Very often, I’ve used the phrase that I was making a decision by “going with my gut.” Recently, I’ve started to think about what that really means. It turns out there is lots of research out there to back up your ability to make decisions quickly with your unconscious mind, which may appear like decisions you’ve made based on instinct, but actually are not. There are also those that believe that going with your gut is some sort intuition or extra sensory perception.
I believe in both those things really. I believe our minds are capable of taking in and analyzing a huge amount of information and forming a reaction based on our past experiences, often before we are fully conscious of it. I also believe that there are things that happen in our minds; things we know or feel that we will never have an explanation for. Whether that is some type of an extra sense, I couldn’t say for sure, but I believe it’s possible because I’ve had those experiences.
However, going with your gut also depends on what exactly you are trying to make a decision about. If you are deciding which shirt to wear for your date tonight, go with your gut. If you are deciding where to invest your money or the best way to file your taxes for this year, ignore your gut and go to an expert. I mean let’s not be all crazy, okay.
What I’m actually talking about, when I say I’m making a decision with my gut, is being able to stop, check in with myself, and make sure I am making a choice that feels right for me. This took a long time to perfect. First, I had to have years of “learning experiences,” you know all those awful decisions we made that turned out wrong! Secondly, I had to take the time to really get to know myself, and to change anything I didn’t actually like about myself. So it was a process that took decades to perfect and is still ongoing.
I’ve discovered that many of those bad decisions I made over the years were decisions I made for other people, not for me. They were things I did to keep other people happy or because I worried what other people thought. They were often decisions made to appease other people’s expectations of me or simply decisions made to keep the peace. Very often, the decisions that turned out badly were not made with my own health and happiness in mind. They were, in fact, often decisions that went against my gut feelings at the time but I chose to ignore my own feelings.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t consider other people’s feelings when making decisions, especially the feelings of people you care about. What I am saying is that you can’t sacrifice your own happiness and mental health just to please other people. You have to weigh both carefully. Don’t compromise yourself or ultimately they won’t be decisions that make anyone happy in the long run.
By now, at 47, I am pretty darn comfortable with who I am. No, that does not mean I think I am perfect, quite the opposite really. I am more than aware of all my flaws. In fact, if you notice one I’ve missed, please point it out (well be kind about it at least okay). You see now my goal is no longer to have the appearance of a good life, like when I was younger, but to actually have a truly good, fulfilling, meaningful life. That type of life comes from the inside out, so I relish the opportunities to learn something new about myself and improve in any way I can!
One of the things I’ve learned in this process is that I make the best decisions if I listen to my own feelings, if I go with my gut. Again, I don’t mean about my retirement plan, for that I hire someone who likes math way more than I do! I am talking about those life choices that often involve the education you choose, the career you choose, the ways you contribute to the world and the people you choose in your life to share all those things with. These are the choices that are directly responsible for the quality of my life. These are the choices that have the ability to fulfill me or drain me of all joy completely.
These may not always be huge decisions. Sometimes they are about a major life change and sometimes they are about a difficult conversation you need to have with a friend. Both are important. First of all, remember you need to give yourself time and space to make these decisions. When we are young we are so inpatient to have our “real” lives begin that we often ignore the time and work needed to know what the right choices are! Sometime we are so paralyzed with fear we avoid making the choice at all, which is in itself a decision.
I’m no longer at that place. At this age, I take the time, and sum up the courage, to make the tough decisions. Now, when faced with a choice, I find some quiet time alone to really get in touch with my own feelings. Then I make the choice in my head and sit with it for a while. Does that decision produce anxiety or peace? If I make the second choice, what am I feeling? If I am feeling extremely anxious about it, why am I? Is it because it’s a big step or because the other choice really feels better? Am I doing the least harm with this choice, NOT only to other people, but to myself as well? Which choice just feels right, deep in my gut? So far, the choices I’ve made that way have consistently come out much better than the choices I made under pressure when I was younger. Even in the end, if the result is not what I had hoped for, I can still find peace knowing that I made the best decision I could, with the knowledge I had, and that I did what truly felt right at the time.
After all, you go to an accountant because they’ve spent years studying to be the best at what they do, but no one has spent more years with you than you have. So when making those really, tough choices, trust the real expert – you!