As a psychologist, I encounter two extremes in flawed judgment rather frequently, both of which can be exacerbated when we are operating under the accrued effects of stress, strain, and fatigue. On the one hand, we can act on impulse in ways that prove to be greatly out of proportion with the real demands or needs of the situation. On the other hand, we can find ourselves paralyzed or at least bogged down in making decisions as a state of mental confusion and fears of making a terrible mistake hold us in their grip. In either case, when this condition prevails for long, we can lose confidence in our instincts and intuitive sense. Even if we are in principle free to act, we don’t feel emotionally free or competent.
There are times when I encourage my clients to trust their gut. What I usually mean to endorse when offering this advice is that they be more attentive to what they are experiencing. Are they feeling an aversion or an attraction? Is something compelling their belief, giving them confidence, or is that “something I know not what” engendering uncertainty or confusion? What I’m suggesting is that they give these feelings or impressions credence as data worth considering. So, the first meaning of “trusting your gut,” from my point of view, is to take these intuitive data of experience seriously. And when we do so, what else happens? We pause. For when we take the data of experience seriously it means we are not merely accepting them; rather, it’s that we’re considering them, giving them a fair hearing.
Why does our intuition merit this attention and credence? First, because intuition is an immediate way of knowing that bypasses formal inferential processes and discursive reasoning. Intuition grasp a truth immediately. It may not be flawless. Indeed, we may later find that our intuitive grasp of something was based upon prevailing circumstances of the moment. Its virtue is that it’s fast and situated, qualities that limit its universality as truth and its practical relevance. But, if we’re careful to suspend judgment and action, recognizing that our intuitions are situated (in a specific context of time, place, perspective, and circumstances), we have good reason to welcome them as a valuable source of guidance in practical matters, matters requiring considered judgment and decision making.
When we follow this approach to considering our intuitive experience, I believe we become wiser and less dogmatic. We stimulate a more mindful examination of a situation because being mindful concerns awareness of what is really present to our awareness and senses. Becoming skilled in the practice of invoking this brief reflective pause, we overcome the extremes in judgment. This pause asserts a critical function that averts a rush to judgment, but also a paralysis of confusion. In that respect, to trust our gut is to trust and verify the data of intuitive experience.