Let’s Talk About Gut (baby)

GutThere’s this funny little thing called Gut. She sits somewhere in your stomach, but when she wants your attention, she gives you all the feels, all over.

To some, Gut is a friend; to others, she’s an enemy. And yet to others, she’s a stranger.

To me, Gut is a compass; a trusted companion on this journey we call life.

Ever since I was a kid, my mom would reference her “gut feeling” or “gut reaction.” I thought it was some sort of motherly instinct bestowed upon the best of the best; something a mom was gifted with when her child is born. (I mean, my mom did always tell me she had eyes in the back of her head.) That may be partially true – maybe it’s enhanced by motherly instincts – but it was into my teenage years when I realized I had gut feelings too.

I went to a post-homecoming party one October night in high school. I sat in the backyard of a three-story home that belonged to the parents of a kid I knew. It was dark and music played in the background; there was a deep, autumn chill in the air. Friends lounged on chairs and sprawled out on a beat-up sofa that sat next to a bonfire. Some kids sipped cheap beer, most likely stolen from their parents’ garage fridges. The scene outside that night was certainly not out of control, but I was uncomfortable with the people there. I also felt as though some sketchy things were going on inside the house, even though the kid’s mom was home.

I’m not sure what it was about the evening, but while I was sitting in a chair looking over the fire, something inside me told me to leave. I asked my date if we could leave, but he didn’t want to. “We’ll leave soon,” he said. I waited another fifteen minutes before I asked him again. “Soon,” my date said. Something kicked into high gear, and I used my cell phone (Nokia flip phone that I shared with my younger brother) to call a guy friend who had not gone to the dance that night. I left 20 minutes later; the police showed up at the house no longer than 10 minutes after my departure. I don’t remember what happened or what prompted the police coming. All I knew was that my body physically sensed something was off, and I was thankful that I responded to it. Because I listened to the voice inside me, I avoided a less than desirable situation.

Over the past 14 years or so, I have gotten well acquainted with that good ol’ gut feeling of mine. In fact, I have come to know Gut as a dear friend. Through college, living abroad, moving across country and not to mention, dating, I’ve had Gut sucker punch me right in the belly and smack me across the face more than a few times.

Sometimes Gut presents me with a lighter “something feels off” kind of attitude. Other times she shouts “Girl, run!” Yet, sometimes, Gut says, “This feels right,” and “Hey, you may want to look at this again.” While it may not make logical sense on paper, nor sync up perfectly with my infinite number of decision-making, pro/con charts, I lean on Gut with every decision I make. That’s right; I map out my decisions on paper with enough details to consume pages, but then I put that aside, take a deep breath and check in with Gut. What’s funny is that Gut normally knows what to do quickly, and even after hours of charts and lists, Gut sticks with the same conclusion. So, I guess my type A qualities and habits are simply a way of proving I did due-diligence and took time to consider other options, even if for just a few moments.

The thing is this, I believe Gut is our own personal advocate. Gut sits inside you and wants to be heard and wants to help; we just often don’t let her. Instead, most of us drown her out. We spend endless amounts of hours creating pro/con charts and having endless amounts of conversations with endless amounts of people to either seek their input, gain validation or further analyze situations. We often end up agonizing and becoming all-consumed by choices and decisions and details, whether big or small, and wondering “what if this” or “what if that.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have the tough conversations with a few trusted people in your circle, and it’s important to be clear with potential outcomes and alternative solutions. But, at the end of day, we need to listen to ourselves. You need to listen to you. And often our own voice comes through as Gut, our trusty little advisor.

Gut wants to be heard; and when we become all consumed by what’s outside of us, we can forget what’s inside of us.

I believe, most of the time, what we think is best, and know to be true, is already inside of us. It’s just that many of us don’t take important time to listen or simply don’t want to hear what Gut wants to say. So, instead, we fret and lose sleep over choices and decisions, and we often fall victim to the chaos we have created around us.

I think most of us fit into one of these Gut personas; Gut Stranger, Gut Enemy and Gut Friend.

Gut Stranger has a decision to make and becomes overwhelmed; sometimes partially and sometimes exceedingly. Gut Stranger can be paralyzed by a situation or a choice. By default, Stranger ends up rolling with whatever, because it’s easier than standing firm. Stranger may see two different paths, but what lies after the first step in either direction is incredibly murky. Which way do I go? What if I choose wrong? While sitting with uncertainty, Stranger hits a point of exhaustion that prompts a mission to seek validation of others. “Tell me what to do,” Stranger pleads. And, when asked, “What do you feel you should do?” Stranger says, “I have no idea.” Eventually Gut Stranger may decide to roll with it, make no decision at all or let someone else make the decision for her. Or, Stranger may make the decision on her own but lack confidence about the choice and continue to second guess herself. At no point in Stranger’s journey was Gut sought out or heard, and believe me, Gut wanted to advise.

Gut Enemy can hear Gut, either deep down or right on the surface, but deny her. Enemy can maybe feel something isn’t right or know a certain decision is best but pushes the instinctual feeling away. Gut Enemy can hear the voice inside or even feel the body having a physical response, such as anxiety and overwhelming stress. However, Gut Enemy proceeds ahead anyway, burying Gut as far as Gut will go. But, Gut continues to surface in big and small ways. Gut wants to yell “Listen to me.” Enemy often proceeds and stays in situations that do not nurture the soul nor heart and denies Gut to maintain a certain appearance and to not disappoint others. Sometimes Enemy denies Gut because there is a dream or image of life sought for so long, and Enemy does not want to face the reality that the dream may have changed and may no longer be best. Gut Enemy feels that sucker punch deep down inside, but instead gives it a good, hard boot back to where it came from. When Gut gets beat up over and over, it becomes harder to hear her and her voice eventually becomes silenced. Somewhere down the line, Enemy starts to feel lost and confused; often because they disassociated with themselves and lost their good buddy, Gut.

Gut Friend sees Gut as a trusted companion. Friend can hear Gut and consistently acknowledges her. In fact, Gut gets a seat at the decision-making table. Whether it’s a little decision or big choice, Friend checks in with Gut and visualizes Gut as a compass. Friend may supplement Gut with pro/con lists and other research and conversations, but ultimately, Friend makes a decision that illustrates at least partial sense on paper. And, even if it’s not logical on paper, Friend will do what resonates with Gut and choose what sits right in mind and body. Friend may seek a certain dream, but trusts that Gut will provide signals along the way and will redirect when necessary. A deeply devoted Gut Friend will make decisions even if no one else understands. In fact, I know someone who would not board a plane with friends once, because they had a “gut feeling” it was bad idea. The friends all went on a fantastic vacation, and nothing bad happened. But, this individual stood by their decision, did not board the plane and did not go on vacation because something in them said, “Don’t go.” They did not let probability, rationale or other’s opinions sway their judgement; he felt what he felt and stuck with it. He’ll never know why Gut warned him and what could have happened. Gut Friend knows that Gut is their first line of defense, as well as their first line of promotion; Gut becomes both a protector and a cheerleader. Gut Friend makes decisions with their own voice and feelings in mind, and often becomes so accustomed to listening to their own voice, that they build a relationship with Gut. “I just have a Gut feeling,” or “My gut is telling me,” are simple ways to know someone is tapping into their own, personal, trusty advisor.

My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pritchard, used to tell our class, “If you don’t know the answer definitively, just go for the answer you were immediately pulled to; there’s a reason you were pulled to it.” While that may not always work (it certainly didn’t work for me on my first GMAT exam), she had a point. When you feel something or think something, there’s a reason it exists. Don’t disregard it.

Maybe we don’t listen, because we feel we cannot do without the very thing Gut is telling us to walk away from. Or maybe we don’t listen because the decision we know we should make is going to be a tough one in the near term? Maybe we don’t listen to Gut, because what she’s saying to do is unlike anything we’ve done before or because it’s going to require us to be courageous? Whatever it is, Gut is talking to you and has something to say.

In my own life, I can honestly say that Gut has known what to do before my head and heart even catch up. When something comes at me, my instincts often immediately feel a certain way. And I know when my gut isn’t at peace with something, because I can physically feel my uneasiness and anxiety. When my gut is at peace, I am relaxed and confident.

A few people have asked me how I can be so definitive and quick with certain, big decisions? The truth is that I have been forced to in several situations; time doesn’t wait. Sometimes you just must make a decision without having the time you feel necessary to conduct due-diligence. Outside of that, me and Gut are besties, so my gut knows what to do fairly quick; I simply take additional time to make sure I’ve thought everything through. After I do that, I then tap back into Gut again.

Gut is the bookends to my decision-making process; I begin and end with Gut. For that reason, I exercise Gut just how I would any other muscle. I care for her, nurture her and listen to her intentionally, because when really big things arise, I need her on my side and I want to hear her loud and clear.

Be BFFs with Gut. After all, G-U-T in German is “gut,” which means good. And, Gut is good.

The relationship you have with your gut is like any other relationship; the more you nurture it, the more you’ll know it.

Let your Gut be your guide and let your initial feelings be a compass in your decision-making process and the choices you make.

If you start to listen, Gut will give you green lights, yellow lights and red lights, and other important signals; it’s up to you what you do with them.