Trusting gut instinct

Jun 12, 2008 at 12:14 p.m. ET

A few years ago, I was on the phone with a friend talking about her son's recurrent ear infections. There was some issue about whether and when she could get into the specialist, and what should she do. I don't remember exactly the situation, but I do remember the general feel of the conversation. I was urging my friend to trust her gut instinct. Listen to it, and trust it, absolutely.

Worried Woman
Several weeks later, I had to take my own advice. Alfs was sick, and getting sicker, and had I not taken him to the doctor that morning, I fear the outcome would have been entirely more horrible. I'm not exaggerating.

It's there – perhaps deep down – but it's there

Whether you call it gut instinct or motherly instinct or internal compass or whatever, it's there for most of us, and it's important. It helps us know when things are okay, and when they are not okay; when we need to act, and when we can relax.

The trouble is, in the din of our daily lives, it's sometimes hard to hear what the gut instinct is saying. It's hard to be still for even a few seconds and ask ourselves, "What is going on here? Is everything okay?"

Most days, thankfully, the gut instinct isn't really needed. But learning to feel it in the not-so-tough times can help us identify it better in the tough times. That can be the even trickier part.

Be still, and learn to listen

When life is so busy and built up or when crises happen, it can be hard to discern true instinct in the exhaustion. Some days, I don't really want to do something or address an issue out of tiredness or annoyance, and my desire to do or not do something is driven from that place. That's not instinct. It might still be the right thing to do or not do something for those reasons, but it's not instinct.

Very occasionally, my instinct is so strong that it manifests itself in the form of nausea and there is no mistaking it. Usually, though, it's when I stop, take a breath, and ask myself what I am really feeling that I can hear and listen to the instinct. I can ask myself, "What do I need to do here? What is the right thing to do?" Sometimes I do that just to recenter my day and look for the feeling of, "Yes, everything is okay. It's going to be okay."

I remain extremely thankful that I listened to my instinct that day several years ago when Alfs was sick. I learned to listen to myself and it has helped me in many ways since then. From little to huge things, when my spidey sense tingles, I listen.

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