Fear vs. Intuition: How to Tell the Difference

When you have an important decision to make, it’s normal to experience doubt and uncertainty. We hear people say, “trust your intuition,” but the problem is many of us confuse intuition with fear.

When we’re used to being guided by logical thinking and reasoning, we lose touch with our gut feelings. So, how do we recognize the difference between fear and our intuition sending the message that something isn’t right?

Here are the two main things that separate fear from intuition:

  1. Fear is linked to dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. Intuition is only about the present.
  2. Fear is emotionally charged and intuition is unemotional.

This explains why intuition feels right. It comes from a neutral place, confirming you are on the right track. Fear, on the other hand, often reflects unhealed psychological trauma. This is why it feels dark and heavy.

The Science of Fear

We know what fear feels like: heart pounding, shortness of breath and your stomach tied in knots. But what’s actually happening in the brain?

When something scares you, your brain reacts with a fight or flight response. For example, if you see a spider, there are two pathways for your brain to take.

The first goes to the amygdala, your brain’s sensory system that connects to what you see, hear, smell, touch and taste. It triggers an adrenaline response, causing your heart to beat faster and your body to sweat. The amygdala sends a direct signal to your brain that tells you the spider is something to fear. The second goes to your higher cortical center, which is associated with your reasoning response. It says, “I’ve seen this spider before. I have nothing to fear.”

Essentially, fear is evolution’s way of keeping us safe. It’s a survival mechanism that humans have used for millions of years. The problem is, unlike our ancestors, we are no longer surviving predators and natural disasters on a regular basis. Today the majority of our fears are psychological. This includes fear of losing a job, losing a loved one, or what’s happening in the future.

When you’re guided by fear, you are living in a world of worst-case scenarios, which is both irrational and counterproductive. You are not living in the present moment.

Always Trust Your Intuition When Making Important Decisions

When we make a decision based in fear, we feel relieved, as if we just survived impending danger. When we make a decision using our intuition, we feel comfortable, even when we’re uncertain.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, he writes “when making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”

In other words, when the stakes are high we should be listening to our intuition instead of our logical mind.

Intuition cannot be defined in scientific terms; it can only be felt. It’s our internal compass that helps us bridge the gap between instinct and reason, and between the unconscious and conscious mind. Your body has natural insight that goes beyond logic and reason. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.”

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