There’s an age-old question surrounding our thoughts and behaviors: Do we think before we act, or act before we think? The fact is much of our decision making is merely reactionary—instinctual responses to our body’s physical reactions. Clichés like “following your heart” and “trusting your gut” can often, it seems, be surprisingly accurate. No matter how much of an “over-thinker” we may believe that we are, those sweaty palms oftentimes trump our logic even when making the most important choices.
More often than not, our bodies can govern how we think and feel rather than our minds being in control. People who are most in tune with their bodies are at greater risk for being led by gut instinct.
Studies show that when we are faced with financial offers that we deem unfair, for instance, our gut feelings override our rational, quantitative decision-making abilities. Even when we will ultimately benefit from the proposal, our physical reactions make us far more likely to reject the proposition we falsely consider to be unjust.
How do we master the art of instinct? Here are 9 tips to help you know when and when to not go with your gut:
1. Listen to your gut when making decisions that have no wrong answer or no negative consequence.
Feel like the report you’ve just written needs another review? Make it happen. Does something trivial just feel right? Don’t over-think it and just enjoy.
2. Think before you act when a choice could result in long-term consequences.
When choosing a home, for instance, it is easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of landing new digs. But, sleep on it! Weigh the pros and cons and be sure to check out plenty of homes before choosing your future residence.
3. Don’t let your head get in the way when it comes to compassion.
If you see someone in need and feel the impulse to help, do it. Compassion is a gut instinct that should never be ignored.
4. Trust your intuition when you feel unsafe.
This doesn’t mean always letting fear get in the way, but when it comes to situations in which you feel an unwavering sense of vulnerability, listen to your instinct. If you are walking on a dark street and feel a seemingly irrational sense that the person behind you is a threat, go with your intuition and cross the street.
5. If you have a feeling that you or your child is sick.
Don’t ignore this sentiment! Take action—book an appointment. No one knows your body like you do. Listen to it!
6. When rewards are within your capabilities.
Studies show that for many decisions, ranging from major to inconsequential, people who thought less (relied less on logic) reported being happier with their choices. Don’t let your thoughts get in the way of appreciating an exciting milestone. Just treated yourself to a new bag that’s well within your budget? Good for you! Kick that buyer’s remorse to the side.
7. Stick with your head when making decisions under emotional pressures.
If you’re having a bad day, everything can appear seemingly negative. Don’t let these physiological responses lead you to an unsound conclusion.
8. When you are self-assured.
When feeling a sudden urge of confidence for no rational reason, trust your gut and don’t let your mind bring you down. Self-assurance allows you to accomplish great feats—be sure to not let self-defeating thoughts get in your way.
9. Don’t back-flip once you’ve committed.
Lastly, remember to ignore the chatter of your thoughts once a decision that can’t be undone has been made. Trust yourself and trust your ability to make sound choices and move on.