Decisions are often made using the our heads, but our gut instinct can also be a reliable tool.
Not only does this “second brain” influence our decisions , but it can also enhance the process we use to make them.
We develop an emotionally scripted database of information based on past experiences.
Our emotional responses to current situations often recall that information and influence our feelings, and ultimately, our decisions.
How we govern our lives is heavily influenced by that innate motivational system of emotions.
The head-or-gut quandary has been debated forever. Rather than deliberate further on whether one is better than the other, let’s take a look at why some people trust their gut — feelings, intuition, hunches, instincts, or sensations — and better understand how it works as a decision-making tool.
Contrary to popular belief, emotions do not interfere with decision-making. Instead, they enhance it .
Our initial evaluation of a situation, also known as an appraisal, happens automatically — without our conscious control — and triggers an involuntary emotional response . Our feelings are designed to motivate us to pay attention to what’s important in terms of what is harmful or beneficial to us. Those feelings transform into smarter decisions when guided by conscious thought, which is your individual awareness of unique thoughts, memories, feelings and environment.
Appraisals take into account our well-being, plans, and goals when it processes events or situations and provides them with meaning. Even before we recognize what may be happening, our brains scan incoming sensory information to detect patterns associated with the past. Memory is an essential contributor to our emotional responses to situations, and as such, we both consciously and unconsciously evaluate a situation based on how closely the current circumstance resembles past experiences.
In consciousness, feeling and thinking always arise together. Cognition — thought — assigns meaning to what we feel. At the same time, thoughts that are guided by emotions — feelings and sensations — become better informed. Thus, when we have a decision to make, our thoughts and feelings simultaneously will emerge even though we may be more aware of one over the other. People who make gut decisions tend to seek guidance from what they feel . In contrast, those who rely heavily on their cognitive assessment of situations look for validation for what they think.
Your decision-making style can show how your past can script your behavior in different ways.
For example, due to repeatedly experiencing shame after trusting gut feelings, some people learn to avoid using their intuition rather than risk failure . They rely on empirical data to diminish shame-anxiety — apprehension about the possibility of experiencing shame — and it can buffer shame for the decision-maker if things go wrong; after all, hard data provided the information for the decision.
In contrast, people who make gut decisions use an unconsciously scripted database they acquired from emotional responses that enables them to trust their hunches. But a gut decision is not a fleeting image from out of nowhere: Emotions and emotional memories are responsible for the sensations involved in intuition , and the meaning we give to any gut feeling is a contribution of our cognition. Most people who rely on their gut feelings do not deliberately think about how it works, but they trust the process.