Your Brain-Gut Confidence Connection

Ever…know something in your gut? Get butterflies in your stomach? Feel your stomach turn under pressure? Then you’ve already felt your “brain-gut connection”. But what you might not be aware of is exactly how deep that connection goes…
What is the Brain-Gut Connection?

According to Stanford microbiologists Justin and Erica Sonnenburg, Ph.D.s, the brain-gut connection, (more formally referred to as the “enteric nervous system” or “ENS” for short), consists of a vast network of neurons, chemicals, and hormones. This connection flows both ways, and researchers are starting to believe that your gut actually sends signals to your central nervous system (CNS) that trigger changes in your mood.
When is this helpful?

A gut-wrenching experience or uneasy feeling in your stomach often serves a purpose under another name: Intuition. And it can be instrumental to decision-making. “Going with your gut” means you’ve consulted implicit information that likely developed as a mental shortcut, (also called a “heuristic”) to help your brain make sense of a lot of information, quickly. This can save you serious time and energy - and oftentimes results in a decision that’s undiluted by layers of logic and rationalization. Intuitive decisions can help you cut through the noise of social influences, imposed standards (what you think you “should” do), and other rationalizations that often muddle the decision your gut already knows you need to make.
When is it a problem?

Some decisions, however, do require you to gather more data; such as unfamiliar situations, or ones with objective criteria. Such cases call for objective analysis and calculations in order to reach the best conclusion. For example, you wouldn’t want to buy a car from a manufacturer that disregarded technical rules and regulations, building solely by intuition. While instinct may contribute to a more intuitive model, the car would feel unsafe if logic and regulation didn’t take the “front seat” in its design.
Strive for Balance

Clearly, you need both logic and intuition to make a sound decision, but different amounts of each at different times. The key is finding the sweet spot of brain-gut connection, by checking in with both, respectively.

If your gut gives you a strong “nope” before delivering a big presentation, ask it why. Do you have evidence to actually support that giving this presentation is a bad idea? Or is your gut just signaling a different message (that you’re nervous)? Interpreting these messages, rather than taking them at face value, will ensure that fear and anxiety don’t keep you from growth and opportunity.

On the flip side, your gut urges you to check in with yourself and your values. So, if you’re contemplating joining your friends for a Friday night outing, but you’ve had a long and stressful week that has your gut aching for a night to yourself…listen to the voice that is screaming for you to do what’s right for you.
The Kicker

There’s often not a “right” or a “wrong” answer, and that’s why there’s (unfortunately) no foolproof plan to hit the brain-gut sweet spot every time. But the more you practice checking in with both the facts and your intuition, the more familiar you’ll get with the signals they both send, and the better you’ll be at making decisions that put both your mind—and your gut—at ease.

Special thanks to Elior Moskowitz for her research and editorial contribution to this post.

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