Although I know it's an insanely popular bit of advice, something that I'm not very big on—and you'll never hear me suggest someone do—is "follow your heart" (for the record, if you're a Bible reader, the good book is not super-fond of it either—Jeremiah 17:9-10).
By definition, your heart is where emotions are stored up. If you think that you should always make choices based on how you're feeling at any given point and time…let's just say you're gonna be in for quite a series of emotional roller coaster rides; ones that can cause e-motion sickness.
In a lot of ways, I feel the same way about trusting your gut, although I do think it's a lot more reliable than your heart is. Basically, your gut is your intuition and there is plenty of scientific evidence to support that it is something that can oftentimes be trusted.
Oftentimes. Not all of the time.
So, how can you know for sure when it's a good idea to go with your gut and when you should probably do anything but? Personally, I think the answer is found in knowing the difference between intuition (reliable) and presumption (not so reliable).
What Is Your Intuition, Anyway?
Someone once said, "Always trust your gut, it knows what your head hasn't figured out yet." The word I take issue with here is "always."
Yes, there are times when your intuition (gut instinct) is super on-point. That's because what a lot of reputable therapists and scientific research can agree on is it's usually based on three main things: your experiences, the lessons you've learned from them, and the physical responses/reactions you get as the result of both of those things. But did you catch that in order to trust your instincts, you need to have learned from your past experiences?
Take the butterflies you might feel about a new guy who has many of the same good and not-so-good characteristics of the three past exes who totally dogged you out. If you didn't take time to heal from your exes, you might think that dating this next dude is a good thing because your "gut" is telling you so, when really it's more about 1) you probably not being able to tell the difference between love and lust (check out "Why Falling in Love Gives You Butterflies") and 2) you're confusing your intuition with your patterns.
How can you know for sure which you're doing? Take out a piece of paper and jot down the past five times you've been in a particular situation. Then be honest with yourself about how you handled each situation and what the outcome was. If you got the same results, every time, yet you kept doing the same thing even if it didn't work in your favor, that's a pattern.
If it was truly your intuition in operation, you'd get a feeling alerting you to take a different approach because your pattern from the past has taught you that you should make a different set of decisions. Make sense?
Presumption—The Counterfeit of Intuition
When believing that you're operating from the place of your intuition, there is one more thing to keep in mind; something that I oftentimes see happen in marriages. What I mean by that is if there is a counterfeit that intuition has, it's presumption. It's boldly and arrogantly assuming that you know something to be true even without any truth, facts, or evidence.
Say that you're sick of your job, but you stay because it pays well and you've got a stack of bills and debt. One day, you come into work in a bad mood and your boss gives you a super-stressful assignment. In response, you decide to up and quit because you think she has it out for you because "your gut" is telling you so.
What truth, facts, and/or evidence do you have to back that up?
How much is your bad mood influencing your frame of mind?
Do you have a source of income to take care of matters before finding something new?
One of the main things to remember when it comes to your intuition is it's designed to look out for you. It sends alerts that are related to danger and destructive choices. It's a heads up telling you to actually slow down and tap into your logical side before making a decision. It's not a co-sign to do things based on emotions alone.
Basically, if you're about to do something, your mind quickly reminds you of the last time you did something similar and how it turned out for you and your body either feels extremely peaceful (good) or anxious (not-so-good), that's probably your intuition speaking.
Anything else is a pattern, presumption, emotions, or all of the above.
Your intuition is reliable. The others? Not so much.
Featured image by Getty Images