Mindful Monkey.

What to do with a Gut Feeling: A Question of the Signal to Noise Ratio?

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Do you think the importance of emotions is down played? We hear phrases like “… oh you’re just being emotional”. Reasoning is often put forward as superior faculty for dealing with our experiences. This position argues that we should disregard emotions as somehow ‘soft’ or ‘fuzzy’ and rely on reasoning and intellect.

Yet most of us also suspect that our emotions are important. For example most people know that it is not wise to ignore our feelings about something and that using a ‘gut feeling’ can be a good way of deciding or knowing things.

So how do we resolve this seeming conflict? In recent years there has here has been a revolution in thinking about the brain; the importance of emotions in how we think and process things is seen as central to how the brain works. The ground breaking research of Damasio and Panksepp has helped to create the field of study called Affective Neuroscience.

For now let’s look specifically at what we call ‘gut feeling’. How good is the information it provides us? Can we really trust a gut feeling? Is it reliable? Most of us would not ignore a gut feeling – yet we also know that it may not be infallible.

Let’s start with the idea that the information being provided by our emotions is important, relevant and accurate. However, problems arise with errors in the reading of them. The signal is being incorrectly deciphered, a bit like taking a reading from you electricity meter and calculating your gas bill from that. As you can imagine that would lead to an unhelpful outcome.
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So what we are saying is the emotions are a key part of our wisdom, the feeling tone in our body provides essential signals which make up our ‘emotional guidance system’, our ‘emotional intelligence’. So the ‘gut feeling’ about something is a very important message, it provides essential information. So how do we decipher and use this inner guidance wisely?

The ‘knee jerk’ reactions to our feelings will not usually be the most helpful way to respond. For instance it is common that when feeling afraid or angry people will ‘lash out’ against the person (or situation) that appears to be the cause of these feelings. I guess you can see that this is usually not the most helpful or wise thing to do. So how do we use the information better?

Firstly we don’t react to it ‘automatically’. To have the important mental skills to be with an experience, the difficult feeling, and not have the knee jerk reaction, but rather be able to ‘hold’ and contain the feeling, listen to it, without either becoming overwhelmed or cutting off from it. This gives us an opportunity to hear its deeper meaning, which is usually more helpful and is trying to guide us in important ways.

Understanding all this conceptually is not easy, yet with a few weeks of regular Mindfulness practice most people start to see it happening in their lives, in their reactions to things. Old habitual knee jerk reactions are not triggered off immediately, and somehow ‘space’ appears around things in a way that allows wiser more helpful responses.

Perhaps one way of understanding this is in terms of ‘signal to noise ratio’. When there is a lot of noise the important signal is obscured. As the intensity of the inner ‘noise’ is reduced, the important signal becomes clearer; we can ‘hear’ it better. The Mindfulness practice helps us strengthen these skills and this becomes the doorway to our healing and growth.

You can now get all the Guided Mindfulness recordings you need to get going with your practice here.

Or you can come on the Mindfulness 10 week course starting on the 21st of September.

 

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