“What’s your gut-feeling?” “Just trust your gut.” “Follow your instincts” … All good advice, but what if you can’t find your gut-feeling? What then? How are you supposed to make a decision? And how can you locate that elusive gut-instinct?
If like me, it frequently feels like your gut has abandoned your brain to fend for itself then I’ve got some tips to help you out.
Tip 1: Know what you’re looking for
As a child, I used to sit, awaiting the lightning bolt of a gut-shaking feeling to strike. It never came – except for the occasional wave of indigestion! So feel reassured; you’re not searching for something that is magical or gastronomically uncomfortable. “A gut-feeling” is just an expression, meaning an instinct or feeling. Sometimes, it can be physical: think about a situation where you sensed that you were in danger, for example. But more often than not, a gut-instinct just means a leaning towards one option rather than another. The leaning may be based on logic and research, a feeling that you can’t explain or a combination of the two, but that’s all it is.
Tip 2: Keep it short and sweet
I used to think that if I just spent enough time thinking about a decision, eventually a magic answer would appear, with the pop of a lightbulb. I thought that I needed to find the right angle or perspective and suddenly I would just know. But after a point, the more time you spend thinking about a decision, the harder it becomes to see the wood for the trees. You just go round and round in circles and any genuine thoughts or instincts you may originally have had will be well and truly lost forever. So Tip 2: If you have an important decision to make, set aside some quality time and space to think it through – but don’t overdo it.
Tip 3: Write it down
Writing it down enables you to express and clarify thoughts on paper (or on screen). Those thoughts are a hell of a lot easier to sort out when you can see them in front of you, in black and white. Jotting down pros and cons, a time-old tool of the indecisive is a great way of organising your ideas. However, they have a frustrating habit of balancing out and they don’t always take into account the messier emotional side. So don’t just stop at the pros and cons, make sure that you jot down everything you think and feel about a choice. If you’re someone who needs a bit more structure, then first write down some carefully chosen questions and then the answers.
Tip 4: Seek the info and advice you really need
Many of us fall into the trap of turning to others, hoping that they will make the decision for us. It seems logical; we don’t know what to do so we turn to those whose gut-feelings seem stronger than our own. The problem is you can end up feeling even more confused, lost and instinct-less than ever. So instead of asking every friend in your phone book, after writing down your initial thoughts and feelings, decide what information you most need and where you can find it. For instance, when I was trying to decide whether to resign and search for a job abroad. I chose to speak to one friend who had worked abroad, talk to a recruitment agency and browse job websites. And that was it. That provided the information I needed to be able to lay the foundations for a good, gut-felt decision.
Tip 5: Look after your mental health
Decisions are something that all of us struggle with from time to time. We all face easier and trickier decisions at different points and our mental health sways up and down just like our physical health. That’s why it’s a good idea to be aware of your decision-making processes and mental health. If you find that your decisions are frequently more full of gut-wrenching frenzy than gut-feelings then it could be a sign that your mental health is lower than it should be. If this is the case, seek help. For me, seeking medical help and advice and learning strategies, such as the tips above, has been freeing.
Tip 6: Remember there is no wrong choice
Finally, know that as long as you consider a choice carefully, the decision you make will never be wrong. Decisions are only ever difficult when your choices are of almost equal value – therefore both choices are good ones. As long as you consider a choice carefully and use some of the tips above, then the gut-feeling you choose to follow will be a good and logical one for that time – and that’s all you can ask of yourself.
For emotional support, you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website. For additional helplines and information, please see our ‘I Need Help’ page here.