Over the past few years (decades), the popularity of "positive psychology" has skyrocketed. Where survival was once our biggest concern, our focus has shifted to meaning. We've assimilated so much into our privileged, modern luxury (where populous-threatening plagues and famine is not an immediate concern), we could stop asking what it would take to survive, and start asking why it mattered that we had to survive in the first place.
Amid all the concepts the last few decades' worth of research has brought to our attention, central to them all may very well be the idea of our mental, emotional, spiritual "instinct." The idea that we have access to a greater, subconscious, powerful force that may not think with what we perceive to be linear reasoning, but the collective of our experience that we can't tap into consciously.
It's become a staple of every chapter of the self-help aisle: trust your instincts; they know more than you do. But what does that even mean? What do your instincts feel like? How do you know when you're listening to them or listening to something that feels very much like them? How do you rationalize the fact that you've tried to listen to your instincts before and realized that you were actually listening to your fear or to something that didn't provide the best possible outcome? Hush, hush, you sweet emotional recluse you, for I am here to dispel a lot of the misunderstanding surrounding what your instincts are, and how to know what they're saying once and for all:
Your Instinct Is The Voice That Doesn't Use Words; It's A "Knowing," Not An "Understanding"
And this is what messes people up most often. They think that their instinct is the first voice they hear in their head, or the first feeling they get in their gut. But our thoughts are so sporadic and random and strange it's probably more dangerous than not to take any random one that pops up too seriously, and our gut feelings can sometimes be fear, or anxiety, or resistance, that lead us away from what it is we really want. The difference here is our gut instincts aren't trying to determine whether or not we should fight or flight, they're trying to figure out, like, whether or not we should be in a certain relationship. It's not life or death. And because it's not that dire or extreme, sometimes (often times) the instinct is more of a subtle knowing than it is an overt feeling.
Your Instinct Won't Always Spell Out The Answers, But Will Always Ask The Honest Questions
When it comes to deciphering abstract things or life choices, if your instincts aren't giving you a definitive answer, they're probably presenting a more important question. As they say: understanding a question is the same as knowing the answer.
It Does Not Serve To Just Give You What You Want — Your Instinct Is There To Get You What You Need
This is really hard for a lot of people to grasp, but usually people stop believing in themselves when they try really hard to accomplish something and continually fail, or in this case, listen to their instincts exactly and come up empty. Where their understanding lapses is in the idea that their brain knows best. A lot of the time we look to our instincts to affirm or deny some crazy fear thought we mustered up in our heads. The reality is that whatever you're creating in your life is exactly what you need to be experiencing. If there's a challenge, it's a means to show you something within you that needs to be addressed. If you're not getting what you want, or your instincts seem to be leading you "astray," they're actually leading you right toward exactly what you need.
Your Instinct Is The Opposite Of Whatever It Is You Are Resisting
If a situation is causing you stress, anxiety or fear, stop and ask yourself what exactly you are resisting. Whenever there's tension or upset in someone's emotional state, it's because there are two equal, opposing forces: what you want and what you're afraid of. What your instincts are saying are on the opposite side of the fear. If you're resisting completely opening your heart to a new relationship, what you really want is to be in love, not to step away for good — but if you don't recognize that resistance is not a genuine or positive instinct to make a decision on, you'll act and regret it.
Your Instinct Isn't Always A Resounding Emotion, More Often It's Just A Subtle Cue Or Subconscious Reaction
Sometimes you can't just consciously decide to feel something (OK, let's be real, you really can't ever do that). A lot of the time, hearing your instincts has less to do with listening and more to do with seeing. Who do you feel positively around? What makes you happy? What are you afraid of? (You want the opposite of that thing.) Be mindful of your subtle energies and the little shifts in your behavior and awareness as you go about your day/through different situations. You're telling yourself more than you think you are.
To Hear Your Gut, You Have To Quiet (Or Distract) Your Mind
The only way to fully comprehend what your instincts have to say is to be sure they're unfiltered by your mind's bias. This is why "instincts" work most efficiently when you're surprised and don't have time to think. For a real mind f#*k of an experiment that will be equally as effective, have a friend wait to surprise you with a quick question or situation, see exactly what you think/feel. It's like a real life version of flipping a coin to see which you really want it to land on.
Most Of The Time It's Not About "Hearing" Your Instinct, But Trusting It Regardless
The other thing people confuse for "not hearing their instincts" is hearing them loud and clear but disliking what they have to say. Your instincts won't always affirm what you want. They won't always tell you what you want to hear. But they'll always show you what you need to know, even if you're not aware that you need to know it.