Instinct vs Intuition and When to Trust Your Gut Feeling

Is your gut feeling always right? Knowing when to trust your gut feeling or inner voice is a common dilemma and can get in the way of living a freer life. There are certain elements to learn in spotting the differences. Can you trust your gut? In this, I look at gut instinct vs intuition and ways of dealing with the impasse.

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This is No. 3 in the series: #JustKnow, looking at circumventing blocks in deciding what’s best. Others in this series include:

♦Answering the How to ‘Just Know’ What’s Right for You

♦About Developing Intuition for the Tough Decisions

No. 1 and 2 explain why intuition is important when making decisions.

This article looks at the quandaries, like should you trust your gut, especially why trust your instincts in relationships? I share my experience with that gut feeling in a relationship. You might relate that you want to trust your feelings, the same as trusting your instincts.

#1. Make better choices by listening to your intuition

What is intuition? Is intuition real?

According to Albert Einstein: “The only real valuable thing is intuition.”

Intuition is an understanding or knowing without conscious recourse to thought, observation, or reason (Oxford Dictionary).

It is a subliminal processing of information that goes beyond rational thought.

“An intuitive statement is one that you know is true even before you know why or how it is true.” ~ N.D. Walsch.

It is valuable for deciding and judging what’s best in today’s world of rapid change and complexity (1).

See my article: Answering the How to ‘Just Know’ What’s Right for You.

Where does intuition come from?

  • Science is not clear on this, but it’s considered a way our brains gather and store information and how we tap into that.
  • The answer is abstract – but it’s to do with your brain recognizing patterns.
  • As an experience, intuition feels like a ‘just knowing’.

Should you trust your intuition?

  • Studies show intuition leads us to better choices (1, 2, & 3)
  • Professionals succeed by trusting their intuition (1)

But, do you look to the heavens? And, what about trusting your intuition in relationships?

Author Malcolm Gladwell believes that “The power of knowing, in that first two seconds, is not a gift given magically to a fortunate few. It is an ability that we can all cultivate for ourselves.” It is one of nature’s gifts.

Galdwell’s bestseller tells why ‘just knowing’ wins – see it here

The Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking explains much about the ‘just knowing’ that yields the best decisions. This is a highly popular and compelling read by best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. It describes multiple examples of intuition yielding the right result where logic and definitives have failed. One of the main aims of the book is to teach you to make better snap decisions.

The Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand resource that draws on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology. Gladwell refers to the origins of this ‘just knowing’ (or intuition) as the adaptive unconscious and likens it to our internal computer.

Click for more reviews and the latest price for Gladwell’s bestseller.

#2. When trusting your gut feelings can lead you astray

Why can’t you always trust your gut feelings? Shouldn’t you always go with your gut feelings? I had this dilemma for years.

I had felt intuitively smart in every area of my life… except with relationships…where it seemed… I was a dumbass. I made poor decisions. Why?

You hear: “Go with your gut”, “Listen to your gut”, “Follow your gut feeling”, “You should trust your gut in relationships”, all colloquial sayings, much like: “follow your heart” or “stick with your hunches”.

How to know when to trust your gut, to trust your gut instinct in relationships?

Hadn’t I followed my gut feelings in relationships, lead with my heart? It felt like I was acting on gut feelings. I felt sensations in my gut after all. But I was left with: “why should I trust my gut? Why does it lead me astray”.

Here’s the real story…

My gut instinct in relationships amounted to … fear and anxiety.

It’s not easy knowing if it’s relationship anxiety (or gut feeling) or intuition. You have to ask: is it intuition or anxiety?

The penny finally dropped with me. After years of soul-searching, I finally realized I was being driven by fear…fear of rejection, fear of loss.

Then, no way are gut feelings always right!

Here is another example of where my gut feelings were leading me astray:

I would get a bad gut feeling for no reason whenever I had to deliver a talk – I couldn’t dismiss it – whenever I had to take to that stage. It felt like I should just run and hide. I certainly felt a strong sensation in my gut. But it was coming from a place of fear and anxiety about failure, driving a sense of urgency to retreat – it was not intuitive thinking.

Let’s be honest:

This is the interplay of fear vs. intuition in a relationship.

#3. Learn to spot the difference between instinct and intuition

There are subtle differences between fear and intuition that are not easily recognized when we are emotionally charged.

I discovered my stakes were high in the relationship department. The reason being I’d lost my mother at a young age, and I never completely processed that loss.

As a result: I had this internal, preconceived understanding of how things would work out when I got close to someone. Subconsciously, I was primed for ‘red alerts’ in that part of my life. Yep, it was a potential ‘danger’ zone.

It is easier to sit in denial with your delusions and pray God will intervene, not realizing he has. He gave you common sense and intuition, but you didn’t like how it made you feel. This is what true mental illness really is: Following your gut feeling, your gut instinct, through hell because you want to prove you are right, either to yourself or others. You sacrifice choosing to do right, in order to avoid pain. However, you don’t realize that you have been in pain for a really long time and believed this was how happiness felt. ― Shannon L. Alder

What is a ‘red alert’ response?

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Here’s the thing…

When we perceive danger we are hardwired in a way that our intestines react. You might know your gut does this weird thing. It’s a primal connection, between the brain and the gut, that works to keep us safe from predators or other physical threats. It is part of our fight or flight response (4). This is instinct (vs intuition).

… the reason for the expression ‘gut feeling’. There’s no instinct vs. gut feeling when a gut feeling arises from instinct.

The difference in modern society is that ‘danger’ is perceived from threats other than being eaten alive by a wild beast. These modern threats come with forming (and keeping) significant relationships, study, jobs, and financial status.


Gut sensations are common when stakes are high! When people feel they have something great to lose they are often emotionally charged. It is easy to confuse emotion with intuition because they can ‘feel it in their gut’.

Literally, a gut feeling is a ‘visceral emotional reaction to something’ (3).

Pure intuition differs to this (2).  See below.

Learning to recognize the trustworthy voice of intuition over that tainted by anxiety, fear, and wishful thinking is a major step in ‘just knowing‘ what’s best for you.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. ― Steve Jobs

#3. Know the eight elements of intuition vs instinct

People who wonder “why is my gut feeling always right” may be confusing instinct with intuition.

To know the difference between that feeling in your gut and true knowing; to know when to trust your intuition…

Start with understanding these differences:

Pure IntuitionGut Feelings or Instinct
 Sense of calm and a ‘knowing’ Feeling of compulsion or wanting to flee
 Confident and trusting Insecurity
 Devoid of strong physical sensation Physical sensation – a twang in the gut
 Neutral – not driven by attachment Driven by attachment
 Inner voice of guidance Reaction to ‘red alert’
 Led by true Self Led by Ego
 Cognitive process Behavioral process
 Higher intelligence Immediate reaction without forethought

Though different, the two may work together

Your intuition might quickly process observations and trigger your instincts to respond in the case of an emergency, where you need to trust your instincts.

The best part? Having a presence of mind in the midst of chaos is a precursor to inviting and acting on intuitive thought. This was Napoleon’s secret to success (see Answering the How to ‘Just Know’ What’s Right for You).

But here’s the kicker:

You need to check that your ego is not running amuck. Feeding on anxiety, fear, and wishful thinking, and operating from a place of competition and comparison, the ego can affect how you distinguish between intuition and instinct.

#4. The secret to spotting false ‘intuition’ flags

Do you have a gut feeling that a relationship is wrong?

  1. Get to know your vulnerabilities — your ‘red alerts’ that are likely to taint intuition. Start by making a list of everything that you fear to help guide you on intuition vs fear. Fears of failure or rejection are common and especially high if you are a perfectionist.
  2. Notice your body sensations. What are they telling you?
  3. Practice reducing anxiety and fear. Try natural ways of improving your outlook.
  4. Stop and check-in on the eight elements of instinct vs intuition, listed above.

Tip: Find new interests to broaden your outlook on things, move past your limitations, and look for opportunities for ah-ha moments.

Pure intuition gets better with practice. See How to Develop a Strong Intuition for the Tough Questions.

#5. Calm the gut instincts in relationships

So, gut instincts in relationships can lead you astray. But, trust your inner voice – the one guided by intuition.

What has helped me the most has been learning to still the mind, to be mindful.

Meditation, especially as a daily practice, has had the most profound effect.

It is where I find my strength, my ‘you know when you know’ advice (intuition) on relationships and other concerns.

No one else can tell you what is best for you.

What I have found…

Other people’s advice (even professional) is well-meaning, but not always the best and can be overwhelming.

Let’s face it, logically, other people’s advice might make sense, but your emotions are what often take over at the end of the day.

It has to come from within you.

Intuition and relationships

If you suffer from anxiety in relationships…

Meditation will help you to trust your intuition.

It will help you still your mind, get a clear focus, and stop emotions taking over and sabotaging your future.

Looking to strengthen your practice or just for guidance on how to meditate?

What I have used and highly recommend is Live and Dare online meditation courses that involve daily lessons.

These you can access from anywhere, anytime. As well, you get lifetime access. Find out more about these in the Self Wilding hub.

Click here for latest prices and details on helpful daily lessons.

Have you followed a gut feeling about relationship issues?

Have you been caught following your gut in relationships?

I’d love to hear your version. Feel free to share your thoughts/experiences in the comments below.


  1. Robson, M & Miller, P 2006, ‘Australian Elite Leaders and Intuition’, Australasian Journal of Business and Social Inquiry, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 43-61.
  2. Hogarth, Robin M. (2002) Deciding Analytically or Trusting your Intuition? The Advantages and Disadvantages of Analytic and Intuitive Thought. UPF Economics and Business Working Paper No. 654. Available at SSRN:
  3. Betsch, T.  & Glöckner. A. (2010) Intuition in Judgment and Decision Making: Extensive Thinking Without. An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory. Volume 21, 2010 – Issue 4 effort

The articles in this series

  1. Answering the How to ‘Just Know’ What’s Right for You
  2. About Developing Intuition for the Tough Questions
  3. Instinct vs Intuition: When to Trust Your Gut Feeling



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2 thoughts on “Instinct vs Intuition and When to Trust Your Gut Feeling

  1. IMEXP. It seems the more experience I have had in specific situations, the “gut” feeling is the alarm the first sign somthing is wrong or similar situation or “I’ve been here before” then when possible I start kinda “fact checking”. I do agree that situations I am less familiar with it seems that the “gut” alarm… Normaly is fear of the unknown. So each of them can swap as it were. Intuition is great at problem solving. However, when the gut is wrong, even when intuition is dealing with the situation things get muddled. Like fixing somthing that wasn’t broken. Say your in a relationship. You gut says your spouse is being unfaithful. Your intuition, kicks in starts withdrawing feelings, you are more watchful and distant. Continue on this path and you will protect yourself. Now if at the time you “fact check” your gut first. Then you don’t go with spouse being unfaithful. You go with could be or might be. So at this point intuition, leads you to protect your relationship. Ie being nicer more thoughtful etc. Your intuition will help lead your in the path you direct it. It is like a computer it’s the administrative desicion. Your intuition was right in both cases. It doesn’t lead you astray it is a tool. A gun fired to save your life vs fired bc of emotion. It isn’t the guns fault. It did its job. Your intuitive thinking as well as your gut. Are tools. They are neutral. Please use them wisely.

    • Hey Antony, It’s nice to hear of your experience. Relationships are always tricky because emotions are involved and hard to know which way to go or why you feel a certain way at times. Should I go or should I stay? Should I withdraw to protect myself? – is often our first urge in responding. But taking a step back and using some smarts you may find it is better to protect the relationship. I love your advice. Thank you. You seem to know yourself pretty well. Cheers!

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