Listen to your smart brain, but trust your gut


When I was growing up, my family would take drives through the countryside on Sunday afternoons. Five kids, two parents, one four-door sedan (in the days before minivans and SUVs and seat belt laws).

We’d wind along the back roads of Holmes County, dipping into Tuscarawas, or Stark, or Coshocton, or Wayne counties, if the spirit moved Dad. I was amazed we never got lost, that Dad always knew where he was going.

Sometimes, when we came to a crossroads, he’d ask me which road to take, and I’d pick the direction. Then, when we’d come out to a familiar road (to me), he’d ask, “How did you know which way to go?”

“My smart brain told me,” I’d reply. (OK, so I was only 5 or 6.)

Now, there are days when I think my smart brain has failed me. Who can make decisions with the clarity of a 5-year-old? So, instead, I turn to my TV hero: Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the main character on NCIS (Tuesdays on CBS, but perpetually on the USA cable channel). He’s a smart guy, but he’s also very intuitive. He trusts his “gut.”

Your gut is a combination of your head and your heart. Your knowledge and your passion.

Farming is all about decisions. Is it too late to plant wheat? Should I lease my mineral rights? Do I buy the tractor or focus on more farmland? Can I afford to take time away from the farm? Do I really need to buy crop insurance? Can I cut corners on fertilizer this year? Should I sell the herd? Can I make this work?

And that’s without all the other decisions life throws at us: Should I go to college? Should I move away from home? How do we take care of Mom and Dad? Where can I find good child care? Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person? Is this really what I should be doing?

There is no Magic 8 ball to solve life’s questions. You can make all the pro-and-con lists you want, but sometimes you can justify just about anything in one of those columns. Sometimes complex decisions simply require listening to your gut feelings.

There is some science behind your gut. Author Malcolm Gladwell pieced together a whole book called Blink, about rapid reactions and decisions we make in the blink of an eye. Psychologists say emotions emerge from your unconscious mind, and actually reflect more information than your rational mind.

Haven’t you ever spent months researching a decision, studying it carefully, and surrounding yourself with the facts, only to discover that you’ve overloaded yourself into indecision? You have all this information and yet you still don’t know what to do. “You think too much,” is the common reproach.

Your intuition, your gut, is actually always a work in progress, as your brain continues to accumulate knowledge. Intuition is the brain drawing on past experiences and external cues to make a decision.

Intuition, observes Helen Fisher, Ph.D., is “really learned expertise in disguise.”

The science of decision-making is inexact. And when it comes right down to it, we need the information-gathering, cognitive element, as well as the non-conscious thought processes.

Yes, there are times when we need to rely on your smart brain, to “stop and think.” But sometimes you simply need to trust your gut.

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  1. I enjoyed your article. You displayed fabulous intuition when you were five or six. Yet now society has taught you that intuition is defined as knowledge gained from past experiences. Life experience is what that is, and it is a wonderful teacher and guide. However, intuition is from the unseen world. It is when a farmer wakes up in the middle of the night because s/he knows an animal that was fine all day is now in distress. Intuition occurs when there is a knowing which comes from absolutely no physical input. While we may misinterpret that information, it is never wrong in and of itself.


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