I live inside my head to a detriment. It’s the CEO of my body, cozied up alone in some presidential suite in Cabo, oblivious to the day-to-day happenings of the company staff. If the head is the CEO, the gut is at least the VP (and probably should be promoted to co-owner). At a minimum, it deserves a seat at the table. But before the big promotion comes the interview. Just who is this “gut” and why should I care what they have to say?
Let’s say I’m at my office. My boss’s hand grazes my lower back as he walks past…did it just linger there? I think it may have lingered there. My hackles are up and I feel unsettled for the rest of the workday. That’s my gut at work, slamming the “red alert” button on my inner-control panel. But in waltzes my body’s personal CEO, sun-kissed and freshly manicured. “Listen, Gut, I told you not to press that button unless there’s a real emergency. Your boss is just a friendly guy. Plus, he writes your checks — best not to forget that. Get back to work.”
See what just happened? We can rationalize a lot of bad behavior if we “think” about it for long enough. But not everything can be determined from up there, in the head.
The gut alerts us to things that don’t always convert to neat, logical talking points. It manifests as a visceral feeling that many of us ignore, or worse, we try to “fix” the uncomfortable feeling it causes by internally debating or assigning meaning to what “really” happened. The trouble is, there isn’t any way to objectively assign meaning to things that occur within our own lives. We love to think we’re great at this, but in reality we’re merely speculating or trying to rationalize intangible feelings.
A red flag that I’m ignoring my own gut is when I start asking everyone I know for their input on something in order to make a decision. The questions we poll people on are often questions our gut has already answered, but we didn’t like what it had to say. For example, I once dated someone for a long time, all the while feeling like something just wasn’t right. There wasn’t a “spark,” between us. But since sparks aren’t logical, I couldn’t settle on a rational reason for distancing myself from my partner, so I ended up stuck in denial. I tried to think up all the answers and hoped to justify staying with him. First it was, “you don’t need a spark — sparks are overrated,” and eventually it became, “you’re probably just ‘damaged goods’ and not capable of love.” Again, the head was upset that it couldn’t “figure out” the situation on its own, so it was grasping at straws. It had me texting all of my friends for advice, hoping for back up. But my gut had already told me that the spark was dead. In fact, if I’d really been listening, I would’ve known it was never alive to begin with — it was just my head talking all along.
The gut is responsible for some seriously important stuff. Like, life or death stuff. As a true crime lover, I’ve heard countless stories in which the gut was the real hero. Stories about people grocery shopping who noticed that something “felt off,” before even entering the store. They decided to trust that feeling and remained on high-alert. Turns out an armed robbery was underway, and they were able to safely call 911 because their gut told them to be cautious and stay out of sight in a place where they wouldn’t normally have their guard up at all. And listen up, CEO, it turns out that “friendly” boss of mine had been cheating on his wife with an employee half his age. Maybe you should’ve listened to your VP, after all.
None of this is to say that the gut is always right. And none of this means that every decision or judgement should be made in a split-second without any thought. But we are all equipped with this incredible tool that we’ve learned to ignore, and those of us who live in our heads are particularly skilled at disregarding its input.
I believe our gut is like any other muscle in the body — it gets stronger the more we use it. So, for now, I’m flexing it with the little things: Do I want eggs for breakfast? No. How about a smoothie? Yes. The amount of decisions we have to make each day can be overwhelming, but with a little help from the gut, the endless sea of options becomes easier to navigate too. It just requires tuning into the body and tuning out that loud-mouthed CEO a little more often. Doesn’t that sound refreshing? I’ll let you know how it goes.