Trust your gut instinct!

Posted on July 29, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Businesswoman looking into sunset

How did you make that decision friends or family may ask, and perhaps you will reply, “My gut instinct told me it was the right one.” Some may shake their heads while others nod in agreement. It is fairly likely that the people who don’t fully support your use of your intuition are men, because they tend to be dismissive of actions that aren’t based on a logical appraisal of a situation. Women, on the other hand, will probably know exactly what you’re talking about and give their approval. I have tried not to generalise here, because I’m sure there are men who support and believe in the use of intuition, and women who prefer to take the more typically male approach. However, all that aside, did you know that the so-called “women’s intuition” is actually hard wired into the female brain structure and that’s why we girls turn to it so often.

First, what is intuition, more popularly referred to as ‘gut instinct’? Researchers at the UK’s University of Leeds define it as “the ability to draw on internal and external cues in making rapid, in-the-moment decisions.” This is a particularly useful skill in stressful situations. You might think that cool logic would be better, but not so says Professor Gerard Hodgkinson who points out that there are “many recorded incidences where intuition prevented catastrophes…yet science has historically ridiculed the concept of intuition, putting it in the same category as ‘pseudoscientific’ practices.”

Intuition too emotional?

Without standing on a feminist soapbox, intuition has also been devalued because it is equated with being ’emotional’ and female. Huffington Post blogger Michelle Martin recounts the times she was told that she was “too emotional” when she made decisions based on her intuition, and advised to use her head rather than her heart. She also argues that girls are taught from an early age to undervalue their intuition and steered towards using more masculine logic. The result of this is that women stop relying on that gut instinct for guidance and start mistrusting and ignoring it.

This is a shame, because women’s brains are actually designed for easy access to intuition. A study by researchers at one of Madrid’s leading universities using MRI scans revealed that while men and women both have the capacity for intuition, the male brain is wired for logic, which primarily makes a link between ‘perception’ and ‘action’. The female brain, by contrast, has more neural connections and these enable women to pick up a wider range of cues and clues about what is going on. However, quite often, when we pick up information from our intuition, we can’t define in words exactly what it is that feels ‘wrong’ or conversely, ‘right.’ And it’s this inability to express in definite terms what our intuition is telling us that has consigned it to the box marked ‘illogical and untrustworthy’. You will probably find UFOs, crop circles and the more esoteric forms of healing in that same box.


Woman spying using binoculars

Women make better spies

Many times I have felt that a place doesn’t feel right and I want to get out of there as quickly as possible. On other occasions, I have felt that a certain action instinctively feels like the right one, yet I can’t explain why, well, not exactly. I just know. And on many of these occasions I have been proved right to follow my intuition. I should make it clear that relying on intuition doesn’t always lead to a beneficial course of action, but more often than not it does. Apparently, that’s part of the reason that women make better spies.

Yes, intuition enables female intelligence officers to better assess “personal and social patterns that are not as visible to men,” explains Michelle Martin. Women also have more patience than men when it comes to piecing together the complex threads of an investigation and have ‘inklings’ that provide a breakthrough. Certainly, film and TV drama has taken this idea on board, with more lead female characters in spy thrillers and detective stories who are often seen using their gut instinct, even when it flies in the face of logic.

Women need to trust their intuition more and avoid being swayed by the suggestion that what we are sensing is coming from fear, personal bias or wishful thinking. We can balance intuition with logic rather than favour one over the other. And, it seems to me, if men accessed their intuition more often and valued it as highly as logic, then we would have an exciting environment at work and home where gut instinct would finally get a fair hearing.


by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.