Your Head Or Your Gut: How To Know Which To Trust And When

I’d bet that most of you have at least one email in your inbox that you’re agonising over despite being able to respond to it in less than a minute. This is normal, but it doesn’t mean it’s necessary. We have a tendency to think too much or too little about certain problems, and we end up making dumb mistakes as a result. Fortunately, a few simple mind hacks can solve the problem.

For the most part, we’re smart people. Our brains are filled with knowledge and experiences that come into play every day to help us navigate the world. Nonetheless, we frequently examine our past behaviour and find problems that are rooted in some incredibly dumb choices — hence the adage “hindsight is 20/20”. In the moment, we waste our time or fool ourselves into believing we’re making the right decision when we’re not. This often occurs because we’re trusting our gut when we should be using our head or vice versa.

If you want your foresight to be a little closer to 20/20, you need to start examining your decision-making process and compensating for your common mistakes. In this post, we’re going to take a look at how both your head and your gut can work for you and against you, and how to use both to make better choices.

Prioritise Your Decisions to Stop Overthinking

The Problem: The moment you start wasting brain cycles on unimportant details, such as which red tie you want to wear to work today, your brain has gotten in the way of your gut. For me, this happens most frequently in my inbox. I could often respond to an email quickly, but then I’d spend far more time nitpicking the wording to make sure I got my point across clearly and didn’t say anything stupid. In an important email, sometimes a few small edits can matter. This is not the case with all email, but I didn’t make the distinction. We all have this sort of problem in many areas of our lives. If you’ve ever spent more than a minute trying to decide what pasta sauce to buy, you know how easy it is to waste time on a decision that ultimately has little to no impact on your life. It always seems stupid in hindsight, but that doesn’t help you in the moment. When you don’t prioritise the importance of your decisions when the need arises, you’ll always end up wasting time and adding stress to your life in the process. [clear]

The Solution: Train your brain to question your thought process. To solve my email problems, I just instituted one simple rule: before I start editing any email I’ve written, I ask myself, “Do these edits matter?” If I can’t immediately answer yes, I push the send button and I’m done with it. After doing this for a week, it became clear that those little, nitpicky decisions were a waste of time, and forgoing them meant I was back on top of my email. It made email less stressful because I wasn’t overwhelmed by the crazy amount I receive every da, and I felt a lot better because I wasn’t worrying about something pointless.

If you find yourself wasting time on any regular decisions in your life, just start asking yourself “is this important?” whenever similar circumstances arise. It takes a little practice to get used to, but after a few days, you’ll remember. You can even put a sticky note on your computer screen to help. Once you start asking that question regularly and answering it immediately, you’ll have trained your brain to stop wasting time on the choices that just don’t matter. [clear]

Know When to Ignore Your Gut

The Problem: Your gut can be a great aid in the decision-making process. When you go with it, you’re leaning on years of experience in an instant. You’re also making a decision based on a feeling you have and trusting in yourself. This feels great, and it’s even better when that decision proves to be the right one. On the other hand, always trusting your gut can get you into a lot of trouble. It’s the process that leads you to eat poorly, buy things you don’t really need (or even want), and sometimes completely ignore the best course of action because you know you’re right.

The Solution: You’re destined to make bad decisions if you always trust your gut, so you need to learn when to listen to it and when to ignore it. There are two ways to do this, and both involve developing the habit of asking the right questions — both to yourself and others. [clear]

The way my gut tries to lead me astray most often — and I’d guess this is the case with most people — is when it comes to buying things and eating poorly. When a shiny new gadget or chocolate cupcake is right in front of your face, it’s hard to trust anything but the sudden desire provided by your gut feeling. This happens because you’re defaulting to a bad question: “Do I want this thing?” Of course you do. The trick to getting around these impulses is reframing the question by asking yourself if you want what you’re going to lose. When presented with the prospect of a new smartphone, don’t ask yourself if you want it. Instead, pretend a stranger is offering you $200 and the freedom to choose any mobile carrier. In the case of food, pretend that same stranger will give you health and even fat loss. When you reframe the question by focusing on what you’re going to lose, you’re able to have a gut reaction to that loss as well. You’ll generally have the answer you want by going with the strongest feeling.

Your gut doesn’t stop there. It’s capable of screwing you over by causing you to believe you’re right when pretty much everyone else can see that you’re wrong. This is due to a phenomenon called illusory superiority, which is a fancy term to describe how you think you’re a lot better than you actually are. Because we all think we’re pretty great, and that can’t be true 100 per cent of the time, it’s better to just assume you’re below average. (Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, found this worked great for him.) Doing so will cause you to ask more questions, question yourself when you need to and listen better to others. This way you can avoid the negative effects of illusory superiority and the problems your gut can cause when it leads you to believe you’re right at the wrong time. [clear]

Photos by Sedova Elena (Shutterstock), Stocklite (Shutterstock), Lucie Lang (Shutterstock).

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