In 10th grade business class, my teacher Mrs. Goldstein taught our class a model that promised to make us more successful in life. When faced with a difficult decision of whether or not to do something, she counciled us to execute the following strategy:

  1. At the top of a sheet of paper (this was the 1980’s, so no, there was not an app for that) write down the a potential course of action to address your problem. Below it, create two columns called “Pros” and “Cons,” and brainstorm what each of them could be.
  2. Review the list and after careful consideration, select the proper course of action.

Although I can’t say I (or many teenagers) went to the trouble of pulling out paper and pen when faced with a tricky decision, but the exercise captures the essence of a very Western approach to decision making. I put a lot of stock in what my intellect — my “head” —  had to say about things and had faith that sound reasoning and reflection alone would lead to a positive outcome. In the special needs worlds of evidence-based medicine and education, Data is King.

But there are other internal sources of information available to us. Marketing managers everywhere know that we unconsciously make decisions based on our emotions and then find intellectual reasons to justify our decisions. We often refer to our heart as being the seat of our emotional wisdom, as reflected expressions like “he followed his heart,” or “she has a lot of heart.” As a parent, my heart is often the governor for much of my behavior, both good and bad — affection and yelling to name just two. As a special needs parent, letting my heart take the reigns too often can lead to excessive worry or guilt and make my behavior very risk aversive.

Lately I’ve come to appreciate a third kind of intelligence as a complement to my head and my heart: my gut. Why? When I look at a situation through the lens of my intellect, I focus mostly on quantifiable facts, and my field of vision is fairly narrow. Looking through my heart, I often take the decision which will provide short-term relief of pain but may not provide a long-term solution. But when my gut is the lens with which I view a situation, suddenly I have access to all sorts of information — in addition to my head and heart wisdom, murky hunches based on connections with past experiences and insights that my intellectual memory can’t quite put its finger on get equal say. It’s as if my gut has superior peripheral vision, able to read and react to a complex situation quickly, the way a quarterback can read a play in progress and know exactly where to get the ball.

One way I my gut shares its wisdom with me is by acting as a little voice or a milli-second of nearly imperceptable hesitation. “Don’t put your keys there or you’ll forget them,” the voice says, or “Don’t hit the ‘send’ button just yet on this email.” The challenge, of course, in this crazybusy life of mine, is to not drown that tiny voice out with distraction and mindlessness. I don’t know how many times I’ve made a mistake — from harmless ones like dropping a glass to more costly ones like trusting the wrong person — and realized that I knew all along it was going to happen but I was in too much of a rush to listen. When I am grounded in my body and present in the moment, the voice is amplified. Pausing and taking a breath, I can reconnect with this voice and ask for its guidance. Perhaps people who seem to have extra-sensory abilities are simply able to crank up the volume of this voice.

I won’t stop using my head or my heart; in fact I think my gut instinct works as well as it does precisely because my head and heart have so much experience. No need to throw the baby out with the bath water. I simply appreciate having another channel of information, one that is often dead on and incredibly quick. But don’t take my word for it — trust your own gut. I’d love to hear your thoughts…or feelings…or instincts.

P.S. In recent years, the research coming out regarding the Enteric Nervous System (the one hundred million neurons embedded in our gastro-intestinal lining) now referred to as “the second brain,” is pretty fascinating. In the same vein but coming from a completely different tradition, many mind-body schools of thought like ones who use energy fields or chakras, consider the solar plexus to be the seat of personal power and will. There’s a lot to explore here if you’re interested.

Published by Cristin Lind

Facilitator, consultant, speaker for better health and care through patient-professional partnership. Passionate about helping change agents build courage and agency. She/her.

Join the Conversation


  1. I get myself caught up in loops when I have to make some decisions. I find that my gut always knows the right thing to do, but when my heart does not like the decision, my brain tries to find a way to change its mind. Usually the gut choice is the correct and more difficult course of action, and eventually it wins, but the other two put up such a fight rebelling against the gut.

    1. Or you could do what most people do–and simply ignore your gut, follow your heart, and justify it with your head? I think that’s more often what folks do. But I hope having this way to think about it helps shorten the “loop time” and help give some strength to follow the right decision.

  2. My heart is the stuff of zeal… and it tends to be the first response to things. My intellect is more conservative and I definitely need that, and thankfully it has come through on many occasions.

    The gut stuff (which I call my spirit) has proven to be pretty wise and has served me well.

    The three can sometimes all line up!

    But when they don’t, I default to the “free-will-choice thing”
    It can work out, or not.

    But as long as I know, I choose the option, I can live wit the results.
    Even when it disappoints.

    In those instances I always say;.
    Sh–! Should have listened to my gut.
    he he he

    Again, good stuff, real good stuff.
    Thank you very much!

    1. Having a strategy to deal with a disappointing outcome, regardless of where you got the information to make that decision (gut-heart-head) is important too, like you say. Knowing that we have the power to make the decision does make it easier to live with the outcome. That’s reminding me too that it’s important to always frame these decisions in terms of what we have the power to control–too often we feel our power is taken from us, that we didn’t have a say in the decision, and that’s when it’s really hard to be satisfied with any outcome at all.

      Thanks also for all your support on the last few posts–it means more than you know.

  3. My son has multiple special needs and is hospitalized often (in fact he is rightnow). The most important thing I have learned is to listen to that gut. My son was very I’ll and doctors wanted to send him home from the emergency room- I had a sick feeling that literally would not allow me to agree or say ok to discharge. Although the doctors had plenty of education and facts to support their decision to send my son home all I had was ” the nagging feeling of no please don’t “. I convinced the doctor to keep my son over night for observation and guess what? With furher testing they found that he had RSV and a blood infection! He ended up staying in the hospital for a week and a half. Call it gut instinct call it mother’s intuition, call it what you want but listen….

    1. What a great example of why we have to trust ourselves. No doubt the nagging feeling was based on very subtle signs that only someone with intimate knowledge (like a parent of their child) could read. Good job pushing and thankfully, you were listened to. That’s also important–surrounding yourself with professionals who value your gut instinct.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: