“Go with your gut” is a piece of advice given to me many years ago, somewhere in the middle of my business career. What my boss was trying to convey to me was to trust or follow my intuition, or instinct, as opposed to only basing my opinion or decision on a thorough analysis of the facts.

The idiom most likely originated from the anxious, or “bad,” feeling you get in your stomach when you know something is wrong.

I can remember thinking through things to make a decision in my 20s and 30s only to find out it was wrong, and instead of thinking with my head I should have gone with my gut. At the time I did not have enough confidence to trust my inner feelings.

However, as the years progressed and I had experience under my belt, my gut feelings have served me well.

I think back on a time when I was the vice president of sales for a consumer products company. I was contacted by a woman who wanted to buy truckloads of product at special low pricing only reserved for campgrounds.

I asked for proof that she represented all these campgrounds, and when I reviewed the material it was not clear to me that she did.

Then a package arrived from this woman. Inside was a Prada purse and a note saying she was ready to do business.

A Prada purse? Why on earth would she send me something so expensive when all I wanted was proof of her legitimacy? I guess she assumed the gift would sway my decision.

That is all it took for my gut to go into overdrive. I immediately put the purse into return mail and told her we would not be doing business.

It turns out, my gut was right.

The New York Times published an article about this woman, noting how she was duping companies into selling her lowcost product and then reselling it for a good profit on the open market—an illegal action called diverting. The woman was arrested, and the article named several high-profile vice presidents of sales who fell for her ruse.

I think about that every time I’m conflicted in my decision making. What is my gut saying? It’s a helpful tool when decisions seem impossible to make.

Recently I was speaking to a gentleman who was trying to choose an assisted-living facility for his mother, who has Alzheimer’s. He had visited the facilities multiple times, done all his research, evaluated the pros and cons, and was still at a loss as to which one to choose.

It got to the point that he was so overwhelmed and confused because he was overthinking, and that was leaving him in an unending circle of indecision.

Compounding this, he was experiencing some wishful thinking. Because he wanted so badly for his mother to get better, he was hesitating in deciding, hoping that her condition would improve.

He was also experiencing emotions about his decision. Will mom still love me if I place her? How will I feel about myself if I do this?

As we talked, it was clear he also had some unconscious bias about those who live in facilities. Even though he knew it was the right decision for his mother, in the back of his mind he thought these homes were for people who had no one in their lives who cared for them.

We agreed that he would put his decision on the back burner for a few weeks so he could better recognize and process the information he received.

As it turns out, slowing down allowed him to make space for his intuition, and his choice became clear. He was at peace with his choice, and his mother is now in a place that is safe and welcoming.

So often when we are obsessed with making “the right choice” we become overwhelmed with thoughts and options and are then cut off from our gut instincts.

Decisions in later life can be hard. Sometimes making room for our gut instincts can help us to arrive at the right answer.

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