What The Wild Things Are

Understandings of Self, Awareness, and Mental Health in an Ever-Changing World

My gut told me what to do... and I followed my heart

Body sensations: a phone call worth picking up.

"He broke my heart."  "The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end."  "She got cold feet."  "He is suffering from a heartache."  "Her eyes popped out of her head."  "I got butterflies in my stomach."  These are just a few of the many phrases that we employ using body sensations to describe an experience.  Using these body sensations is not just coincidental or metaphorical - we actually experience things in our body and these body sensations can (and do) give us a lot of information about what is going on.


Recently, researchers in a study in Psychological Science (Barnaby D. Done, et al) set out to learn more about intuition and the "gut feeling" that we use to make decisions.  In this study, researchers found that some participants who used their intuition or gut instinct to learn had great success while others had opposite results: some of them 'used their gut' successfully to solve problems quickly, while others had the opposite effect - their gut gave them the exact wrong moves to make, making it impossible for them to learn what they needed.

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When the researchers examined these two groups further, they became aware that those who were more aware of their own heartbeat while following their gut - i.e. able to 'listen to their heart' - were able to use their gut instinct to help them to make wise choices.  Those who were simply relying on gut and intuition were led astray.


If we are looking for an instruction manual to provide us with using our intuition and 'gut instinct' successfully, the study unfortunately can't help us.  However, it makes clear that what happens in our bodies really does influence our mind and vice versa.  Our body is constantly giving us important information about how to conduct ourselves in the world.  How to interpret the information isn't always clear, but perhaps if we practice we can learn to be the good listeners we need to be.


Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images: Body sensations: a phone call worth picking up.


Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist and co-founder of the Pathways Institute for Impulse Control in San Francisco.


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