The science behind the ‘gut feeling’ and how to use it to your advantage

The science behind the ‘gut feeling’ and how to use it to your advantage
Image: iStock / Artur
This article is sponsored by Longbranch.

We all experience a ‘gut feeling’ now and then. It could be when you’re making a simple decision like what to eat, to something a little more complex like a career change. A gut feeling can often push people to make decisions they might typically have avoided.

These feelings have been labelled many different things over the years, including intuition, instinct and foresight. 

But research from Flinders University found gut feelings are actually the product of the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), an intricate network of neurons and neurotransmitters found in and around the gut. 

The research team found a specific type of neuron (viscerofugal) in the gut wall. The viscerofugal neuron appears to send signals to other neurons located near the brain and spinal cord.

This means that viscerofugal neurons connect our brain and our gut, sharing sensory information from our stomachs to our brain.

So, even if your mind is too preoccupied with something, your body can still pick up on things on a visceral level. And it’s this information that the viscerofugal neurons send to the brain via the spinal cord.

But can you always trust your gut? Sadly, no, it’s not that simple.

“You can’t remember everything you have experienced in life, but you do store all this wisdom,” neuroscientist and author of The Source, Tara Swart, M.D., Ph.D tells MindBodyGreen. “Gut feelings are pattern recognition systems designed to keep you safe and well, but sometimes they can hold you back from thriving based on old fears.”

For example, say your boss shut you down the last time you pitched an idea. Your gut feeling might stop you from doing that again despite the fact you have a great idea this time around.

Sometimes, you’ll find your gut feeling is best when paired with logical thinking of an outside perspective.

There are times when your gut feeling can succeed, however.

For example, when Matthew McConaughey began working with Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller Eddie Russell to create Longbranch, a small batch of Kentucky Straight Bourbon, a gut feeling and a ‘what if’ moment seriously paid off.

“The question ‘what if?’ can be a powerful one, beckoning us to dig deep and challenge ourselves,” McConaughey said of the process of making the drink. “A few years ago, we asked ourselves what if we put a Texas spin on Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and that curiosity led to the birth of Longbranch, my co-creation with Master Distiller Eddie Russell.” 

“Our curiosities guide us through life and allow us to turn our’ what ifs’ into ‘that’s it,’ and we’re hoping this bourbon and our new campaign inspires others to do just that.”

The pair worked on the drink for two years before finding the one that felt right to them. Then, one night, after trying a few of the samples Russell had sent him, McConaughey tasted the one that would eventually become Longbranch. 

He immediately called Russell and said, “That’s it.” 

So, remember, don’t ignore those gut feelings when you have them because they could really pay off for you in the end.