Should You Listen to Your Instincts?



I once read that gut instinct is all subconscious. Your mind picks up on little clues about the environment around you and your body reacts by giving you a feeling about what way feels right to you. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I can tell you that I tend to use my gut when making decisions. And so far, it’s been very reliable.

Intuition Works

We all know what it’s like to get a gut feeling about something. But should we really listen to it? Does it even exist?

According to one study, not only does your gut instinct work, but it can help you make some really good decisions. In the study, they took a group of participants and asked them to play a card game none of them had ever played before. The card game was specifically designed so no obvious strategy could be used. Players had to rely solely on their hunches.

Most players eventually found ways to win the game based on intuition rather than reason. Subtle changes to the players’ heart rate and sweating patterns affected how well each person played the game.  The players interpreted those subtle changes in the moves they made.  Eventually they could figure out what moves worked best.

So if gut instinct really works, are there any ways you can develop it and make it stronger? Well, I’ve come up with four ways to strengthen your intuition.

1. Study body language

Successfully interacting with people requires a good understanding of body language. Being able to spot someone across the room and just know they are upset can give you a really good insight into group dynamics and how to talk with that particular person. In general women understand body language much more than men. This might contribute to the notion of “women’s intuition”.

But if you’re one of those people who just can’t read others. I suggest reading up on it. There are many great books on body language, some good websites or you could just use trial and error.

The best part about getting good at body language is eventually you’ll be able to subconsciously pick up on micro-gestures. These are movements so subtle that they slip past your conscious thought completely, but will alarm your gut instinct. Often, they can only be noticed consciously if you’re videotaping someone and you slow down the tape enough.

2. Practice

Developing a good gut instinct is just like any other skill. The more you use it, the better it becomes. Make guesses about what a person is going to do or say. At first, you’ll probably be able to justify each of those guesses. At this point, you’re not using your gut that much.

Eventually, all this guessing will get your gut instinct to kick in. You’ll start to get “feelings” about people you can’t easily justify or rationalize. Go with those feelings and remember what your gut has been saying to you.

Remember when your gut has been wrong and when it has been right. It doesn’t matter if it turns out to be mistaken. In fact, when I first started developing my gut, I was often wrong. Each time it is wrong, you will learn from it and become better. Keep in mind that no decision-making process is infallible.

3. Go people-watching

People-watching isn’t just fun, you can actually learn a lot. And the best part is, you can do it anywhere. When you watch someone, don’t just look at what they’re doing. Take in their clothes, hairstyle, body language, what they’re carrying and if they’re with someone. Try to create their life story.

By looking at them alone, can you figure out if they’re married, have kids, are overworked, have a high or low self esteem? You can get surprisingly good at this if you do it enough. Just don’t stalk anyone.

4. Learn an activity that requires quick thinking

There a few hobbies you can learn that require you to make actions so quickly that you cannot possibly think your way through it. Instead of taking in a situation and formulating the best possible course of action in your head, you have to rely almost entirely on your gut instinct. It’s the perfect way to strengthen your intuition skills.

For example, surfing requires you to have a lot of gut level instinct in order to make sure you don’t fall into the water. There just isn’t enough time while you’re riding the wave to really think your way through. You have to act and react constantly without thinking and rely a lot on your intuition. Similarly, learning a martial art like Krav Maga can help develop gut reactions.

Gut Feelings

Using these methods to increase your gut instinct can really help develop some intuitive skills. They are what I’ve done to develop mine and so far my gut feelings have been incredibly accurate. And my gut right now is telling me that with some practice you can get your gut feelings to work really well too.

Do you listen to your gut often too? How accurate is your intuition?
photo credit: joaoloureiro

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  1. My intuition in certain areas is really good – I got out of the market just before the 2000 and 2008 dips – but only when I do not force it. I have to go with what instantly feels right. If there is any hesitation, I might as well roll the dice to see if I guessed correctly.

    In another life (okay, up until about a year ago), I was a competitive ballroom dancer. To do well as a follower, one has to listen to her partner’s body and respond to each little nuance. When my brain got involved, it all fell apart. I had to divorce my mind from the situation and just let my body react. That is easy to say and tough to do, especially when out on the floor with tons of other couples and the pre-planned and rehearsed dance routine has to go out the window. That is when lots of practice and simple trust help.

    My gut is much better at keeping me out of bad situations than helping me find good ones. Maybe I should listen to it more when the going gets good!

    • I’d listen to your gut to get you out of bad situations too since they got you out of the 2000 and 2008 market dips. I tend to use mine in both good and bad situations.

      I can see competitive ballroom dancing helping build intuition. You have to make quick movements based on what you feel the other person is going to do. You must have been really good at it to be competitive in it too.

  2. Hi Steve,

    I like this post as I believe our instinct and intuition can be learnt. You just suggested four ways here. The most powerful of this is to flex our intuition muscle often. Never mind our wild tries end up wrong. The more we do it, the better we get.

    Intuition and instinct is often link to certain physiological responses. For different people, this could be different. It is really up to us to become aware of where the strong emotions and feelings are coming from when we use intuition correctly.

    • Hi Jimmy, I think of intuition as a muscle too. You can build it up and make it better with just a little bit of practice. I’ve found that you can learn it and get better at doing it.

      It really comes down to understanding those physiological responses. I think that being aware of them and figuring out what they mean really is key to being more intuitive.

  3. Hey Steve,
    Yes, intuition is real and it is based on a subconscious level of our being. When we trust our gut we can make decisions that our conscious mind would rather not. The key is to trust and remember that we are the creator of our reality.

    • Good point, Justin. It’s a matter of trusting what your subconscious is saying to you. Your gut feelings are trying to tell you something and if you don’t listen to it, you could be missing something.

  4. I am so bad with my gut instinct. In particular I usually am so wrong with my first impressions, that I think I should start listening to the opposite of my gut instinct instead!

    • First impressions can be tough. There was something in the study about bad gut instincts too. They can sometimes tell you the opposite of what you really should do. I think it just takes some practice to get it right.

  5. Hey Steve,

    Since animals don’t think they must listen to their instincts and they do a pretty good job of it. (They react the best possible way to the current situation) They don’t second guess, they just need do what needs to be done.
    Don’t we have a lot learn from them?

    thanks for the share


  6. Anonymous says:

    I met a really nice man, and instantly he fit well into my family. They all love him, my child adores him, plus he’s really sweet. He’s incredibly handsome, and I’m not the only one who notices. The thing is, I think he has eyes for my sister. I have four sisters and they are all pretty, but I SEE him staring at one of my sisters all the time. They are constantly talking and laughing, and I have no choice but to let them become close because he’s considered family now. I don’t know why, but it’s the WAY he looks at her. They talk and stare at each other so intensely. He turned his back to me yesterday to talk to her. When they talk, he looks so deeply into her eyes. I can just see that he has something for her. My gut is telling me to be cautious of them, but also…what if I’m bugging out? I am very insecure and just got out of an abusive relationship. God help me.

  7. Dear Steve, I agree with pretty much everything You said. I am a hitchhiker, I have a good understanding of the body language as well, and in my travels often I have to make fast decisions. In time I learned that our instinct and our heart would always keep us out of troubles. Here is my life lesson that I learned and that I am willing to share with You

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