I’ve got to be completely honest; the only time I’ve ever made terrible decisions at any point in my life is when I’ve actively ignored my intuition. It’s had such severe consequences for me in the past that when I sometimes notice that I’m overriding my innate feelings, I’ve now got into the habit of saying, ‘I ignore my gut feeling at my peril’!

What is Intuition?

Our intuition is an inbuilt safety mechanism that is based in the most primitive part of our brain. Yes, intuition is an actual function of our brain!

Of course, many of us have heard of intuition or ‘gut feeling’; however, few understand that our innate drive for survival activates it. The same thing that alerted our early ancestors to potential threats from predators still protects us in the same way today.

Intuition is based in a part of the brain called the amygdala. The name is derived from the Greek word amygdale, meaning “almond,” owing to the structure’s almond-like shape. It plays a primary role in processing memory, and emotional responses (including fear, anxiety, and aggression). It is the seat of our fight, flight, freeze stress response.



Amygdala Alerts us to Potential Threats

We share this part of the brain with other mammals. We can see it demonstrated in our pets when they sense something and suddenly stop what they’re doing and stand/sit perfectly still with their ears pricked up. Their amygdala has felt something and is alerting them to a potential threat.

Although today, luckily, we are rarely faced with the same physical threats of our primitive forefathers, our amygdala is still working hard to protect us. 

However, as these ‘alerts’ happen in our subconscious, there is typically a high intangibility (nothing we can put our finger on), so we tend to ignore them. Choosing instead to go with more tangible evidence.

Why We Shouldn’t Ignore Our Intuition

Our amygdala can process thousands of pieces of information in seconds. In contrast, our conscious mind (the pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for all our decision-making) can, at a push, just about manage four or five. 

However, the amygdala can’t tell us in words that something is wrong with a person, location, or situation. It dates back to before humans developed language. Therefore, all it’s able to do is give us a ‘bad’ feeling that something is wrong. It will also trigger our fight, flight freeze, stress response if it perceives that the potential threat may endanger our life.

When our stress response isn’t activated, the feeling that something is wrong can be much milder and, therefore, is often harder to detect. They may also manifest differently from person to person or situation to situation.

Typically, these types of ‘warnings’ can present as:

  • Uncomfortable feeling in the stomach – nausea.
  • Niggling thoughts that something is wrong.
  • Something doesn’t feel right, but you can’t quite put your finger on precisely what.
  • Dizziness, light-headedness
  • A feeling of uneasiness that doesn’t go away and may even worsen.
  • Even though you think you have a solution to a problem, you can’t let go of the feeling that something isn’t right.
  • You continually procrastinate, finding it almost impossible to take action.

Typically, no matter how often you try to convince yourself that everything is fine, these feelings of unease do not dissipate. In fact, the more you ignore them, they will often get worse or keep coming back.

What’s Really Happening?

Your amygdala can pick up on things that your conscious mind can’t. For example;

  • Subtle changes in someone’s mood. 
  • Subliminal messages regarding a person’s real intent carried in their body language, facial expressions or paralinguistics (pitch, tone, pace of their voice)
  • Things happening in your peripheral vision.
  • Subtle changes in the atmosphere 

Human energy emanates for two metres. We can sense other people’s energy – good or bad – without them saying a word. I know this sounds like woo-woo nonsense, but how many times have you felt a shift in a room when someone who’s in a bad mood walks in? They don’t say a word, but you can feel it.

Or have you ever felt someone behind you staring at you, and when you turned around, they were? Or a car drives up alongside you, and you turn to look because you feel the driver is looking at you … and they are!

Each of these examples (and I’m sure you have a few) demonstrate the amygdala in action.

Using Your Intuition for Sound Decision-Making

Far too often, we override our innate feelings and emotions. Instead, we use tangible evidence gathered through our pre-frontal cortex (the critical thinking part of our brains). That’s where problems often start.

However, I want to clarify that I’m not advocating that you ignore facts. That would be ridiculous. I am suggesting that you use your intuition alongside actual facts as an additional tool in the decision-making process.

For example, if you feel something isn’t quite right with a person or situation, rather than discounting it, that should prompt you to investigate further. You might need to do this for a while, digging deeper until the sensation that something is wrong dissipates, and you feel comfortable with your decision.


Using both our critical thinking (pre-frontal cortex) in conjunction with our more primitive emotional brain (amygdala) is far more beneficial when making decisions – especially important ones that potentially have long-lasting implications.

A rule I now apply to almost everything I do around people and situations (even when deciding if I want to work with particular clients) is…

If it doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t.


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