still do not adjust their behavior. Hence, the mind needs feelings in order to make good decisions.

In addition to the mind, feelings are a form of intelligence of their own. We humans have an emotional experience memory that our subconscious makes use of. Some “experiences” are already in our DNA. Instincts such as fear of snakes or disgust for spoiled food stem from these. We have different experiences ourselves and therefore automatically get shaking knees when the next dentist appointment is due (at least people like me who had "bad" experiences at the dentist at a young age).

If we experience something that consciously or unconsciously reminds us of a positive experience, the stomach reacts with goose bumps, warmth, joy or a tingling sensation. He reacts to negative experiences with pain, dull pressure, spasms or tremors. The scientist António Damásio calls such reactions somatic markers. These feelings are feedback from our subconsciousbased on past experience. They serve as an inner compass that shows us how we should act in order to feel good.

The capacity of the conscious and subconscious

Our minds do one big mistake: He overestimates himself. He thinks he can take in all the information that is beating down on us and is certain that he can process it into a rational decision. This assessment couldn't be further from reality! Our consciousness can process up to 50 bits per second (bit = unit of measurement for information content). The comparison shows how little that is: a total of around 11 million bits pound down on us every second. The eye alone sends 10 million bits to the brain, the skin 1 million bits, the ear and nose 100,000 bits each, and the sense of taste 1,000 bits.

Only a measly 50 bits of it reach our consciousness. The rest of the information does not disappear, but ends up in the subconscious. This can therefore process and store much more information much faster. Every second it takes up 11 million bits and compares them with the experience memory. We feel the feelings it sends to consciousness after 200 milliseconds as a gut feeling or intuition.

Our minds have other strengths, however. He is extremely good at focusing on a specific (small) problem. With it we bring order into life and can plan for the futureinstead of just following spontaneous suggestions. Only with the mind and the language it makes possible can we think in concepts such as B. tomorrow or yesterday or next year. In the subconscious, on the other hand, everything is unsorted, it cannot concentrate on anything in particular, but only gives us impulses in the form of feelings.

Why we find it difficult to make decisions

We unite two I in U.S. The conscious me and the unconscious me. Both have the same goal: to be happy. But they work in different ways, which I would put simply like this:

  • The conscious I want to be happy in the future
  • The unconscious I want to be happy now

Our minds try to make decisions with which we are satisfied in the long run - taking into account external circumstances that may prevent us from achieving our goal. Going to work in the morning when you hate your job or just don't feel like it is such a rational decision. After all, we need money to live and to afford goods that make life more pleasant. When we retire at the latest, we can still enjoy ourselves. In this way the mind organizes life and works towards a happy future. However, there is a risk that we will continue to postpone happiness but never achieve it.

The subconscious, on the other hand, lets us feel whether a decision is made through feelings now is good or bad for us. When experience says that a day in the office is rather modest, we feel it in the form of anxiety, reluctance or similar feelings. Gut decisions are what we do really wantwhen we ignore all rationality. However, gut decisions aren't always reasonable, especially if we want to be part of a well organized society.

The stomach knows exactly what it wants (or we want). But we often don't trust him because we don't make an important decision after one spontaneous inspiration want to meet. We need facts, facts, facts! We want to make sure not to miss a better option, we are afraid of not being able to go back and we want to be able to justify our decision. From ourselves and from others. We don't want to be contradictory either, but rather consistent in our actions. In other words, we want to be perfect. These are rationalizations that emanate from our conscious self.

If both I want something different, we feel it through an inner turmoil: Do I want to be happy now or later? Both can be justified. It all depends on the situation.

Here I recognize my friend who disappointed me. Even before he made his decision, he felt bad, suffered from "stress jerks". Afterwards he spoke of stress hormones, insomnia, even more convulsions and a weak immune system. Seen from the outside, these are clear signs that should have saved him from his decision or that could induce him to reverse his decision (that would be partially possible). But he did what many people do: he rationalized until he had enough arguments to justify the breach of trust for himself and he listed them all to me. I understand his logic, I know where he's going namely, be happy in five or ten years. But he pays a heavy price, and for all I know today about our limited minds, his plan is unlikely to work out, which makes it even more pointless.

Decisions are not always so extreme, but I can see the origin of the misfortune of many people here:You don't want to be happy today, but later.

Guide to the best decision

Both our intuition and our mind have their strengths and weaknesses. To make the best decision possible, let us both do what they are good at.

Decisions with low complexity we meet best with the help of the mind. When there is little information available, we can consciously focus on it, weigh pros and cons, and make a decision. If such small decisions are repeated over and over again, they eventually become a habit so that we no longer have to make them consciously. A low level of complexity assumes that the decision only has an impact on the near future. Our minds cannot overlook longer periods of time.

In situations with high complexity and a lot of information the situation looks different. Our consciousness quickly sinks into the information jungle and is then no longer suitable for making good decisions. Nevertheless, the mind has an important task: He's good at targeting relevant information collectby e.g. B. Read books, question other people or experience something. With the help of the mind, we become experts in the field. However, it is a rational one decision no longer possible with so much information. Our minds are unable to process the wealth of information. But the subconscious can do it! This copes better with complexity. Instead of just sucking up 50 bits per second, it ends up sucking up 11 million bits. The subconscious compresses this information into an intuition. The more time we give it to it, the better it does. The trick is to give the subconscious time to collect and process information - without the mind interfering.

Scientists call this the incubation period: The time when you don't consciously think about a problem. In everyday language we often talk about having to sleep over something for a night. This is often just said, but it really works. It is important to take this time without stress. The intuition comes when we are sleeping, jogging or meditating, when we are strained Not think. I have my most creative flashes of inspiration when I lie in bed in the evening, go for a walk, relax, make myself a coffee or go to the toilet for a moment.

Complex decisions are made in two steps:

  1. Gather information consciously and become an expert
  2. Give your intuition time and make decisions based on your gut

A good example of such a decision is buying a new camera. Due to the large selection and the technical details, this is a complex process. If you have no idea, you can shorten the process by following other people's recommendations.

Or you can go to work and collect information first. You think about your requirements and define criteria from them. With a little luck you can limit the selection to three cameras. In the next step you will become an expert for these three models. You write down all the performance features and also take into account criteria such as reviews and the price. Maybe you go back to the good old pro-con list. It's a useful tool - if you use it properly. On this list you record all purchase criteria for each camera. This is how you make sure that you have all the relevant information together. If you are an advanced pro-con list user, you will still weight the criteria. This is theoretically a good idea, but you will put the weighting incorrectly, since these are complex decisions for the future that the mind cannot make. The mind misjudges what is really important to us. But do it anyway. Make the lists as rational as possible!

Now you have a pro-con list for three cameras with 20 criteria each (estimated).Ideally, you don't calculate the result yet, he just leaves the lists for a day or two and doesn't think about them any further. Then you draw a line underneath and add up the individual points. You will buy the camera with the most pro-arguments (weighted).

How does that feel?

What is going on inside you now that you see the result in front of you? Are you looking forward to your new camera or are you a little frustrated and start to check whether you have weighted the criteria correctly? You feel your intuition in this momentthat tells you what you really want. The feeling is not just a spontaneous inspiration, but is based on the information you have previously collected (but not only on the sober data). If you want to be happy with your purchase, you should listen to your gut instinct.

When I buy technical equipment, I don't push it to extremes with pro-contra lists, but I mostly trust my gut instinct - even if the equipment is above my arbitrarily set price limit. If I didn't have a good feeling when I bought it, I would believe that I made the wrong choice.

When you can't hear the belly

To hear the stomach speak, you first need information and then rest (incubation period). This means not consciously thinking about the question, but rather putting the problem aside. The longer you roll over arguments, the worse the decision will be, because you keep telling yourself to believe what will be important to you in the future. In this way you are becoming more and more distant from what is yours now important is.

When I found out about my friend's breach of trust, I was overwhelmed for the first few days. He wrote me long rationalizations and another person who had been affected by the breach of trust talked angrily at me. I had no idea how I would react myself, as I was stressed on the one hand and also slipped into an emotional hole. After two days, I broke off contact with both sides to calm down. After a while I got back to normal emotionally and slowly developed a gut feeling. Now I know how to deal with the situation and don't bother to justify myself.

In addition, it can help you to visualize the decision alternatives. Both Damásio and Bas Kast recommend this because our experiential memory reacts strongly to images. Language, on the other hand, is our best means of rationalization. It doesn't help any further to become aware of feelings.

But what if the stomach sends mixed feelings, such as: B. Joy and Fear? This is typical when we think about changing jobs or making the leap into self-employment. On the one hand, we look forward to a new job with many opportunities, but are also afraid of the risks or of having to hand in the resignation. Jasmin found herself in this situation a year and a half ago. At that time she made a pro-con list that got stuck and her stomach spoke in different languages. Recently she asked me what the solution was for that. Another friend asked me the exact same question. I would like to answer it, but I can't. Maybe they should only the opportunities to visualise or rationalize their built-in fear ("What can really happen?"). Perhaps they should seek advice from other people who are unaffected by their feelings. The psychologist Maja Storch recommends in case of emotional chaos, to separate and evaluate the individual feelings: On a scale from 1 to 100: How positive is the positive feeling and how negative is the negative feeling? Both should be recorded on paper.

I don't know what really works in situations like this. The gut feeling has its limits. I only know that they both managed to make the right decision despite their doubts.

The limits of gut instinct

The stomach pretty much knows what it wants. Still, he doesn't always have to be right. Sometimes the subconscious leads us astraywhen it sends us a feeling that is not relevant to the situation. Perhaps the new colleague's nose unconsciously reminds me of someone with whom I have had bad experiences. It has precious little to do with the colleague.

In other situations, too, it makes sense to not to follow every feeling. Otherwise I would never go to the dentist again, not eat cheese to this day because I used to be disgusted about it or leave every meeting after five minutes because I feel like it. Those who only followed spontaneous promptings would not need to make any more plans, would not be able to maintain a relationship and would not get anything else done. Especially in the case of emotional fluctuations, we are well advised to involve the mind or not make a decision for the moment.

Neither is the head better than the stomach. A mind without feelings does not make rational decisions, but rather arbitrary ones, as the example of Elliot shows. If we suppress our gut instinct too often, there is a risk of shifting our happiness before us with all sorts of rationalizations without ever achieving it. We get miserable.

The best decisions are made when we compare both systems. We would therefore do well to listen both to the head and to the gut and to know their respective limits. As a rule of thumb, the psychologist Maja Storch recommends two thirds to follow the stomach and one third to follow the head in order to overcome short-term feelings of displeasure. If we took this advice to heart, we might all be a little happier.

Photos: Now or later, paper and lightbulb, pros and cons, woman with pen and paper from Shutterstock

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