When Was a Time You Abandoned Your Gut?
11.03.17

Recently, I was at a dinner party rattling off all the ways I planned to actualize self-improvement over the next 12 months. I was perfectly embodying a person who fears unfulfilled potential. I pinpointed with exacting precision what is wrong with me: I am lazy, have trouble with focus and therefore discipline…and my self-esteem? Almost always in the gutter. The trouble was, for as well as I knew this, I provided zero context regarding how I ought to fix any of it.

“My 2018,” I told the victim of my prose — an unassuming but fiercely thoughtful man seated next to me at said dinner, “is going to be all about learning not to abandon my gut.” This, I surmised, was the most important of the work that lay ahead for me. But before I could get into the specifics of what it means to abandon your gut: to betray the inner voice when it tells you that something must change, to close your eyes to your heart, to think of your instinct as a trampoline that is always ready to catch you, he cut me off and asked, “When’s a time that you abandoned your gut?” Surely I should have had an answer at the ready given how convicted I was about this resolution, but I had to think about it.

When was a time that I abandoned my gut? I listened to it when logic told me I was too young to get married but my gut said, “Fuck it, just do it.” I listened to it when logic suggested I take an elongated work break but my gut said, “No way.” I even listen when logic says, “Salmon!” but gut says, “Sandwich.” Or maybe that’s a different thing. But in trying to pinpoint what I was so sure I was terrible at, what would encapsulate the whole of my 2018 work, what I found was that, yeah, there have been some blunders along the way. For the most fundamental things, however — the real turkey, not just the gravy — I have done a pretty decent job letting my gut lead.

If I couldn’t answer his question as passionately as I could incite his asking it, how could I possibly troubleshoot against abandoning my gut again? So when’s a recent time I abandoned my gut? When did I last forget that all the answers are baked into the oven of my anatomy?

Can you think of a time? Are you willing to share it? If you’re not, that’s okay, but I do encourage you to do what my seat mate forced me to and reflect on some of your self-deprecation, some of the ways you lean into your “unfulfilled potential,” and to challenge it. You’ll probably find that you’re better off than you think.

Photo by Arthur Elgort/Conde Nast/Contour by Getty Images.

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  • Oh, it’s definitely that time I stayed when I really should have left.

    • aisling

      Me tooooo (and, related, #MeToo).

      Never, ever, ever ignore your instincts about a partner. He seemed like *such a nice guy* and I overrode my instinct that something was a bit off. My gut knew… but I was lonely and wanted to give him a chance. Biggest mistake of my life.

    • wilhelmina

      I’ve found time and time again, my initial inkling about a problem with a person turns out to be the reason the relationship dissolves.

  • Silvi

    I’ve usually found myself having to decide between acting and not acting (as opposed to two different affirmative actions), i.e. staying in my comfort zone versus venturing, maintaining status quo versus challenging it. Unsurprisingly, my gut’s usually telling me to do something (anything!!!), and its fear or inertia that keeps me tethered most of the time.

    • doladex

      same!

  • Tomo Orihara

    Oof. That’s a very loaded question, isn’t it–when’s a time that you abandoned your gut? There’s no way you can’t go all introspective and philosophical when faced with such a question. Looking back, I guess it would be the time when I finally distinguished my healthy “gut voice” from my unhealthy “gut voice”. With the former, I feel empowered and I flourish. And with the latter… the only thing that I be “flourishing” is the John. *Badum tss* I’ll see my way out.

    • lateshift

      No offense, but this is yet another data point supporting the idea that this is the worst possible life decision method…there is no such thing as a “healthy gut voice” and an “unhealthy gut voice.” We tend to just look back and retroactively decide: Hey, those times when I won the existential lottery, when the universe happened to align in such a way that my doubts were proven right or my preferred scenario happened to work out as I’d hoped – that meant I’d heard from my “healthy gut voice”… those times when I got unlucky, when circumstances just happened to go the other way and my preferred scenario didn’t work out – I must have been hearing from my “unhealthy gut voice.” Nope…sorry. It’s the same voice: your brain.

      • Tomo Orihara

        Expectations are awful, especially when you’ve gone overboard and idealized the shit out of them. (I hate to admit it, but, I’ve had a couple of those.) Yeesh. But, I do believe that “going with your gut” is less about the result and more about what you feel–going with what feels *right*–sometimes, despite its location in the logic scale, if there is such a thing.

        Have you ever had one of those moments wherein you instantaneously decide on one thing because it was the easier and more comforting choice even though you feel that it wouldn’t make you truly happy? That’s what I meant by “unhealthy gut voice”. I used to listen to my fears and thought of my fight-or-flight response as my gut. It felt right to stick with my old major because I was scared of the stigma and what people might say. It felt right to keep going at it with my old job because things will fall apart if I don’t in spite of how miserable I was.

        In some ways, the gut voice *is* just our brain–physiologically, with the hormones, ability to pinpoint where exactly we feel it in our body, and such; mentally, for being able to come up with the choices to choose from; and emotionally, with the holistic assessment of our cognition–but, you can’t deny the presence of something divine in being able to feel where your happiness is.

        I should’ve elaborated further before I went in on with the punchline. My bad.

  • Anne Dyer

    Friendships. When I know someone isn’t the right fit but it’s been a while. Dinner is grabbed and guts are rechecked.

  • Abby

    Stayed in a job I knew was a bad fit because my brain said “leaving so soon will look terrible on your resume!”.

    • JessK

      My gut has been screaming at me to leave a job that is a terrible fit (literally making me sick), but my brain keeps winning the argument by reminding me that I want to get a mortgage.

    • Adrianna

      I did the opposite and, and it did look terrible. It took me 1.5 years to find another job!

    • Julia

      Same, though I suppose I just changed my mind and left so I’m not sure if it’ll work out well or not!

    • Selena Delgado

      same, thinking I could change the way people felt about my strength and opinions were useless

    • Serena

      100% this for me… it took me 18 months to trust my gut and finally resign

  • tmm16

    Almost always with men. Ignoring red flags even though my “gut” tells me this isn’t going to end the way I want it to. There have been many dates I’ve been on where red flags have definitely appeared early on, but I’ve ignored them and made up some excuse. It’s something I’m working on. Always trust your gut!

    • Literally SAME, I hate that I do that…especially when I tell myself ‘this is going to end badly’ but then I completely ignore it -__-

  • SC

    Staying in romantic relationships too long *hoping* things would change!

  • Well, I am mostly served mixed blessings so my gut is allowed to whisper in my ear as much as it needs to (it may try to strangle me otherwise, to strain the terrible imagery even further) but in the end, I let the head decide, yes or no or kale or such. Of course I feel responsible for these decisions, since I must consider myself adequately warned by my gut, meaning I try to stick it out as much as possible and flee only when I have no strength left. There’s always something positive to be gained from these bags of mixed life stuff and I do tend to stick to my healthy life style and count my blessings daily, so life goes on, victoriously if strict accounting is applied ( gains – losses > 0).
    I do suffer from … bowel problems occasionally, but I also know how to spoil my hard-working gut, so.

  • Adrianna
  • Renee

    2 years ago my ex-boyfriend of four years asked me to move to D.C. from L.A. to live with him. I had second thoughts all the time, but for some reason I still moved. I even missed my ‘big move’ one-way flight. I joke the city wanted to keep me there since I was stuck in traffic, it is the City of Angels after all (very corny, I know.)

    Anyway, exactly, one month later he broke up with me for his co-worker (in the end they broke up too!) and I was dev. a. stated.

    But it actually all worked out. I decided to stay (because I was embarrassed to move back home, obviousssly) and after a couple months I got a kick ass job. I’ve found there have been more opportunities here for me than what was available to me in L.A. I am much more my own person than I ever was in that relationship. I’m not afraid to be alone (I’m going on my third solo international trip in two weeks!) I’m much better at making friends, and generally a more independent person. So maybe I should have listened to my gut and stayed or moved back home, who really knows. But I’m happy and I like my life and that’s what counts.

    • Lizlemon

      Wow what a story! Glad you bounced back!

  • silla

    Getting back together with an ex! He wasn’t a totally bad guy but not for me. We eventually broke up, after I stopped pushing my gut down, and I made a vow to always listen to my gut from then on. Except I realised that sometimes my gut and brain get confused, so I try to characterise as my BODY. What does my body want? And when it turned out that my body couldn’t stay the hell away from my then friend now boyfriend, I listened. I couldn’t keep my hands off him, or my body away from him, or stop resting my head on his – and even though my head was like NO TOO SOON YOURE M8S I listened to my body and thank Christ I did!

  • Ann P

    Marrying my first husband. For God’s sake I even told my best guy friend at my hen’s night that it wasn’t going to work. Did it anyway. We’d been together for six years and I logiced it away as cold feet. Total disaster, we made it just a couple of days longer than Kim K’s marriage to Kris Humphries. I did however listen to my gut and left! (FYI second husband is Best Thing Ever)

  • LilAlcapuria

    Im going to throw out an example where it wasn’t good to ignore my gut and one where it (might) be.

    Friendships. I invest a lot in the few friends I have and when I see red flags, I keep looking away because I can’t bear to lose the friend. It eventually happens anyways because incompatibilities are incompatibilities, duh ( it has happened to me twice, and I’d known both friends for over a decade!)

    Career changes. I’m going back to school for a masters in Social Work and even though i’m working in the field currently and enjoy it, part of me is screaming “don’t do it!”. I think I just don’t want A Shit Ton of Loans, but i’m loan-free currently and passionate about the work so I think it’s worth doing. I’ll report back in summer of ’20 if it was worth it lol.

  • Leandra Medine thanks for your outstanding thinking. Sometimes I do but very often try to leave it.

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I didn’t trust my gut instinct this week. I was somewhat congested with a horrible cough that kept me and my husband awake at night. I was sure it was just a cold or fall allergies,but Friday afternoon, my husband insisted that I go to the doctor because I wasn’t getting any better, and I found out I had bronchitis, which I haven’t had since I was a child. The rest of the time, I trust my gut instinct, which is usually right.

  • Terri

    I ignored my lack of feelings for my college boyfriend for far too long. I finally left him for the guy I was truly in love with. Bought a ticket to Paris and stayed with him, soon I’ll be making the move there permanently.

  • Selena Delgado

    The time when I could have had the abortion, but decided to keep my pregnancy, I knew I’d abandoned my gut. I sat with the sinking feeling for awhile and somehow believed I could make something wonderful out of it. I knew deep down that it would be the end of life, as I knew it. Yet I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t a failure, after all..

  • Alexia

    I abandoned my gut choosing which college to go to. Logically (ie academically) it was a sound choice, the one everyone told me was right. But I was really scared to leave home!

    At first, I was convinced (!) that I had made the bad choice. And though it’s too early to call it, I think I made the right move. It wasn’t a comfortable decision, and my gut didn’t like it, but I’ve grown a lot in a very short span and have started to not be able to imagine myself going anywhere else.

    So… follow your gut but also don’t be afraid to push yourself.

    • lateshift

      Your “gut” = your emotions…your fear, your anxiety, your insecurity, your hopes and fevered pipe dreams. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a worse basis for making a decision.

      OF COURSE it makes sense that, if you’re someone who’s scared to leave home, your “gut” will tell you: don’t leave home. Maybe you’d wind up content with that decision. Maybe you wouldn’t. Conversely, if you’re unhappy in your life, and desperate to jump onto ANY means of escaping your routine, then your gut will tell you: jump on anything that takes you far away. Maybe you’d be happy with that call. Maybe you wouldn’t. But those outcomes would be independent of anything your “gut” told you beforehand. Your “gut” only knows how you feel in that moment, based on your limited experience. And ALL of us, no matter how old we get, are limited by our experience…nobody’s experienced everything.

      On a related note, if your gut is driven by depression or anxiety (which: since it’s your brain, if you’re depressed or anxious, it will be) – your decisions will reflect those factors too. I’m not sure how that could possibly be viewed as a good thing.

      That doesn’t mean “gut decisions” will be the wrong ones. That most definitely doesn’t mean they’re the right ones either. (to the extent decisions can be objectively “wrong” or “right” anyway – most of the time, they can’t.) All it does mean is that throughout your life, your “gut” will be of limited, no, or negative value to your decision-making process. The more you learn to ignore it, the better your decisions will be.

      • Jenny

        My first ever MR comment to say YES! I’m a therapist and your point about depression and anxiety really resonates. However, I think “gut” emotional responses can meaningful and helpful, especially when you hope to skim over the truth because it’s painful to face. I think there’s room for both here- awknowkedge and explore those gut feelings, but know that acting against them may be valuable, especially if your emotions are controlled by unhelpful guilt, fear, hopelessness, etc.

        • Babs

          Important perspective here. I think we assume that our gut is always right/helpful.

  • lateshift

    No. No. No. NO.

    Most of us doubt virtually all our decisions at some point – sometimes for a nanosecond, sometimes longer – and then retroactively credit ourselves with sage foresight if they don’t work out (and berate ourselves for lacking confidence if they do.) Our “gut” is another word for our emotions, which are driven by a lifetime’s worth of neuroses, insecurity, and unrepresentative experience that we nonetheless assume provides us with some sort of valuable life template. This is because humans are hard-wired to look for patterns in life where there are none, and certainty where there is none…which is also why our politics is defined by people who embrace what they “feel instinctively” to be true, even if the facts point 100% in the other direction. We’re a nation of morons following our damn guts over a cliff.

    Seriously: there is NO SUCH THING as emotionless logic or life choice instinct. It all comes from the same place: our baggage-saddled mind. Think of all the times you’ve felt like you just HAD to do something, say something – that you couldn’t wait another minute to send that email, quit that job, tell that guy you loved him, etc. If it didn’t turn out after the fact that those were the worst decisions of your life, count yourself lucky; for most people, they will be…even if they were the right moves, handling them in a way that satisfies our “gut” can turn any good decision into a bad one. Let’s be honest – most of the time our guts have sh!t for brains. Our top priority in life should be doing our level best to ignore our damn “guts.”

    • Anna Curran

      Really interesting point! I think sometimes crediting your ‘gut’ is when you give in to what you WANT to do instead of what you SHOULD do.

  • Eva Kuzyk

    There are these big, 40 ft. cliffs near the cabin where I live in the summer. Every year my friends and I stand at the top, and one by one, we count to 3 and jump. I have to put my guts away in order to be that gutsy, because I know it’s going to hurt. To throw yourself off of a cliff, you need to ignore every instinct encoded in your DNA. And guess what.. It’s never really worth it. You can’t feel the thrill of the experience when you had to break a little bit of yourself in the process. You just hit the water, full of Adrenalin and think “I did it”, and maybe wonder why. So don’t abandon your gut too easy; it’s what keeps you trusting yourself.

    • Alli

      This was such a powerful and evocative example! Thank you for sharing.

  • Sarah

    I’m actually really surprised that all of these stories about abandoning your gut are so negative! The first thing I thought of was how I used to be really shy and afraid to go out of my way to say hello and speak with strangers or acquaintances. My gut always told me it was better not to initiate, as a stranger may find it odd or annoying that I’m talking to them, or that an acquaintance I wasn’t that close with might not want to have to see more or make small talk with me. Since starting college, I’ve made a point to ignore that gut feeling and be the first to initiate contact or friendship, even when it feels really uncomfortable or I’m worried someone might not recognize me from class/work/whatever. But I’ve discovered most people are JUST as nervous and grateful to have a friendly face. My gut used to tell me not to initiate, and if I had listened to it I would not have made some of the great friends and contacts I have now!

  • Long time reader, first time sharer.

    Deeeeep breath in.

    Leaving my partner of 4 years because my gut has been telling me increasingly over the last year. Deep breath out.

    It’s been 4 days, I’ve moved into my folks, I’m tossing and turning that I’ve done the wrong thing, I just wanna go home to my own damn house, have someone to cuddle in bed, but I keep coming back to that gut feeling of – you’ve done the right fucking thing, be by yourself, have independence, BE SINGLE and live your own truth.

    • I did the same thing a few months ago. I was with my then BF for four years and my gut kept telling me I needed to be single and that this wasn’t right and so we broke up, and it sucked for sure, but deep down I knew it was the right thing to do. Long story short, YOU WILL BE OKAY.

  • CT

    I think I have abandoned my gut a few times, especially when it seemed like my gut might be connected with fear. The last time I can think of was when I bought an appartement.
    I really had a bad feeling about it, but it was such a good deal, so I went through with it anyway and it was really great that I did.
    I really love my appartement!
    I think gut is just expirience, and when you are doing something you do not have a lot of experience in, you cant always trust it.

  • Summer Fulp

    Moving to the dominican republic (my family is dominican) meant ignoring my gut. Everything in my gut was telling me to stay, I was crying on the flight there, I cried the night before. But i figured that if i didn’t go I would regret staying. All worked out but I really was so close to cancelling it all

  • gracesface

    Did TOO MUCH leading with my gut (quit jobs, broke leases, ending years long friendships, ended up kind miserable tbh), got sick of it, started thinking a little less obsessively and doing less navel gazing and started making some more objective feelings. It helped! Gut is still there when needed.

  • Thank you for this question, Leandra! This is an alarming question because I too feel as though I’ve abandoned by gut many times, but then I remember all of the times I didn’t and feel a sign of pride. I did abandon the thing that both mixes my food and leaves me guilty at times when I focused on making others happy and cared for before myself.

  • I usually listen to my gut, but have such a hard time when it comes to family. If I’m being distracted or imposed upon by a relative, my gut always says “No! You don’t have time!” or “Stop listening and get back to your thing!”, but I often comply, despite knowing what the right thing is for me. I’m the youngest and have spent many years going with the flow, so it’s hard to change that sometimes.

    http://www.shessobright.com

  • Alli

    Spent WAY too much mental and emotional energy trying to force a reconnection-date that shouldn’t have happened, and didn’t. The whole situation fell through really embarrassingly (on my birthday!) but I ended up in a very different and very lovely situation later that night, and in a totally unexpected turn of events, my now-boyfriend asked me on our first date. Couldn’t be happier that God sabotaged my plans/overthinking in favor of my gut!

  • MM

    Going through with the wedding despite demonstrative proof of cheating two months prior to the wedding date (she emailed my work address), soul destroying and incredibly expensive pre-nup negotiations, and absolutely 0 interest in marriage or the wedding itself, all because it would be “embarrassing” and I had spent so much money. Even my now MIL said she would understand if I called it off- two days before. But I did it anyway. Three years later, I still can’t decide if that was the right choice or not, and still can’t muster the strength to go- mostly due to mostly improved behavior and after-the-fact apologies and probably all the reasons that made me go through with it in the first place.

    And that’s the first time I’ve said that “out loud.” Thanks for providing this platform.

  • Ελένη Κυρίτση

    only every time a relationship is getting serious and I’m like “oh no, my first impression must’ve been wrong, THIS IS THE ONE”. why would he be? my first impression is always the right one, if I see signs you’re a mommy’s boy, that’s what you’re gonna look like when the romance fades away. same if you’re kind of a douche, same if your house (and life) seems a bit of a mess before I totally fall in love with you.