In order to fulfill your spiritual purpose in this life, you’ve got to walk the path less traveled.
And to walk the path less traveled, you have to embrace your inner wolf.
It is your inner lone wolf that will guard, guide, and protect you with courage, integrity, and intelligence.
But here’s the thing: in order to embrace your inner wolf, you’ve got to listen to your gut instinct.
The problem is that our gut instincts are often polluted by fears, prejudice, and mental clutter.
In this article, I want to share with you the seven gut instincts you should never ignore. You’ll also learn how to differentiate the voice of fear from the voice of primal wisdom.
Table of contents
What is the Gut Instinct?
Your gut instinct is the physical reaction you have to the world around and inside of you.
When you experience an overwhelming “gut feeling,” your body is carrying out a primal response to subconscious information. The ultimate purpose of your gut instinct is to protect you. As your gut instinct is the most ancient and primal “sixth sense” you have, it is the one you can rely upon the most.
One example of your gut instinct in action would be deciding to spontaneously avoid walking down a road at night because something “feels off.” That feeling is your gut instinct warning you that danger is afoot. You may then glimpse an intimidating gang of men down the street as you hurry by – your gut instinct has just saved you from potentially being robbed, beaten up, raped, or worse.
How Does Gut Instinct Work? (and Why You’re an Animal)
Put simply, your body is like the television screen on which your subconscious (the radio waves) transmits its information. When you can learn to read your body, you can learn to accurately tune in to your gut instinct.
We human beings like to believe ourselves to be separate from animals. Yes, we might be more sophisticated. But at our core, we are still animals – human animals. Our primal impulses and evolutionary origins don’t just disappear because we sit and read the newspaper each morning or wipe our asses with lavender-scented toilet paper.
As noted by anthropologist Clifford Geertz:
… man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.
Rather than get hoity-toity about the fact that we’re only really advanced animals, why not embrace it? By honoring the wisdom of the subconscious mind and its impact on the body to produce ‘gut instinct’ we can save ourselves from a lot of suffering. (This has been proven by the way.)
What’s the Difference Between Gut Instinct and Intuition?
Gut instinct and intuition are often used synonymously. And, yes, they are interconnected. But they aren’t quite the same.
So what’s the difference?
Put simply, gut instinct is your primal wisdom. Intuition is your spiritual wisdom. We need both if we are to walk our spiritual paths with courage and intelligence.
Intuition is very cerebral – it is a calm and clear sense of “knowing.” On the other hand, gut instinct is very visceral and physical – you feel it in your body.
Intuition can be expressed through the body, and the gut instinct can be expressed through intuitive knowing. But generally, both are clearly discernable and strikingly different in their experience.
Also, gut instinct is much more emotional and reactive (as it is wired in the primal brain), whereas intuition is more neutral and calm.
Examples of Gut Instinct
Some call it a “hunch,” others an “inkling,” but in this article, we’ll refer to it as the gut instinct. Here are some examples that are taken from the animal kingdom and human (animal) behavior of gut instinct:
- A herd of zebra sense danger while grazing. They cannot see the lions lurking in the surrounding savannah, but something is distinctly “off.” One zebra whinnies and the herd begins galloping away vigorously.
- A herd of elephants meander through the deserts in search of water. Instinctively they know what direction to move in to find their sustenance.
- A cat sits on the edge of a three-story house and wants to find a way down. She slinks over to the edge and stares at the ground apparently about to jump – but then changes her mind. She climbs down to the first story roof and then makes the jump, apparently aware on an instinctual level that jumping from any higher distance would injure her.
- A person approaches you at a bar wanting to flirt with you. You start reciprocating, but something feels wrong. You sense a predatory quality about this person. You don’t trust them. You excuse yourself and leave.
- Two hikers get lost on a trail within the mountains. Without a compass or any way to determine a direction back to camp, they sit silently and tune into the surrounding trees. Suddenly one of them points to the west, “I have a feeling that is the way back!” An hour later they have made it back to home base.
- You’re driving down a highway at night. Suddenly, the impulse overtakes you to change lanes immediately. You obey the impulse, and a couple of seconds later miss a large spike of glass that could have punctured your tire and rendered you stranded on the side of the road.
- A young woman is sitting in class at college. Out of the blue, she feels the strange impulse to return home. She ditches the class and catches a taxi, a pit of dread looming in her stomach. When she arrives home, she finds her mother on the floor having a heart attack. If she had ignored her gut instinct, her mother would have most likely died alone.
- A man has two job offers. One of them pays less, and the other pays more. Logically he would choose the job that pays more, but he can’t shake the knot of dread that forms in his stomach every time he considers accepting the higher paying offer. He decides to choose the job that pays less. Two months later, he is relieved that he chose the right offer as the higher paying company went out of business due to a high profile lawsuit.
I hope you now have a good idea of how the gut instinct operates!
Signs You’ve Experienced a Gut Instinct
Pay attention to these signs:
- A sudden feeling of dread or fear (that is out of context)
- A strong urge to do something (feels like an inner nudge or pull)
- Full-body chills, goosebumps or “tingles” up the spine
- Nausea or physical uneasiness
- Sudden hypervigilance (or being on “high alert”)
- A clear and firm voice within you instructing you to do/not do something
You might experience all of these signs at once or only one or two of them.
Is it Fear? Or is it Your Gut Instinct?
Don’t get them confused!
But also, don’t worry if you have already. Chances are you were never taught about the difference between superficial mental fears and true gut instinct.
The mind can easily fool us, particularly when it comes to gut instinct. After all, we feel our emotions within our body. When you’re scared, you most likely get clammy hands, butterflies, and an increase in heart rate, right?
In a similar fashion, when we experience a gut instinct, we also receive physical sensations.
So how on earth can we distinguish between the two?
My response is to pay attention to your mind. What is the quality of your thoughts? Is your mind racing, frantic, or chaotic? If so, you are experiencing fear.
On the other hand, if your mind is relatively neutral, but your body is experiencing strong reactions (like a sense of impending doom for instance), you are experiencing a gut instinct.
In other words, when you need to distinguish between the voice of fear and your gut instincts, always turn your attention to your mind.
Gut instincts are spontaneous – they arise out of the blue. They don’t have time to build-up in the brain, therefore, the brain is relatively still and neutral. There is no “hmm, should I? Shouldn’t I?” going on. There is just an immediate DO THIS/DON’T DO THIS.
Fears, on the other hand, build-up. They are typically more vague, nagging, unclear, and tumultuous. If your mind is spinning, if your thoughts are everywhere, you are experiencing fear, not gut instinct.
7 Gut Instincts You Should NEVER Ignore
Obviously, you must be the judge. But there are some situations in life where your gut instincts shine the most.
While it’s easy to brush off most nagging sensations, please never ignore the following ones:
1. “I’m in danger”
Remember that your gut instincts reflect what your subconscious mind already knows. Although you may not be able to pinpoint what exactly the danger is, please listen to this inner warning. It could be the difference between life and death.
2. “They’re in danger”
Yes, you might sound like a lunatic. Yes, you might feel embarrassed or perplexed. But if you genuinely feel that someone is in danger, tell them. You have nothing to lose. You might just prevent the person from making a big mistake or endangering themselves.
3. “This isn’t the right choice”
If you get a strong and clear feeling that what you’re doing isn’t right, pay attention. Even if there is no moral or logical reason why you should be feeling that way, take heed.
4. “I need help”
Your gut instinct doesn’t only warn you of danger, it also helps to preserve your emotional wellbeing. If you receive a strong sensation that you need help (whether physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually), seek it out. Don’t linger.
5. “I need to help them”
At some point in our lives, the overwhelming desire to help someone will arise. There may not be any rational reason why. The other person may appear to be perfectly fine on the surface. But don’t let appearances deceive you. Have a conversation with the person. Ask them how they are. This might make you feel vulnerable or uncomfortable, but you will at the very least make the person feel special, and at the most potentially save their lives.
6. “Something feels off in my body”
Unless you’re a hypochondriac (which is unlikely), your gut instincts rarely lie about the state of your health. If a sudden strong and clear desire arises to see a medical professional, do it. Get a full health assessment, and even if nothing comes up, feel proud of yourself for practicing self-care.
7. “This is it!”
Often when the perfect life calling, spiritual path, job, house, decision, option, etc. comes along, your gut instinct will immediately notify you. If you receive a strong and clear feeling that practically screams “YES” don’t ignore it! This is one of the most important reasons why it’s essential to listen to your gut instinct. It could be the difference between making a life-fulfilling choice and a soul-starving decision.
Trust Your Gut
So long as you’re able to distinguish between the voice of fear and the spontaneous feelings of your gut instinct, it is safe to trust your gut.
Trusting your instincts is an invaluable life skill and one that will tremendously benefit you on the spiritual path. After all, this instinct is built into our very DNA, so why not make the most use out of it?
As a final recommendation, I suggest practicing mindfulness exercises like meditation if you struggle to trust your gut. Mindfulness meditation will help you to become aware of your thoughts and body sensations. The more awareness you can develop, the easier it will be to make the distinction – it will become second-nature to you.
Can you think of any situations where you were helped (or even saved) by your gut instinct? I’d love to hear your story below!
OK, this is all amazing information, however when you have endured ongoing long term trauma (CPTSD), how does this fit into this mix and your “gut instincts” with fear.. ptsd is unresolved trauma that is “felt” physically. If anyone has any wisdom or opinions to offer in this regard i would LOVE to hear what you have to say.
But if you have anxiety and your body overreacts to situations anyway, how can you trust your gut instincts?
I have to share my story about listening to your gut feelings. In 2019, I had this feeling that something wasn’t right in my body. I went to the doctor and she ran several tests but nothing came back conclusive. Then came 2020 and COVID and I was also extremely busy working 60 hours a week. Then 2021 rolled around and I started waking up in the middle of the night with this strong feeling that my life was in danger. I didn’t understand why. Then I went for a routine mammogram and I ended up getting diagnosed with Stage 2A breast cancer. It completely took me by surprise but when I look back, I can see my body was warning me all along. Since I’ve been treated and my cancer is in remission, I no longer wake up with those feelings. I just have feelings of peace now and healing.
I listen to my body very closely even as a kid I just knew that something or someone was leading me in the right direction I would go for a ride on my 4 wheeler and I would get feelings that I shouldn’t go places and one time I didn’t listen and ended up sliding off a creek bank into waste deep water and drowned out my 4 wheeler and had to sit for hours in the woods until it would start again I really started listening more after that.
Daughter coming down a neighbors driveway on a bike, I notice a heavy old Cadillac going fast on my right heading towards the bend where my child was going to enter SOMETHING!!!!said don’t yell Stop to my child..if I had yelled she may have put on the bikes brakes making her slide into the road…this all happened at a super Speed..I have had many insights that it would have been Wise to act on. Thank you Namaste Judy
What are the implications of cPTSD on the validity of gut instincts? From my understanding of paradoxical wiring, doesn’t chronic compounded trauma actually change the physiological responses within a survivor’s nervous system? For example, consider perpetual, sustained hyper-vigilance or the “survival mode” that is prominent in Dorsal Vagal of poly-vagal theory… Any further insight on this would be great. Thanks!