Home  >  My Life  >  A Better Life

Gut Instinct: What It Is, How It Works & How to Follow & Listen to Your Gut

If your intuition is telling you something, then it’s time to listen to your gut. But how can you know you are making the right decisions? Here’s how.

how to listen to your gut

It is human nature to overthink things. But it’s time for you to learn to listen to your gut. Believe in you!

We all overanalyze things. Should we have said something else? Should we not have said anything? We constantly replay things over and over in our heads. We also fret about what’s to come in the future. But more often than not, our first thought was the best one. 

In relationships, at work, and in pretty much all avenues of life, we need trust. We need to trust others and most importantly, we need to trust ourselves. But should you trust your gut?

To make decisions, accomplish goals, and move forward with our lives, we need trust. It is as simple as that. Or is it? 

Trust is not a simple thing. Sure, we can trust that our waiter won’t spit in our food or that our mail carrier won’t read our letters, but above these societal norms, trust is difficult.

We lose trust in others when we are let down, disappointed, or lied to. And from there, we often lose trust in ourselves. 

For instance, you might have dated a lot of liars, and instead of just not trusting them, you stopped trusting your own taste, intuition, and ability to know people.

Numerous betrayals can make you second-guess all your own choices because, after all, you did lead yourself down that path. [Read: How to be true to yourself and start living life on your own terms]

Were you wrong to trust your gut in the past? Or are you wrong to ignore it now? 

Did those experiences influence your gut feeling? Or is your gut feeling something natural that happens regardless of what you’ve been through?

Here’s the thing, understanding how to follow your gut instinct isn’t just something a select few people have. Rather, everyone has an instinct. We are all animals at the end of the day. [Read: How to listen to your gut and follow your inner voice]

Intuition is a part of human evolution. It helps us avoid making bad decisions or making good decisions. In other words, it’s that little voice inside our heads that helps us evaluate a situation.

For decades, scientists brushed off intuition as some sort of pseudo-science, but now, everyone is on board with intuition and wants to know more about it.

What is your gut?

Physically and medically, your gut is your gastrointestinal system. It is formed of a number of organs like your mouth, your stomach, your gallbladder, your pancreas, and more. [Read: What it means to be your own hero and take control of your life]

Essentially, your gut connects a lot of your body together. And because your gut is involved in so much of what your body does, when one thing goes wrong your gut can usually tell you.

Your gut feeling is the same when it comes to emotions. Your gut reacts to not just physical ailments but mental and emotional ones too. 

This is why you get butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous. Your gut reacts to stress, fear, nerves, happiness, and more. [Read: How to get to know yourself and reveal your true passions]

This is where the phrase, trust your gut, comes from.

When something is wrong or right, your gut usually knows before your mind even does.

Do you know when you just have a good feeling about something or someone? You may not be able to describe it but you just know? [Read: How to stop having negative thoughts that drag your mind down]

That is your gut. It is a feeling devoid of rhyme or reason and sort of your internal wisdom. Needing all the factors to make a choice isn’t something it does. It is your bodily intuition.

This is also what warns you about red flags with potential partners, sketchy job offers, and your best friend’s new beau.

From this, it can seem obvious. Why not trust your gut? How could it turn you wrong? It is natural. It is just part of you and seems to be all-knowing. [Read: How to learn to love yourself and believe in you]

The physiology behind gut feelings

While many people dismiss the concept of a gut feeling as just a myth or fantasy, there is an actual physiological and neurological basis for intuition and gut feelings.

There are more than 100 million nerve cells inside the walls of your digestive system. They are called the enteric nervous system, or ENS. This system plays a crucial role in the mind-body connection.

It is responsible for physical functions such as releasing enzymes necessary for digestion and the absorption of nutrients and even swallowing.

It operates independently of the central nervous system, but it does communicate back and forth with the central nervous system. [Read: 10 Decisions you should never let your partner make for you]

The ENS links the emotional and cognitive parts of the brain with the functions of the intestines. The communication between the two is called the gut-brain axis.

Researchers have believed for a long time that mental disorders like anxiety and depression contribute to gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and diarrhea. 

This may be true, but there is new evidence that suggests that it could be the other way around. The bowel might trigger big emotional shifts. [Read: Butterflies in your stomach – 16 steps to control and calm them instantly]

In other words, irritation in the gastrointestinal tract might send signals to the central nervous system that cause mood changes. And also, gut healthy might directly affect emotions, motivation, and other complex cognitive functioning.

Communication between the ENS and the CNS goes both ways. Our reactions to things that happen to us can trigger internal responses that are meant to keep us happy.

So, it’s important to understand how to create a strong sense of intuition. When you do, you tap into the full potential of your body’s “second brain” – your gut. [Read: How to stop overthinking – secrets to go from overthinker to relaxer]

What does a gut instinct feel like? 

Although almost every human being alive has felt a gut instinct, they might not have been aware of it. Instead, they might ignore or dismiss it as irrelevant to the situation. But here is what a gut instinct might feel like so you can recognize it in the future.

1. A sense of warmth

When you feel good, don’t you feel a sense of warmth? Think about what it feels like to be wrapped up in a blanket in front of a fireplace on a cold winter’s day. It’s cozy and feels warm and fuzzy. That’s one of the ways your gut instinct can feel too.

2. Ability to breathe more easily

When people are scared or having a panic attack, their breathing rate accelerates and they start to hyperventilate.

That is not a positive physical reaction to something. So, if you feel the opposite way, then that’s a good sign. [Read: Relieved after breaking up? 20 happy reasons why it’s a very good sign]

Your gut instinct makes you feel like you just came up from holding your breath under the water. You can breathe easily, and you feel a sense of relief. You have a sense of calm come over you.

3. Sharp clarity of hearing or vision

Humans are taught to only rely on their five senses. But some people think that we have a sixth sense that we don’t use, and part of that sixth sense is your gut instinct. 

So, if suddenly one or more of your five senses heightens, such as your hearing or vision, it’s probably your gut instinct at work. It’s trying to get your attention in any way it can. [Read: Why am I so indecisive? 25 whys and ways to be an instant decision-maker]

What does listening to your gut even mean?

Think about it. When you are nervous or hesitant about something you get butterflies in your stomach. As some would call it, a nervous stomach. 

When something feels wrong, your gut has a way of telling you. And when you feel calm and comfortable, your gut makes you feel okay.

And no, it may not be your literal gut. It is a mixture of your brain, your mind, your heart, and your subconscious. [Read: How to build self-confidence – 16 ways to realize you’re worth it]

Things you may not even actively think about or consider when making a decision go into your gut feeling. It makes sense to trust a part of you that knows it all, even when you don’t.

What is your gut feeling there for?

Your gut feeling is not an exact science. And no, you cannot say sorry for cheating on your partner by blaming it on your gut feeling. That is not how it works.

Your gut is not there to tell you right from wrong. It is there to tell you what will make you happy and what feels right to you. [Read: How to be happy in life – 12 hacks to find real happiness instantly]

It is not a moral compass, a life coach, or a way of thinking. Listening to your gut does not mean you can act irrationally or make sudden decisions based on nothing more than a feeling in your tummy.

Your gut is what you look to for guidance once you have weighed the pros and cons. It is the voice inside your head that you have turned on mute until you are looking for advice. 

It might be what helps you say yes to a marriage proposal or accept an invitation for dinner, but it is not the end all be all. [Read: Is your relationship stuck in a karmic cycle? Make a decision now]

Your gut is there for you to turn to in times of need. Not to answer every life question and contemplation you have. 

Your gut is not your conscience, but it is there for you to rely on to be happy, to trust when you can’t help but wonder, and to listen to when things are unclear.

Trusting your gut instinct

The phrase, trust your gut, is often used to prevent people from overthinking. You might say it to someone who is nervous about getting married, moving to a new city, or choosing a college. [Read: Relationship doubts – how to recognize them and make the right decision]

Our gut instinct is supposed to lead us down the right path without overanalyzing. It should help us make difficult choices without the pros and cons lists.

But if it is so trustworthy and reliable why do we all still end up making mistakes?

Well, as useful as your gut feeling is, it is not foolproof. And even when we listen to it, we forget what it tells us. We ignore our gut. Our gut is also not free from sway. [Read: Indecisiveness – when your inability to decide is a decision too]

Our gut is influenced by our past experiences. Once you’ve been cheated on, for instance, your gut may be in overdrive. It may take a small thing and overreact to it because it is on the defense.

Your gut gets hurt. If you make a choice and it doesn’t work out, your gut is affected by that. 

And then, when making future decisions, your gut will overcompensate. Instead of pointing you in the right direction, it will point you in the less risky direction which may not be right for you. [Read: How to be present and find your zone of calm perfection]

Although your gut is initially unbiased, once you’ve lived a bit, it is altered. It is a part of you that is altered by both your physical body and your mind. So, everything you’ve been through, your gut has been through.

That can make trusting your gut better and worse.

Should you trust your gut?

Do you remember when you were in school taking a test? You would mark your answer then second guess yourself and change your original answer. [Read: Dating while separated – 12 questions to make the right decision]

Then weeks later, you got your results and that is the question you got wrong. If only you kept your original answer, you would have gotten 100%.

Or maybe your boyfriend lied to you once and you forgave him. Well, if he does it again, your gut will guide you in the safest direction based on the past.

But your gut is not free from change, souring, or bitterness. Your gut can be full of fear. [Read: Fear of commitment – 47 signs, whys, and ways to get over your phobia]

So, if you’ve been betrayed or left, your gut may warn you to protect yourself instead of taking a risk that could be everything you’ve ever wanted. You see how trusting your gut isn’t as simple as it sounds?

These are just examples, but it happens in life every day.

Everything you go through in life offers you more wisdom. Therefore, trusting your gut can help you make the right choice based on previous outcomes. [Read: How to be fearless: Powerful steps to set aside fear and live your life]

How accurate are your gut instincts?

There’s no way of knowing exactly how accurate your gut instincts are. Sometimes they are very accurate, and other times, not so much. It really just depends on the person and the situation.

Instincts are supposedly based on the knowledge you gained from your experiences. For example, if you got a one-word text back from your significant other, your gut might tell you that they are mad.

If you thought about it logically, then it might not make sense because you didn’t say or do anything that would have caused them to be angry at you. [Read: Narcissistic rage – how to handle the angry backlash of a narcissist]

Gut instincts also are based on patterns. The human brain seeks patterns in everything. When we see them, we store them in our long-term memory. So, when we have a similar experience, our brains search for memories and give us the correct information.

For example, if you meet someone new and you automatically don’t like them for no logical reason, your gut instinct is telling you not to trust the person. Maybe you met someone like them before, such as how they look or how they act. Your brain and gut tell you to be cautious of them.

So, the accuracy of your gut instinct depends on several different factors. Your knowledge, experience, and situation all come into play when your gut instinct is at work. [Read: What should I do with my life? 16 steps to design your ideal life]

What happens when you don’t listen to your gut

Have you ever woken up and your first initial feeling was to stop at a coffee shop and get an indulgent latte to start your day? 

But you second guess that choice because there are too many calories, you might be late to work, and you’re saving money? So, you just make coffee at home.

Then as you’re getting in your car you spill your coffee all over. Now you have to make more, change your outfit, and clean your car which makes you even later.

If you only went with your gut feeling, you could be sipping your latte in peace on the way to work. [Read: Should we break up? 35 signs it’s over and past the point of no return]

When to listen to your gut

You should usually listen to your gut, and here are some situations where it’s particularly helpful.

1. At work

You might be writing an email or submitting something to your boss, so you are constantly editing and rewriting what you wrote to make sure it sounds perfect. 

But then you send it and there are three typos that wouldn’t have been there if you went with what you first wrote. [Read: How to become the best leader at work]

2. In fashion

How many times have you tried on a bunch of outfits before heading out just to go back to your original one? A billion? That is because listening to your gut may not be foolproof, but it is likely to be the right choice.

Even when shopping, you might pick up something that drew you in, a few basics, something trendy, and something boring. 

But more often than not the item you walk away with is the one you saw and knew you just needed. Thank you, gut! [Read: How to dress sexy – 29 subtle and classy ways to make them lust for you]

3. When dating

Overthinking when dating is almost impossible not to do. But your gut feeling tends to run the show. 

You may be out on a date with someone that seems perfect on paper, but when you are with them something just doesn’t feel quite right.

That is your gut feeling calling and warning you. Some people may be able to brush that feeling aside as nerves or fears, but usually, it will catch up with you. [Read: 13 warning signs to look out for on the first few dates]

And when you listen to your gut from the beginning you will thank yourself later. Especially when you find out weeks later the person was married and recently arrested for embezzlement.

4. With big decisions

There is absolutely nothing wrong with analyzing, especially when it comes to making a huge decision. Should you move across the country for a job? Should you tell your best friend you love them?

These sorts of things come with consequences for sure. And part of being an adult is weighing those consequences against the benefits. [Read: 14 steps to be you, unfake your life and love yourself]

But when something was a gut feeling from the start, you will likely end up sticking with it, or regretting that you didn’t.

You just have to listen.

When not to listen to your gut

There are certainly times when listening to your gut is not the best decision. If you have a loyal girlfriend and your gut feeling is telling you to hit on your waitress, you may want to take a step back and rethink that. [Read: Indecisive? Here’s why you struggle to make up your mind]

And if your gut feeling says to trust the guy on the street corner trying to sell you marked-down tickets to the Super Bowl, you may want to second-guess yourself there.

How to listen to your gut instinct

Whether you think you have it or not, you have it. Maybe you’re more analytical, so you don’t think you have intuition, but you do. 

Now, it could be that you think you don’t know how to follow your instinct, and if that’s the case, it’s about time you connected with it.

But to be honest, you probably have been following your instinct. You just didn’t know you were. [Read: Your ex wants you back – 20 steps to decide what’s best for YOU]

It’s easy for overthinking and the advice of others to get in the way of following your Northern Star *gut instinct*. Everyone has it. Might as well learn how to follow your gut instinct.

Here’s how to know when to trust your gut and make it work for you.

1. Slow things down

Everyone is busy today. We’re all running around with hundreds of different thoughts in our heads, and this causes a disconnection from yourself and your gut instinct. [Read: Mantras to live by – 14 mantras that will change your life]

So, if you want to connect with your gut instinct, then slow things down and clear your mind. Make time for yourself to just be with yourself.

2. Become more aware of your body

When your gut instinct is trying to tell you something, then you’ll feel it. But since you’re not connected with your gut instinct, those feelings are ignored. 

If you want to follow your gut instinct, learn to recognize your body’s sensations. If your stomach starts to turn, that’s when you know your body is trying to tell you something. [Read: How to welcome positive energy and vibes into your life] 

3. You may not like what your gut instinct is telling you

People don’t like to follow their gut instinct because it doesn’t always go with what they want. But our instinct isn’t acting on emotions; it’s telling us what we need to hear.

4. It’s time to focus on yourself

When you are told to trust your gut, it is often for a situation about you. Will you accept a job across the country? Will you marry someone? But will you break up? 

Yes, all of these decisions affect other people, but when you want to trust your gut and do it right, you should be your first priority. [Read: Are you feeling unsure about your relationship? Use this to guide you]

You won’t be able to follow your gut instinct if you’re following the thoughts and opinions of other people. To follow your gut instinct, you need to focus on yourself. 

What do you want and need? Look at yourself and shift the attention back to you. 

5. Step away from the situation.

Sometimes, it can be hard to follow your intuition when you’re in an intense situation. But if you really want to connect with yourself, take a step out of the situation and try to listen to your gut. [Read: Why you should take a break from dating online to find love]

What is it telling you? Now, you can make a rational decision.

6. Practice honesty with yourself

If you want to follow your gut instinct, you’re going to need to be honest with yourself. As we already discussed, you may not always like what your gut is telling you. 

But being honest with yourself will help you pick the right path. The path may not be easy in the beginning, but if something isn’t right, your gut will give you the best option. [Read: Deep truths and real questions for how to get to know yourself on a much deeper level]

7. Journal your feelings

Journaling can be a great way to connect back with yourself and help you follow your gut instinct. In a journal, you can write whatever you feel, all your emotions, and release yourself privately. 

If you’re struggling to make a decision, journal how you feel. The answer will come to you.

8. Stop caring about other people’s opinions

We let ourselves be influenced by society, our family, and our friends. We want to make the choice most people will be happy with. If you are a people pleaser, the odds are your gut is too. [Read: Indecisive? Here’s why you struggle to make up your mind]

You know what decision your parents or partner wants you to make, and your gut may lean towards that to make things easier for you. But, in this case, your gut is influenced by others and that never turns out well.

When it comes to intuition, the only person you should listen to is yourself. So, if you want to connect with your intuition, stop listening and following other people’s opinions.

9. Take action

 It’s time you acted on these feelings. Connect with these feelings and trust yourself again. [Read: In love with two people at the same time? 16 subtle signs to make a choice]

Make small steps. When you feel your intuition telling you something, try to listen to it. Making small steps is crucial to trust your intuition. 

10. Self-reflect

After you follow your gut instinct, take some time to sit down with yourself. Think about what happened. 

Let your mind wander and be open to whatever comes to you, whether it’s thoughts or feelings. This is mindfulness, and it can help you develop your intuition. [Read: How to feel good about yourself and kick ass in life]

11. Give yourself time to trust your instinct

You’re essentially just starting to let yourself trust yourself. How crazy is that? 

You will be scared and anxious in the beginning, but after trusting your instinct a couple of times, you’ll begin to see that your instinct is *usually* right.

12. It won’t always be right

Your instinct may be telling you one thing, but it’s always a good idea to think about the situation rationally before making a rash decision. That is if you can. [Read: 8 daily habits to help you love yourself]

If it’s an intense situation, you may just go with what feels right at that moment, and that’s okay too.

13. Stop thinking about the what-ifs

What-ifs are the poison of decision-making. This is overthinking at its worst. 

Thinking about all the possible outcomes based on what you do will only drive you crazy. You could think about a million and one outcomes, but what will happen will be the millionth and second. [Read: What to do when you’re feeling unsure about your relationship]

What-ifs overpower trusting your gut. Your gut feeling is an initial good or bad feeling, but if you overthink, you won’t be able to tell if you’re trusting your gut or your overactive mind.

14. Don’t trust your gut when you’re desperate

Desperation leads to poor decision-making. When you trust your gut in an intense and time-sensitive situation, you can often blame your decision on your gut instead of yourself.

But your gut is part of you. So, although it is viewed as this pit in your stomach that will give you wise answers, it is essentially the wizard from Wizard of Oz. [Read: 17 ways to focus on yourself and create your own sunshine]

It is only offering you what you already have. In desperate times, don’t remove responsibility and go with your gut. Go with yourself.

15. Let your gut guide you

Your gut may give you an answer one way or another, but it is not your leader. You make up your own mind. 

Your gut should be like a therapist. They guide you and give you perspective but do not actually tell you what to do. [Read: Love or career – how to choose and make sure you’re not left feeling bitter]

16. Start by making minor decisions

If you’re not sure if you can trust your gut, then just start with small decisions that don’t really matter too much. It could be where to go to dinner or whether or not you should go out with a friend tonight. 

When you start with minor decisions, you will gain more confidence in your gut instincts. Then, once you trust yourself more, you can move on to the larger, life decisions.

17. Test-drive your choices

In order to know how well your gut instinct is working for you, it’s important to test-drive your choices. [Read: Justifying your life choices – should you worry about it?]

You can’t just think about them – you have to actually take action on them. If you don’t, then you won’t know how it turns out. And as a result, you won’t learn to trust your gut.

18. Try the snap judgment test

Trying a snap judgment test is a great way to follow your instincts. For example, if you have two job offers and you don’t know which one to take, flip a coin. If it’s heads, you take job #1. If it’s tails, you take job #2.

Now, you don’t actually have to follow through with the coin. But doing this exercise will allow you to know immediately how you feel about that decision. [Read: Should you forgive a cheater? How and what to do before making your choice]

If you feel good or relieved, then your gut is telling you to go for it. If you feel uncomfortable or uneasy about it, then it’s a bad decision for you.

Relying on this sort of rapid cognition can allow your brain to make decisions without overthinking and help strengthen your trust in your gut. Not allowing your brain the time to think about a decision – and just feel about it – will make all the difference in the world.

Gut instincts you shouldn’t ignore

Our whole world values logic and rationality, so we are discouraged from listening to our gut instincts. Instead, we’re taught to think, think again, and then think some more. But overthinking can get you into trouble if you’re not careful. [Read: Top 30 reasons for divorce most couples ignore until it’s too late]

So, here are some gut instincts you should never ignore.

1. Something feels wrong in my body

You know your body better than anyone. And unfortunately, most people leave the decisions up to their doctors, but that’s not always the best thing to do. They don’t know your body as you do.

So, as difficult as it might be, listen to yourself. Even if your doctor tells you that you are fine – but you don’t feel fine – go get a second and third opinion. [Read: How to take care of a sick girlfriend – do it right without losing it]

Doctors aren’t gods. They are wrong a lot. If you feel sick, learn to listen to your gut instinct over your doctor.

2. I’m in danger

Animals have an instinct when they know danger is near. And believe it or not, so do humans. But because we have a greater ability for complex thinking, we rely on our logic more than our intuition.

But if you sense that you’re in danger, that is definitely not the time to overthink things. It’s time to remove yourself from the situation so you can protect yourself. [Read: Sexually abusive relationship – 8 subtle signs you’re being abused]

Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem logical. You don’t want to find out the hard way.

3. I want to help

You might have a friend or loved one who appears to be just fine on the surface. But your gut instinct is telling you something is not right with them. Your logical mind says they’re fine, but you aren’t so sure.

Follow your gut instinct and talk to them. See if they need help. [Read: 15 Secrets to help a friend heal from a breakup and feel happy again]

For all you know, they could be suicidal but don’t have anyone else to talk to. Helping people in need is definitely a time when you shouldn’t ignore your intuition. 

4. I know how to do this

Our logical mind can also talk us out of doing things. Something might seem like it is too big of a task or that you’re not capable of it. But if your gut instinct says you can, then you can! 

Don’t let your logical mind bring you down. Your gut instinct knows you better than your rational brain, so follow that instead. [Read: How to get your life together – 30 ways to live your best life]

5. This is it! 

We all go through life searching for happiness. We want to find the perfect partner, the perfect career, the perfect house, and much more. So, when you find something that feels exactly right, then follow your gut instinct.

There are plenty of people who will tell you that they “knew” that their spouse was “The One” on their first date. It might have even happened when they laid eyes on them and hadn’t even spoken to them yet. They followed their intuition, and it turned out great. [Read: Follow your dreams – all the amazing reasons why it’s worth it]

Listen to your gut even when you think you shouldn’t

When it comes to a college choice, taking a new job, or entering into a new relationship you might think listening to your gut is too flaky or not practical. And that may be true.

There are always pros and cons and other factors to take into account, but amongst the practical, when you go with your gut, things tend to work out.

[Read: Your guide for how to live a life a good life you’ll love]

You should listen to your gut when it needs to be heard. Follow these tips to know when you should listen and ignore it.

Liked what you just read? Follow us on Instagram Facebook Twitter Pinterest and we promise, we’ll be your lucky charm to a beautiful love life.

Samantha Ann
My name is Samantha Ann. I am 28 years old. It was always my dream to become an advice columnist, so after years of off and online dating and eventually finding...