“Trust your gut” is old advice, but it turns out, it’s scientifically sound advice as well.
If it’s your brain that’s making the decisions, then what’s your gut got to do with it? There are a few factors to consider behind trusting your gut that have their roots in solid research, neuroscience and psychology.
Related: How to Know When to Trust Your Gut
How come some things you can remember effortlessly while others you have to work really hard to access? The reason is that your brain has two types of memory: explicit and implicit, the latter of which is believed to be the driving force behind gut feelings.
Explicit memory is the knowledge you have to cram into your head with determined, focused effort. If you’ve ever studied to ace a test -- that’s your explicit memory at work. Implicit memory, however, is all the stuff that gets jammed into your head through no conscious or intentional effort on your part. Think of implicit memory as the reason you can randomly recall film quotes and song lyrics after seeing a movie or hearing a song. You didn't try to remember it, it just got absorbed by your brain.
When implicit and explicit memory functions work together, you can develop skills that evolve into second nature. For example, you must explicitly learn to ride a bike, but once you do -- that skill follows you for life. Your implicit memory recalls how to balance, pedal and steer through your explicit memory of the past. You don’t have to re-learn how to ride every time you hop on a cycle.
With implicit memory, you just know that touching a hot stove is a bad idea or falling in love is fun, but potentially harmful to your heart. These implicit memories can help dictate a gut instinct that can guide you to better decision-making based on past triggers you may not even remember with your conscious mind.
This harkens back to our caveman days before we had developed fully-functioning frontal lobes that allowed us to synthesize potential future outcomes based on circumstances. In the days of our cave-dwelling ancestors, the thing that dictated our ability to survive were the gut reactions prompted by our simple implicit memory. These unconscious queues helped trigger memories of danger that helped preserve ancient life spans.
While today’s gut-trusting techniques are usually much less life-or-death oriented, they still have important ramifications for learning from your life’s experiences. Often times those gut feelings are telling you something you should pay attention to, or at least acknowledge and explore before making a decision.
So listen to your gut, it could be telling you something important.