The science behind gut feelings: How intuition can guide your decisions

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines intuition as the ability to attain direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought. 

Intuition has many names, like “mother instinct” or “sixth sense.” It’s what people use when they claim to be empaths and what people mean when they feel out the “vibes.” 

These abilities help you make decisions quickly in complicated situations or even crises. Like all abilities, your intuition can be improved or even mastered. The question is: how?

Here we’ll help answer this question by looking at ways to master your intuition by listening to your body and unconscious. 

We’ll talk about the science behind gut feelings: how intuition can guide your decisions.

What is intuition?

Intuition is a feeling that you know something that comes automatically and without effort. It’s an innate ability that everybody has. 

There are a lot of benefits that come from mastering intuition. 

For example, it helps you “read” people better during crucial interactions or when speaking in public. Mothers and mental health professionals use it to know when a child needs urgent help. 

Intuition lets you make snap decisions in stressful situations. 

These include not only dangerous situations but also everyday situations like doing a presentation, trying to solve a conflict, or even playing strategy games. 

Intuition can also help you at times when actively investigating the situation would appear inappropriate or inefficient. 

In other words, it helps you answer questions you can’t ask. 

If you’re stuck in a rut and feeling indecisive, it can be good to listen to your body and reach into your unconscious to help you move forward in whatever you’re doing. 

For example, a friend of mine once told me that when he couldn’t decide on something, he would flip a coin and try to feel which face he wished it would land on, then he’d go with the option he secretly hoped would win

What is intuitive decision-making?

Intuitive decision-making is when you rely on your instinct, your body, and the unconscious rather than deciding based on your inner dialogue and your knowledge. 

Good intuition comes in handy when you’re faced with situations that your conscious mind cannot comprehend but call for a speedy response. 

Intuitive decision-making is like a cognitive habit that comes to you almost automatically without really thinking about it

These “habits” come from your everyday experiences, unconscious patterns, and mental shortcuts. With intuitive decision-making, you’re able to use things you don’t know you know when faced with unfamiliar or difficult situations. 

However, intuition still has its limitations. 

Due to its unconscious nature, intuition can rely on feelings, biases, and irrelevant experiences that don’t apply to the situation at hand, which leads to mistakes. We’ll go into detail on this later. 

There are also situations that require thoughtful deliberation and where your conscious knowledge could work better. Like any tool, you need to think about when intuition can be used in your situation or if a different tool would be better. 

Rational vs. Intuitive

According to Freud, there are three levels of the mind: conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. 

Usually, you’re taught to use the conscious level for rational decision-making with facts and logic. You use this when taking a test or filling out paperwork. If you tend to overthink, you may want to try putting this decision-making tool down every once in a while.

Intuitive decision-making involves the unconscious or preconscious level. You usually use it without thinking, especially in situations where your body senses danger. At times it’s used by mothers or doctors to sense whether a person or infant is unwell.

You’re usually told to dismiss intuitive feelings and rely entirely on the conscious mind level. 

Ironically, in doing this, you block yourself off the information provided by your body and unconscious level of mind. 

It’s always good to open yourself to using all the tools your mind holds rather than limiting yourself to one. 

How to develop your intuition?

the science behind gut feelings The science behind gut feelings: How intuition can guide your decisions

Everybody has intuition, with some having a stronger intuition than others. Here are three tips to help you better access your intuition.

1) Listen to your body

Whether it’s a headache or fluttering in your stomach, your body usually has something to say about your decisions and situation

These “gut feelings” come from the gut-brain axis, where the brain can instruct your gut to produce neurotransmitters. 

You can also gauge how beneficial or sustainable a decision is based on how it affects your energy levels.

2) Take note of your flashes

Intuition can come in the form of flashes or the feeling of suddenly understanding something, even when you didn’t really think about it. 

These flashes let you see into knowledge you acquired unconsciously. 

It’s good to keep a record of these glimpses from the unconscious for reference. You could write them down in your journal or type them down on your phone. 

3) Embrace your intuition

Intuition may use unexplainable knowledge, but it’s still useful in decision-making. You may have the urge to push away or ignore your gut feeling, but you should try to listen to it. 

Intuition does have a basis on the unconscious, your past experiences, and the “sixth sense” of your body. Try to listen to what your unconscious and body are telling you. 

Limitations of intuitive decision making

There’s no doubt that your intuition is an important tool in decision-making. However, like rational decision-making, intuitive decision-making has its limitations and may lead you astray. 

Some things to watch out for include:

  • Bias: Though you can strengthen your intuition and access your unconscious level, you still cannot fully control it. The unconscious holds your fears and biases, which may cause you to limit yourself and fail to consider all your options. 
  • Inaccuracy: Due to the fact that intuition isn’t based on conscious knowledge, it can sometimes be inaccurate and create a distorted view of the situation, which could point you to the wrong decision. 
  • Overconfidence: It’s very easy to feel confident in your intuition. However, you shouldn’t mistake feelings for facts. It’s always good to know what you don’t know so that you don’t end up making decisions based on things you only think you know. 
  • Emotional influence: Intuition is based on feelings and emotions, which you know aren’t always pushing you to do the right thing. Especially in emotional situations, feelings can keep you from seeing facts, so your intuition might point to impulsive actions you may later regret. 
  • Limited consideration: Due to the way intuition comes in flashes and without conscious thought, it tends to offer fewer options. It doesn’t do well with non-urgent situations that have long-term consequences.

In short, intuition can answer some questions, but not all of them. You should take note of its limitations so that you know when you should rely on it and when you should use another tool. 

However, most of the time, you’ll find that you can use both intuition and conscious reasoning at the same time to make up for each other’s limitations. 

The transformative and expanding nature of intuition

As an inherent ability, intuition grows with you. It becomes wiser as you become wiser. The more things you know, the more accurate your intuition can become. 

The more familiar you are with your neighborhood, your loved one’s behaviors, and the meaning behind facial expressions, the easier it is for you to understand them without thinking or to tell when something is off. 

Intuition helps you follow your heart rather than overthink decisions. It lets you trust yourself more. Even when your intuition misguides you, it can learn from your mistakes even without you knowing. 

You shouldn’t be ashamed of relying on your “sixth sense”; it’s simply another way of being and of doing things. There’s a growing body of scientific literature that has shown us that intuition can truly guide us through uncertainty and the unknown. 

It’s what your body has been telling you your whole life. 

The gut as a “second brain”

Your intuition lets you reach into your unconscious, the things you never knew you had in you, memories you’ve forgotten, and sensations you have felt. 

Given how intuition accesses such a deep part of your mind, it is no wonder that it has been referred to as your “second brain.” Scientists have discovered a neural network of 100 million neurons in your digestive system, which is more than how much the spinal cord has. 

Your gut holds information as your brain does. Next time you feel a sinking or fluttering feeling in your gut, pay attention!

Open yourself to using your intuition as much as you use your conscious mind. 


In conclusion, intuitive decision-making is very useful for making snap decisions and in high-pressure situations. When you let your unconscious guide you, you’ll be able to navigate the unknown. 

Your intuition can help you know how your loved ones are doing, how the people around you feel, which place is the safest, and what you really want. 

However, you should also keep in mind the limitations of your intuition and your ability to use it. It’s true that your intuition grows with you, but you need to actively cultivate it to keep it reliable. 

You need to stay mindful of your biases, fears, and cognitive distortions so you can correct them or take them into consideration when using your intuition. 

When you learn to use more than one way to approach a problem, you’ll be able to make better decisions in life. 

Picture of Anna Dovbysh

Anna Dovbysh

With 8 years of writing experience and a deep interest in psychology, relationship advice, and spirituality, Anna’s here to shine a light on the most interesting self-development topics and share some life advice. She's got a Master's Degree in International Information and is a life-long learner of writing and storytelling. In the past, she worked on a radio station and a TV channel as a journalist and even tought English in Cambodia to local kids. Currently, she's freelancing and traveling around the globe, exploring new places, and getting inspired by the people she meets and the stories they tell. Subscribe to her posts and get in touch with her on her social media: Facebook & LinkedIn

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.