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How To Listen To Your Gut

I have in front of me what seem like two entirely valid and entirely contradictory pieces of life advice:

  1. Do what scares you.
  2. Listen to your gut.

I want to lay out why I think they're both valid, why they contradict, and how my own life experience might be muddying the issue.

Some time ago — I'm being deliberately vague about the details — I was in a position where I had the opportunity to help someone who really needed it. I wasn't sure if I should have done that, but I felt like both of us would be worse off if I didn't do this than if I did do this. So I helped out.

I later found out this was a bad idea, and it cost me bigtime. Worse, I didn't act on what my gut was telling me until it was almost too late — I sat on it and sat on it. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that.

One of the long-term results of this mess was being unsure when either of the above rules should come into play.

There are times when you need to take the plunge, and then there are times when you should run like heck. The problem is knowing which is which. "Trust your gut" turns out to be fairly useless advice when your gut can send you such mixed messages, and you have no idea how to interpret the results.

Some of this is only going to be possible through experience. If you're young, and you haven't had much happen to you, it's easy to not have spent much time listening to your gut in the first place. It's also a hard habit to develop in the first place, because listening to your gut can be scary, and counterintuitive. Nobody wants to get messages from The Great Below that compel you to do something you've never done before.

From what I've been able to jumble together, here's what advice seems useful:

1. Not all things that scare you are equally dangerous

Threats to life and limb are not the same as threats to name and esteem, and those in turn are not the same as threats to welfare and health, and so on. Some of those things are transitory to a degree that is not worth an investment of worry.

2. Not all worries are commutative

The fact that two things scare me about the same amount does not mean they are the same in any other respect. It's hard not to appreciate their value in any other way save for how much fear they strike into you, but they exist in far greater dimensions than those things alone. And so do you.

And finally:

3. Do what scares you as a way to teach your gut to listen more closely

This is the best synthesis of the above advice I can provide. Do not do things that are reckless by anyone's standards. Do find ways to expand your envelope. Then, reflect on how your instinctual analysis of that boundary-pushing was both right and wrong. If you're scared of flying, even when it's statistically still quite safe, fly anyway — but by all means pick an airline with a sterling safety record, and not a cheapie discount airline.

The mistake that's easy to make, I guess, is to assume you gut is an old dog that can be taught no new tricks. But it's just as teachable as the rest of you, as long as you let it listen.

Tags: advice  psychology 

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2019/05/28 08:00.

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