To Make the Best Decision, Listen to Your Gut

Nov 30, 2016 | Stress

Logical decisions

When it comes to making important decisions, do you tend to take a slow, logical approach? Do you make a list of pros and cons to consider?

Do you focus on facts and data, perhaps even seeking more information and others’ opinions as you try to decide?

Most of us tend towards a fact-based, logical approach to decision-making, which is also largely favored in the business world.

But if you’re only considering facts and logic in your decisions, you’re missing some important information.

Internal messages

What about those immediate, internal messages that we sometimes get – a sudden thought to turn back, or an inexplicable sense that someone should not be trusted?

Because these internal messages seem to come out of nowhere and cannot be verified, often we ignore them.

But quick or gut reactions are the body’s way of sending a different kind of information to our brains through a much more primitive system, a system that helped our species survive well before we relied on data-driven analysis.

According to neuroscience, a much older part of our brains, called the reptilian or limbic system, quickly takes information from the body to allow our brains to formulate immediate decisions. The information from this system is sent to our brain’s right hemisphere. (For more, see “The Science Behind Intuition.”)

At one time, this system was linked to our very survival as humans. It warned us of many hidden dangers before we could see or know of them.

Although we rarely need to rely on this system for survival today, we would do well not to ignore its messages.

Neuroscience of the gut

Where does the information for these quick decisions come from? Neuroscience says, in large part, from our guts – literally.

We tend to think of our brains as the only body part involved in decision-making, but in fact our guts are full of information and are linked to our brains through the right hemisphere.

Our brain receives information from our guts through a complex network of neurons, chemicals and hormones, dubbed by some scientists as our body’s second brain.

Dr. Daniel Siegel explains that signals from the intestines, as well as the heart, muscles and bones, travel through the spinal cord to the brainstem which in turn affects our heart rate and breathing.

Some information also travels up the spinal cord to a higher part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex where information is quickly shared and assessed for making a decision.

So when you suddenly realize that you have a queasy feeling in your stomach, that’s your gut having a sense feeling that something is off, and you are stressed.

And because this is such a fast-moving system, the sense feeling tends to occur before our mind recognizes that we’re stressed.

Including your gut sense

As Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, points out, the best decisions are made by assessing all information, both facts and data, and information from our guts.

The challenge with this other type of information from the so-called second brain is that it comes as a feeling sense and not in the form of words like “danger” or “untrustworthy.”

So in order to be the best decision-maker, you need to have a strong connection to your gut feeling and be able to interpret that.

We should still consider facts and data, as a gut sense may not always be accurate. For instance, it could be based on a bias or past negative experience that isn’t true now. But the gut feeling is nonetheless information that should not be ignored.

When a coaching client is struggling to make a decision but focusing only on facts and data, pros and cons, I will coach her to move away from the left-brain analysis and into a feeling sense. Almost without fail, she will recognize a new thought or stroke of insight that wasn’t there before.

Where’s your gut feeling?

If you haven’t been listening to your gut lately, don’t despair. It’s still there. You just need to give it some attention and focus.

Where’s your gut feeling these days? I’d love to hear your thoughts, or if you ‘d like help finding it, contact me.

Photo by Mohit Kumar at


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Jennifer is the creator of Pathways to Change, a framework for mindful leadership development that integrates coaching, neuroscience, mindfulness and mind-body principles.

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