Building a Powerful Gut Instinct
Human logic is incredibly limited. Even our best logic is layered upon emotional biases and instinctual behaviors. Logic doesn’t care if we learn and grow. Logic doesn’t care if we’re happy or miserable. Logic doesn’t care if we live or die.
Fortunately, logic is only one tool for making decisions. Our bodies have many more layers of intelligence.
One of those layers is your gut instinct. Many people experience this as a sensation in the abdominal region.
When I used to eat animal products, it was nearly impossible for me to tune into my gut instinct. That channel was almost completely muted. I’d only notice it in extreme situations, like when I got arrested. I think my inability to hear that channel was one reason I did much shoplifting in my late teens. How could I hear it while so much of my energy was being used to digest a bacon double cheeseburger, french fries, and a milkshake?
When I went vegetarian, my gut instincts finally became audible, and they grew louder and clearer when I went vegan, but it still took many years for me to start trusting them. I wasn’t used to receiving information on this channel, so I didn’t consider it important. But as the volume increased, I couldn’t entirely ignore it, so I began exploring these signals through the lens of spirituality. I’d listen through meditation. I’d journal about these signals. I’d discuss my impressions with like-minded people. I interpreted this as a spiritual awakening of some kind. But in my day-to-day practical life, I largely disregarded this information.
Over time I slowly realized that my gut instinct was providing useful information, but I only saw this in hindsight. I didn’t act in alignment with these impressions when they first came up, but I eventually dealt with the consequences of doing the opposite. For instance, I paid the price of doing business with people who gave me a queasy feeling in my stomach.
Most of the time when I felt this gut instinct, it was a negative feeling. That made it hard for me to listen to it because I saw myself as a positive thinker. My personal bias was to find a way to make a deal happen or to make a relationship work. I wanted to achieve things. Saying yes to new experiences was a key part of my path of growth. I had a strong tendency to discount my gut feelings when they were negative. I figured that it was the voice of fear and cowardice and that I should simply power through it.
The way I see this gut instinct now is that it’s a summary reading of the combined energies of a situation.
These sensations are usually very general. They don’t come packaged with details or explanations. A gut instinct is like a thermometer. It can tell you if something is hot or cold, but it can’t tell you why.
Finding the Positive Path
For many years my gut instinct seemed like an annoying naysayer. But occasionally it would give me a positive sensation, such as when I was reading personal development books or going to a conference. The negative signals were often louder and more prominent, so when I experienced the positive ones, it mostly felt like a form of escapism.
Eventually I began to explore paths that gave me stronger positive signals, such as when I started writing articles in 1999. Reading a good book was something nice to do for myself, but writing articles clearly impacted other people’s lives as well. I noticed that when I considered ideas that involved some form of contribution, my gut gave me stronger positive signals than usual. I began doing a lot of volunteering during this time as well.
As I began receiving more positive signals to balance out the negative ones, I felt encouraged to trust these gut instincts a little more and to take more action in alignment with them. I was far from perfectly trusting, but life seemed a little more fair once I began sensing opportunities to pursue instead of only traps to avoid. I felt like this instinct was finally meeting me halfway instead of just being a naysayer. It’s easier to listen to a voice that says yes sometimes and no sometimes instead of only no, no, no.
I began taking more risks to act on this voice, and over a period of years, I explored more of its subtleties. The tricky part was distinguishing this voice from other channels like my memories, beliefs, and conditioned emotional responses. Sometimes I’d feel some fear or trepidation about a new experience, like volunteering to speak at a conference, but my gut instinct was telling me to go for it. Making such discernments required patient practice. The more I listened to these signals and practiced deciphering them, the more I could hear their individual voices and make better decisions. It’s like learning to distinguish the voices of different people talking in a crowded room. Your brain will figure it out with some practice.
Turning Up the Volume
I noticed that sometimes my gut instinct was very clear while other times it was murky. I found that the level of clarity was linked to my health habits. When I exercised a lot, the signal was especially clear. If I slacked off from exercise, it was harder to get a clear signal.
When I began exploring raw foods, these gut feelings became ridiculously loud and clear. Sometimes I found the signals overwhelming. This was especially true during my 30-day juice feast in 2008.
This is one reason that I’ve been going back and forth between raw foods and cooked foods for so many years. I began dabbling in raw foods as far back as 1997, and I did my first 30-day 100% raw trial around 2003. In 2008 I ate 100% raw for six months straight. In the years since then, I’ve gone raw for 30 or more days many more times, especially when I wanted some extra clarity, but eating raw continuously hasn’t become my default baseline yet.
For the past two months, I’ve been eating mostly raw again, including 100% raw for several weeks in a row. Presently I’m eating about 90% raw. I still find it difficult to handle the intensity of my gut instincts when they’re at such a high volume. Eating cooked food has the effect of turning down the volume. Right now this is working well for me.
Another aspect of eating lots of raw food is dealing with the extra physical energy. I feel a little stir crazy if I eat raw and don’t move a lot. My gut instinct also tells me I need to spend more time outside in the sunlight. This morning I decided to take a day off from exercise and still ended up going for a 9-mile walk before breakfast. When I eat mostly cooked food, the urge to move isn’t nearly as compelling.
Trusting the Signals
I often like working and playing in sprints, with each sprint lasting a few weeks. This month I had planned to do two different sprints. First, I wanted to create the web pages for the new workshops we’ve booked and to open registrations for them. Second, I wanted to visit Costa Rica.
Logically it made sense to do the workshop pages first, then go to Costa Rica. That way people would have more time to learn about the workshops and to figure out which one(s) they want to attend. Going on the trip would be a nice reward for completing that project. So that was my initial decision.
But when I started trying to implement the decision, my gut said it was the wrong decision. I’d been eating 100% raw for several weeks in a row at this point, so that voice was loud and clear. I should go to Costa Rica first, then handle the workshop pages after I got back.
I decided to listen to the signal, but it didn’t feel like I was making a decision — more like the decision that was made for me. I booked a flight and landed in San José the following day.
Overall it was a really nice trip. Rachelle and I explored several museums, a coffee and banana plantation, the top of a volcano, two rainforests, several waterfalls, and the capital of San José. We saw huge colonies of leafcutter ants… and another type of ant that was almost an inch long. We saw poisons frogs. We saw orchids galore. We saw toucans up close and held them perched on our arms. We spoke a lot of Spanglish with the locals.
A few days before I was to fly back to the USA, I started having an intense allergic reaction. I began sneezing a lot, my nose ran like crazy, and my eyes kept watering. I felt like I had a cat sitting on my head, and I barely got any sleep that night. I couldn’t breathe through my nose at all. The next day was no better. Even after I showered and we went to another location an hour’s drive away, the symptoms continued all day long. It didn’t seem like a food allergy because I didn’t have any digestive issues. It felt like I was suddenly allergic to the air. I was puzzled since it was obvious that I was having a strong allergic reaction, but to what? How could it be following me around like this from one location to another?
I’m allergic to cats, but normally I’d have to pet one or come into direct contact with cat hair to have any notable issues, and I didn’t spend any time around cats on this trip. This reaction was much worse than any cat allergy I’d ever experienced.
While we explored a rainforest and I continued sneezing and blowing my nose dozens of times, a guide told us that one of the nearby volcanos had recently undergone a small eruption, spewing ash into the air which fell all around San José and beyond. He said that some people are allergic to volcanic ash, and he described the symptoms that I was experiencing. I’d never been in the vicinity of a volcanic eruption before, but apparently I’m one of those allergic people.
My symptoms continued for the rest of the trip, but once I got on the first flight to Miami, I started feeling better almost immediately. I’d never felt so grateful to breathe the air inside a plane before. By the time I arrived back in Vegas, the symptoms were 80% gone. Within a few more days, I was back to normal.
Another oddity on this trip was the weather. When I checked the weather app on my phone before and after I arrived in San José, the forecast was 10 solid days of thunderstorms — not a single dry day in sight. I’d never seen a weather forecast like that, not even in Seattle. San José gets so much rain that there are trenches between the streets and sidewalks for the water to flow. You have to step over these trenches when crossing the street. Some are so wide and deep that they have small bridges built over them. Why would I want to go on a trip to a place where the expectation was constant rain?
Logically I expected this to be a very wet trip, but in actuality it didn’t rain much at all while I was there. Most days were partly cloudy and partly sunny. When it did rain, it was usually at night while I was inside. A couple other times when it rained, it was while walking in a rainforest, and the canopy served as an effective umbrella. Overall the weather was beautiful while I was there.
Despite all the sneezing in the final days of the trip, I had a wonderful time in Costa Rica. It turned out to be a really good time to go. But I didn’t realize how good the decision was till I returned home. A few days after I got back, there was a much larger volcanic eruption, covering the city of San José in tons of ash. Hundreds of people were hospitalized because of it. Check out the photos.
If I had gone against my gut instinct, I’d be in San José right now. With the minor eruption that happened while was there, I had one of the strongest allergic reactions I’ve ever experienced, and I couldn’t even see any ash in the air or on the ground. Given the situation there now, with visible ash in the air, on the ground, and inside buildings, I might have been one of those people headed for the hospital.
I suppose that now I also have the benefit of knowing that I’m allergic to volcanic ash, which may be a good thing to know when I travel to volcanically active places in the future. 🙂
While many people turn to raw foods to heal from serious illnesses, another attractor is the heightened sensitivity to various forms of energy — the energy of living beings, the energy of places, and perhaps the energy of the planet itself.
Letting the Locking Relay Float
Because these energies are always in flux, I find it nearly impossible to make gut-based decisions far in advance. The signals are very present-moment. When I make a gut-based decision, there’s a certain immediacy to it. I have to run with it right away.
It’s not unusual for me to feel a surge of clarity about taking a trip and to be in another city within 24-48 hours. Sometimes I’ve made a decision to take a trip in the morning, and I’m arriving at my destination that same evening. Sometimes my gut screams YES, but I know the YES is time sensitive. I have to act immediately or not at all. Even delaying one day can kill the timing.
One of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes is “Lower Decks.” It includes the following scene, which begins when Ensign Sito takes too long to obey an order to fire the phasers.
RIKER: What happened back there, Ensign?
SITO: I’m sorry, sir. When we changed course I had to re-lock phasers before I could fire.
RIKER: Next time, try letting the locking relay float until the actual order to fire is given. They may not teach that trick at the Academy, but it works.
SITO: Thank you, sir.
When people ask me about my plans and intentions, especially with a desire to lock me into certain commitments, I often recall this scene. It reminds me not to succumb to the pressure to prematurely commit myself when my gut instincts are still in flux.
I understand people’s desire for predictability and certainty, especially when they want to coordinate their schedules with me. But I know from experience that it’s usually best for me to let the locking relay float until the order to fire is given. In other words, I prefer to let my plans and options float until I get a strong gut instinct to go a certain direction. Then I lock the decision into place and fire with immediate action.
I hope that what I’ve shared here gives you some insights to further develop your own gut instinct — and to trust it when your signals are loud and clear.
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