One of the most essential tenets of modern wisdom is the idea that, deep down, you know the truth about everything in your life and, by extension, your future. The idea is that you are an oracle unto yourself, and your feelings are apertures into not only what’s happening now, but what’s going to happen soon.
We’re really not to blame for believing this. There’s a significant amount of research that proves the interconnectedness of our brains and bodies — explaining why when we have a “gut feeling,” or an instinct that precedes logic, it is often correct.
This is because the lining of our gastrointestinal systems functions as a “second brain,” given how it stores a backlog of information that your conscious mind can’t recall faster than your body can sense. It is this incredible skill that makes your instinct almost always correct.
But your gut — though intelligent — isn’t psychic.
This is one of the key reasons anxiety is, statistically, skyrocketing, especially among young adults: we are training them to literally believe everything that they feel.
If you want to tune into yourself more, follow your heart, pursue your passion, find your soul — whatever it is — the first thing that you have to understand is that your “gut instinct” can only respond to what’s happening in the present. If you have an “instinct” about a future event, you’re projecting.
This is how you can start breaking down your “gut feelings.” Are you responding to someone who is in front of you, or are you responding to your idea of them in your head? Are you reacting to a situation that’s playing out right now, or are you reacting to one you imagine, assuming you know how it will go? Are your feelings regarding what’s happening right now, or what you hope and fear will happen in the future?
Aside from only really being able to function in the present, your gut instinct is also quiet. The “little voice” within is just that… little.
It does not scream. It does not panic. It does not pump your body with adrenaline to get your attention. It is not angry. It is the wave of clarity that overcomes you in the middle of your darkest moments, in which something tells you: it’s going to be alright, it’s not as bad as you think, everything is okay.
Your gut instinct functions to make things better, whereas your imagination can often make things worse.
But this is often confusing to people, because which feelings are your instincts, and what are your fears, or doubts, or limiting beliefs? How do we know the difference?
Well, your instincts aren’t actually feelings, they are responses.
If you find yourself particularly drained after spending time with someone, or feeling like you don’t want to see them again, that’s your instinct. If the work that you do exhausts you and every bit of it is forced and undesirable, that is your instinct. Instinct is not a feeling (you don’t have an “instinct” that you’re sad today) instinct is quickly moving yourself out of harm’s way without having to really think about it.
You have to remember that your feelings, while valid, are not often real. They are not always accurate reflections of reality. They are, however, always accurate reflections of our thoughts. Our thoughts change our feelings. Our thoughts do not change our instincts. What you naturally gravitate toward or away from is your instinct. It’s not something you feel or interpret, it’s something you naturally do.
When people talk about using their instincts to craft a life they love, this is what they mean: that they are obeying what their subtle intuition tells them they feel best doing. Sometimes, your instinct can move you toward your art, even if it makes you uncomfortable and resistant. Sometimes, your instinct can move you to keep working on a relationship, even when it’s hard.
Your instinct doesn’t exist to ensure you feel comfortable and ecstatic at all hours of the day. It moves you toward what you’re meant to do, because it shows you where your interests, skills and desires intersect.