It all has to do with how our brains develop memories. There are two different types of memories—implicit and explicit. Explicit memories are the things we have consciously crammed into our brains—like studying for a test. Implicit memories are things that are formed in our minds without our conscious effort, for example getting a song or a movie quote stuck in your head. When the two types of memories work together you can develop second nature skills. It is like learning how to play a sport, or ride a bike—you had to explicitly learn it, but once it is there it becomes second-nature.
A gut instinct is your brains way of recalling something that has happened before that you might not be consciously recalling. For instance, you wouldn’t run over and grab a hot pan off the stove. You have learned in the past that the stove is hot. You wouldn’t put your finger in an electrical socket, or use a toaster in the bathtub—society has told you these things are bad. You know that falling in love feels good, but you can also get hurt.
But how do we know if we should be listening? How do we know we aren’t just afraid, or worried when we shouldn’t be? How do you know when to trust your instincts?
1.) Acknowledge your interest—If you can’t get an idea of your head, then your gut is trying to tell you something. You saw an ad for a job and quickly pushed the idea away, but now you can’t stop thinking of it. You noticed a guy at the coffee shop that you have seen before and you are starting to wonder more about him. Maybe you should talk to him next time. Listen to yourself.
2.) Ignore the rules— Just because your mom told you that you shouldn’t talk to strangers doesn’t mean you should hold back. Just because you told yourself you would be a stay-at-home mom until your kids were in school, doesn’t mean things can’t change.
3.) Allow your ideas to change—Your gut is telling you to talk to the guy at the coffee shop, or to find a job, but maybe you start by joining a singles group and getting to know more people. Or maybe you apply for that job, but you also look at other options that could help both your worlds to merge. Be flexible.
4.) Commit yourself—if your gut is telling you to do something, really start to investigate. Think about it, research it, allow yourself to make a well-informed conscious decision rather than being impulsive.
The bottom line is—listen. Listen to yourself, your body, your brain, and your gut. Don’t ignore it, think it through. Science says your gut is probably right.
Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC
Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.