Hellooo there, head! It's me, your gut. Listen up: There are a few important situations in life when I deserve to be heard.

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Illustration: woman with bullhorn broadcasting to her stomach
Credit: Shout

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Illustration: woman with bullhorn broadcasting to her stomach
Credit: Shout

1 When choosing a career.

I had a vocational calling from a very early age—an instinct for storytelling and writing—that might have looked reckless and romantic to other people. I sacrificed a lot of things to pursue that. My gut told me, “This is what you’re supposed to be doing with your life.” It was correct. I didn’t have a career Plan B, and my gut told me that that was fine, as long as I could get a waitressing or bartending job to pay the bills. On the other hand, when I was younger, my gut also made some really bad decisions, especially in terms of romance and sex. I was impulsive and followed my instincts a lot, and I didn’t have the right to do that yet. I’m better at making gut decisions when they only affect me. My gut gets confused when I bring other people into the mix. And in those relationships, I had to override my gut and start using my head for a while.

Elizabeth Gilbert

2 When you can’t sleep or eat.

Most of us have that sixth sense—knowing when something isn’t sitting right. You can try to talk yourself out of the concern, but if you have physical symptoms, like clenching your jaw or disruptions in your sleep or appetite, really listen to your intuition. Maybe you got a good job offer but it requires a lot of travel. Your logical side thinks, Increased salary. But your gut is telling you that it’s going to be bad for your family. You can make a pros and cons list and talk to trusted friends or family members, too, but that sixth sense is telling you what you need to know.

Samantha Meltzer-Brody

3 If someone is suffering.

Our initial gut reaction is to help, whether it’s a homeless person on the street or a mother struggling to pay with food stamps in a grocery store. But we talk ourselves out of it. “I’m in a rush,” we say. Or, “This person may be scamming me.” Instead of listening to your gut telling you to care for others, you ignore it. Don’t do that. Think about a time when you were in need. How lonely did it feel? If someone steps in to help you, in a microsecond your view of the world changes.

James Doty

4 When a man feels too close.

As a sex-crimes prosecutor, I often heard victims describe how their stomachs knotted or they got chills because they were being followed on the street or stepped into an elevator with someone creepy. I also heard a lot of “He was too close.” He didn’t get boundaries. A gut reaction is very physical—act on it. Get off the stoop where you are about to enter and walk back to the deli on the corner. Don’t get on the elevator! Just say you’re waiting for a friend. Women always told me, “I didn’t want him to think I was impolite.” But there’s a saying in my field: Better rude than raped.

Linda Fairstein

5 At a fork in the road.

At some point, it’s not about right or wrong—it’s about making a decision, sticking with it, and learning from it. With my ice cream flavors, even when I’m not sure people will like them, if my team does, I go with my gut and release them. You learn from mistakes, and then your gut is more educated. Especially starting a business, if you think too much, you’ll never do it. Research is good, but eventually knowledge can become paralyzing. Turn off your brain and jump off the cliff. You can build the parachute on the way down.

Jeni Britton Bauer

The Experts

  • Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and Eat, Pray, Love. She lives in Frenchtown, New Jersey.
  • Samantha Meltzer-Brody is a psychiatrist and the director of the Center for Women’s Mood Disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives in Chapel Hill.
  • James Doty is a neurosurgeon and the director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. He is also the author of Into the Magic Shop, out in February. He lives in Stanford, California.
  • Linda Fairstein was a sex-crimes prosecutor in New York for 30 years and is the author of Devil’s Bridge. She lives in New York.
  • Jeni Britton Bauer is the founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. She lives in Columbus, Ohio.