That feeling in the pit of your stomach?

The flutters in your heart?

Those whispers you hear in the wind?

That’s your gut talking to you.

Listen to it.

I was recently approached to reduce my fees — drastically — for a speaking engagement. This is not something I ever do. I have so many rules and so much structure around my business, and my brain was screaming “NO” at me.

My process doesn’t change based on my fee. I put a lot of time into interviews and research to customize my content, along with preparing and rehearsing. I also questioned how fair it is to give one group a discount when another group is getting the same product for the regular fee.

The list of rules goes on with “fee integrity” and more.

But there was the little angel on my right shoulder, saying “why not.”

I didn’t have to make an immediate decision. I gave myself space to breathe and time to think.

My gut was still telling me it was the right thing to do. I needed to trust my instinct.

The emotional brain

Ayurveda medicine — traditional health care developed in India more than 5,000 years ago — looks at the gut as our first brain.

It’s our sensory brain, our responsive brain, our intuitive brain.

The grey matter in our head is our intellectual centre, the brain that tells us the mechanics of living.

The gut, or our instinct, is our response to living.

We make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions every day. Your brain wants to make every single one of these decisions. It’s our system of checks and balances and it keeps us safe. It gives us all the reasons why something will or won’t work.

Our instinct, which is based in emotion, is the reaction to the brain’s rationale.

And that’s important information.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. His subjects were unable to feel emotion and, most importantly, they couldn’t make decisions.

Chicken or fish? Nope. They couldn’t figure it out. They could describe in logical terms what the decision they should be making, but couldn’t arrive at a choice.

Damasio says emotions are our body’s reactions to stimuli.

When we are afraid of something, he says, our hearts race, our muscles contract and our mouths become dry. Our brain registers the physical reaction and then we feel the fear.

The brain is constantly receiving signals from the body, registering what is going on inside of us. It then processes the signal in neural maps, which it then compiles in the so-called somatosensory centers. Feelings occur when the maps are read and it becomes apparent that emotional changes have been recorded — as snapshots of our physical state, so to speak.

Ayurveda practice follows similar thinking.

If you have too much fear in your life, you may experience constipation or cramping.

If life isn’t very appetizing, you may have digestive issues.

If you’re feeling angry, frustrated, powerless or depressed, your body may react with diarrhea, ulcers, eczema.

Trusting our gut, or our instinct, is simply about listening to our bodies.

Your body is sending your signals, turning the volume up on certain functions and trying to get you to listen to warning signs.

Taking the first step

You already have, many times over.

That’s my bet anyway.

You’ve gone with your instinct and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s when the brain in our heads kicks in and says, “Okie dokie, that didn’t go so well. How do we get back to right or make a different decision next time?”

We need to experiment and then document those experiences in our brain so we have that information to help our gut make future decisions.

One study out of University College London had 45 subjects play a computer game in which they turned over rocks that may or may not have snakes under them. If they turned over a rock with a snake, they received a mild electric shock. One group knew about the impending shock.

The researchers, who tracked the volunteers’ stress through physiological changes and personal reports, found the anxiety levels were lower in the volunteers who were aware they would be shocked.

It shows that we can practise trusting our intuition.

We know a decision may not work out but we need to be open to the risk and be willing to take in the learned information.

For example, one of my clients gets nervous and stressed when he has to pull out his cold-call list. It’s the least favourite part of his sales job.

But very necessary, right?

We went over the list together. He said one name kept popping up off the list.

I said “make that call first.”

Maybe his gut was telling him that the one he was the most scared to call.

Or maybe his gut was telling him the person on the list might be available and open to his call.

Either way, it gave him the confidence to plow through the rest of the list.

Ultimately, we are the conductors on this information highway, whether it’s coming from our brain, our bodies and our instinct. It’s important that we pay attention to all the signals.

Of course some decisions are easier to make than others, but all those signs are telling us to slow down, stop what you’re doing, take a breath and check in with ourselves.

We can think about:

  • How we’re feeling in the moment
  • Whether we like feeling this way
  • What our body is telling us
  • Examining the pros and cons, benefits and regrets
  • Writing or talking it all out

The great thing is, the more we trust our instinct, the better we get at making it part of our decision-making process and the better we feel about the choices we make. We store the information of learning in our brains and retrieve that information the next time we face a similar situation.

Are you all in?

A friend recently showed me a meme that said:

self-esteem trust

I spent some time thinking about what it meant and how it applies to my life and my work.

For me, it means that if I’m only committed 98 per cent to something, the remaining two per cent is doubt. And that doubt becomes really loud in my head.

If I’m all in, 100 per cent committed, I can find a way to deal with whatever results from a decision.

I listened to my gut and went all in, giving that organization a reduced rate on a speaking engagement. If I had relied solely on the information in my brain, I would have said no.

I honoured my instinct, hearing the signals that said it was the right thing to do.

Since then, I’ve had numerous phone calls about my speaking services. Those calls will make up for the shortfall in reducing my fee.

I leaned into the opportunity, found the agreement with my core values, and took the right path for me.

I don’t have to ask “what if” and wonder what might have happened, what new clients I might have discovered if I had just followed my gut.

Our intuition is talking to us all the time and telling us which path to take. Have you ever denied your gut and regretted it? Or, better yet, have you ever followed your gut and reaped the rewards?

I’m Janice Otremba, a professional speaker, facilitator and coach who specializes in stress management, health and wellness, personal growth and life balance. Let’s kick your butt into gear with simple, sound advice for beating burnout and powering up your happy. Book a free 15-minute consultation call with me to get started!

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