Should you trust your gut?

4 days
by abhaynayar


2 days

The older I get, the more I have to rely on my gut if I actually want to get any decisions made because I can't remember why I know something, or sometimes what I know that makes the decision correct.

I don't mean that I'm being reckless (I'm reckless sometimes). I trust my gut to have some actual basis in knowledge. Another thing that I've learned to do as I get older is to freely say "I don't know" if I don't have a "gut" idea of what a decision should be. I will happily defer to someone else who convinces me that they do know in those situations (which is another gut call really, of whether to trust someone else).

In any case, I am a strong believer in making a decision and following through with it (within reason), rather than stagnating forever in indecision and research. Some research yes, if necessary, but at some point you have to pick a direction and go.

Edit to directly address the need for data: I'm firmly behind data-based decision making. Two arguments come to mind against "most gut decisions are wrong":

1. When I make a gut decision, it's based on data that I've collected at some point.

2. Pertinent to my first point, but also to data collected more consciously in preparation for a decision. Data is also wrong sometimes and misleading often.

I go back to my idea that making a decision is better than not making a decision, usually. The next step is objectively monitoring the consequences and bailing out if you were wrong. Denial is much worse than making that wrong decision to begin with.

2 days

The older I get, the more I realize that you could infinitely try to optimize for a decision to be right.

At some point you just need to decide.

The majority of things in life aren't worth taking to much effort to optimize your decision.

Your gut is a great heuristic, but the trick is to know when you should put in a little more effort than just trusting your gut.

2 days

Also, it's often the case that you can't collect all the relevant information from your starting point.

Sometimes once you start moving in one direction, any direction at all, you gain more perspective on what the right decision is.

So it's important to maintain flexibility and be able to update your decisions.

2 days

I suffer from some pretty intense Analysis Paralysis at times. I've found that there are so many tradeoffs in each and every decision in software that you've just gotta pick what feels right and get moving. I guess that's the same as listening to my gut?

I've yet to avoid any/all hurdles as a result, but I've yet to reach one I couldn't figure out how to get over either.

There is no perfect decision and the line between "ok" and "great" decisions is verrrrrrry fine.

2 days

> I suffer from some pretty intense Analysis Paralysis at times.

I used to be like that when I was younger. Not only for specific things regarding software, but for many things in life. Eventually I've developed my own "mantra" which is something like "any-thing is better than no-thing".

Nowadays it still happens to me some of the times, mostly when I have too many things to do at the same time and don't know where to turn to. One example: from 19:00 to 19:30 every day I have to set the table, do the dinner, prepare the soup and fruit for my small kid and wash some dishes, as my wife baths the kid. Some days it is too much at the same time, and I start to feel paralyzed, like where do I turn to? My current solution is just to do anything. Anything at all. And as soon as I do anything, I start to see things moving, and instantly, that paralyzing feel goes away!

2 days

I have the same. What helped me was to learn the concept of "good enough", because sometimes or rather often, there is just no perfect solution.

2 days

> In any case, I am a strong believer in making a decision and following through with it (within reason), rather than stagnating forever in indecision and research. Some research yes, if necessary, but at some point you have to pick a direction and go.

I am the type that struggles with the indecisive behavior and had to pay serious opportunity cost because of this type of behavior. I struggle with indecisiveness even with seemingly small decisions such as picking a restaurant for dinner.

Any pointers on behavioral trainings to change that? In this context, even if I have (and I typically do) have also "gut feeling" about something, I struggle to follow through.

2 days

I'm afraid that I don't, and in fact that despite my belief in the concept (decisiveness!) I definitely struggle to adhere to it sometimes as well. Your example (where to go for dinner) puts my in mind of my wife, who does much the same and I get to watch her agonize and stress over tiny decisions that in my mind have no consequence whatsoever one way or another.

In fact, I do think that being married to her forces decisiveness from me, in many cases. But for others, I just don't empathize very much, even with her. I'm quick to point out that it's a tiny difference that won't make any difference in the long run, but it doesn't seem to help her at all (I'm not insensitive as this may sound, I really am trying to help and she knows that).

That's the only thing I can say though - maybe analyze why you think this is an important decision, worth your time of consideration. If you can't think of a good enough reason, then say to yourself, "it doesn't matter", and flip a coin. Maybe literally, if that helps.

1 day

If I may, I'd recommend first try to understand why you can't take a decision, is being afraid of making a mistake for example or is there something else? Then, you can start practicing with mundane decisions like picking a different flavor of ice cream instead of your usual one, try to identify decision like that example that have no consequences and don't overthink it, just decide. The only way to change this is to retrain yourself to break the association.

If you can, do some therapy, it will help.

Good luck!

Comment was deleted :(
2 days

Well put. I am the same way.

I view it as the vector of my past experiences and knowledge. Though, I do have to be careful not to conflate gut with excess of any emotion ex. greed, hope etc. I am also carefully aware of when the "rules of the game" might be changing but that might be the "data" you are describing.

2 days

I do agree with the reasoning here. For a few weeks / months, I have been trying to trust my first instinct / intuition more and more, sweeping away any second guessing when it comes in. So far, it seems to be working great and frees my mind so much it’s refreshing!

2 days

That's called wisdom.

Learning from past mistakes, past times you were fooled, times you were right, pulling from a vast and diverse set of knowledge that only makes sense in hidsight.

2 days

Your "gut" developed over tens of thousands of years of evolutionary pressure. There's way more information encoded into it than we would expect.

2 days

I suppose that following instincts offers a much much discounted cost on your psyche for "getting it wrong".

Let's say I have a choice between A and B. My instinct is telling me A, and I have a rational reasoning for B.

Assuming that the strength of the instinct (0 - 100, "complete indifference" to "every cell if my body is screaming for it") is comparable to the confidence I have in my reasoning (0 - 100, "complete guess" to "I have factual proof and competence that tells me this is the answer"), then if I get it wrong because I went with A I'll be much more prone to accept it as "I'm ok with this mistake" then if I went with B and go it wrong.

This, to me, is true at all levels of intensity. If I don't have strong feelings one way or another I'll follow instinct over reason and assume that my subconscious knows something I don't. If my rational confidence and instincts are high (assuming I dont have time to analyze the conflict), if I get it wrong "rationally" I'll kick myself more than if I got it wrong "irrationally".

So there is a real advantage in mental health with going with guts.

2 days

Tangentially related:

In my experience lot of people operate on 'autopilot', and I find it incredibly sad. They have all of humanity's knowledge accessible to them in their hands through phones, I wish they would sometimes stop to search and read and learn and expand their internal knowledge bases. I wish people were more curious and open-minded.

I've personally always derived a lot of joy from constantly learning and improving myself and it's baffling to me how little growth and positive change I see in many of the people around me over the years.

2 days

Yeah, but whipping out your phone could be deemed autopilot, in fact, I would say it's a defining feature of modern implementation of autopilot.

I kinda feel like what you're getting at is that your iteration of autopilot is better than others. In the abstract most people are pulling information out of the web and ostensibly using it to construct a model. The difference here is priorities and to some extent the framework of moral schematics.

I would expect you're under the impression that what you're doing is productive, and productivity is good. That's not necessarily the case though - that's just a lens that post-Christian western society has adopted for scrutinizing individuals, and frankly it's a little harmful.

2 days

I don't disagree with what you're saying, I feel you misunderstand me. I'm not talking about productivity, I'm talking about stagnation in life (in terms of not 'growing' as a person).

My point is that it's easier than ever before to improve yourself through readily accessible resources. I wish more people would.

It can be through learning about different people's experiences, considering alternative opinions, thinking about views that oppose your own, studying social sciences, having conversations, and so on.

2 days

It seems to me that the people you describe as being on "autopilot" tend to be people that, for whatever reason, do not place a lot of value on the concept of improving oneself (at least, improving oneself in the manner you described, via constant learning, curiosity, and open-mindedness). These people simply have other priorities/worries taking up their time - making money, taking care of family, etc. I myself feel much like you - if I'm not constantly studying something or learning a new skill, I feel like I am stagnating. However, it is hard to make the case for people to constantly accumulate knowledge when most people have the knowledge they need to get by and accomplish their goals. What benefit is it for me to practice piano as a software engineer? I get a profound sense of satisfaction at seeing my skill improve and deeper appreciation for professional musicians, but is it necessary for me to do so? What does the average person really get out of reading, say, Plato's dialogues, when it comes to things like establishing a stable life, climbing the corporate ladder, or paying their bills, if they already believe they have a grasp on things? What is the case to be made for continuous improvement over improvement to the point of necessity, and no further?

2 days

I don't think I do, let me better explain myself:

From what I've pieced together, you have some value system that assesses goodness of growth. Growth is arbitrary and personal. You've set up a red herring in your idea of growth.

To frame it from first principals - we live in a continually evolving system, it's basically mandatory for any individual to "grow" in more ways than one: firstly, people have to navigate that ever-changing environment and as such are exposed to novel information and they have (at a biological level) to update their priors; secondly, at a biological level, invisible though it may be, people are in constant flux internally, now it's speculation, but I'd posit that at a biological level emotions, and boredom, and restlessness are all evolutionary features to press people towards some point, and as a sub-point to this, we're constantly remodeling our brains with our minds and thus I would posit we can confer "growth" as, ostensibly, an individuals model is constantly reorienting itself closer to the ground truth that the stimuli from the environment inculcates.

What I'm saying is that from my view, the contour you've used to define growth is a trajectory towards some point /you/ approve of, some average of things that are made visible to you by others. It seems you want more people to conform to your trajectory, which hey, that's fine, but you shouldn't harbor the expectation of people to do so. Some people want to memorize trivia about Game of Thrones so they can be the go-to authority in their social circle on the topic. Other people like to ride out their cognitive-emotional rollercoasters while rolling around in bed late into the day. Other people keep their growth dead silent. And every other conceivable permutation of that is going on right now, it just doesn't look productive.

And it's good this way. If everybody conformed to one particular trajectory most would quickly be left behind. If everybody followed a single trajectory, we'd lose the treasure of the many diverse forking paths that make up the human space.

2 days

This x 1000!

It's everywhere. From Quora where people from a certain country rush to type a non-answer quoting a useless memorized definition to your doctor.

2 days

Which country is that?

Comment was deleted :(
2 days

School/Uni burns people out on learning stuff. They finish that then want to do other things, which may not involve learning something new.

But also plenty of people have anxieties about their livelihood these days thanks to wages, the economy, and the state of the world. It might be baffling because you lack perspective on that front by not having a shit life!

2 days

Every day on Reddit, I see people asking "Should I learn X?" And it's so fucking stupid. Why ask? Try to learn X. If it's boring, stop. There are no grades. There is no penalty for dropping out.

There are legitimate questions to ask, "Is book Y worth the money?" "If I learn Z, will it increase my job prospects?" But "should I learn X?" is a bad question, and only something as awful as years mandatory schooling can make someone think it is a good one.

2 days

Every day on Reddit, I see people asking "What is X?" And it's so fucking stupid. Why ask? Try to learn what is X by yourself, you are literally two clicks (long press and touch or whatever) away from getting an answer. But people don't want to do that (and some of them don't even know, for sure). But they are totally okay to register on Reddit, ask that question (and maybe even come some time to receive the answer).

2 days

What are the learning projects that have best helped you grow?

2 days

You should always listen and observe what your instincts are telling you.

Sometimes, they will lead you astray, but sometimes they give you valuable advice on what to do. Learning what scenarios have a high/low success rate is useful. Just my 2 cents.

For example, I have good success rate just feeling around numbers and seeing what feels right when doing tasks like, "guess how many jelly beans in the jar". I have a very poor success rate in deciding whom to date.

2 days

A strategy that I’ve seen turn around someone’s relationship woes is asking yourself “Would I hire this person?” Not thinking about skills, particularly, but more about their attitude and approach to things. I was sceptical of the idea but, looking back, it changed the rules of thumb the person was using to assess potential partners. In their case, it worked really well.

2 days

Also / instead: would I want to coparent with this partner?

2 days

This was the approach that I took, kind of. I was too young to really understand what I was doing though, and any guesses about what someone will be like as a parent are probably just guesses, no matter how well you know them. Mostly I just tell people I got lucky.

Not to discount your approach, I think it's a great criteria.

2 days

oh shit! :|

2 days


Unless you were raised in an environment very different than the world you are in today. e.g. your youth was in a hostile environment and now you are in a safe environment. Or your youth was in a safe environment and now you are in a hostile environment. In that case, I am not sure how you unfuck yourself. The former case seems to lead to the most difficult to correct instincts.

It's easier to become harder and more mortified than to become softer, more pliable, and more trusting.

2 days

Take the past centuries and try to find 80 years where trust in the powers that be would have been optimal, contrasted against endless skepticism, cynicism and general distrust. And there's no reason to think this trend is changing; a strong argument could made that it's trending worse.

The point I make with this is that if we view things through the lens of being 'hard' vs being 'soft', then the worst case outcome of being 'hard' is relatively miniscule - looking a genuine gift horse in the mouth may cost one a 'gift.' By contrast the consequences of being 'soft' can be extreme. To run with the same analogy - happily opening your gates to that beautiful wooden horse from Troy. What a gift!

The reason I use 80 years as the metric is because that is, more or less, the time before we get to discover the answer to that final question. And you never know whether you're in a good time, or a bad time. The bad guys don't simply announce "Hey guys. I'm evil. Let's go do evil things to those other guys under farcical rationale, because it sounds like a good thing to do. Who's with me!?" So all one can do is optimize for your entire life, or whatever remains of it.

13 hours

I disagree. At least for the HN crowd who is probably already using data and gut when the data isn’t clear. Its like that meme of what a dumb person saying “trust your gut” the middle of the curve saying “don’t trust your gut” and the smart person saying “trust your gut” again.

I don’t need this writer telling me “actually work is the 2nd most misery generating activity”. Well first off individual variance will dominate there, but even a dumb person will tell you “work sucks”- its again only the middle of the curve that thinks itself into knots like “work is deeply fulfilling, I should enjoy my career” and needs to be told “actually thats wrong”.

2 days

This is a false dichotomy. One can both take data into account and go with their gut after having evaluated such data. But data, by it's very nature, is rearward looking. It is really dangerous to become a solely data driven person/organization.

2 days

I listened to the Vox Conversations podcast and I feel somewhat skeptical about the conclusions regarding happiness. The author of the book says that he trusts a major study on the subject because it sampled what people were doing at the precise moment when queried and how happy they felt at that point in time. He then concludes that we are most miserable when e.g. studying and working and happiest when getting laid. The problem I see with this is that if they, for instance, would've asked a person just after doing heroin for the first time, how happy they were in that precise moment it would maybe be off the chart. Saying we should avoid stuff that brings long term fulfillment and satisfaction to remember having done seems like a trap. We're only our present selves for an instance, but our future selves for years to come.

1 day

I am part analyst by trade and I try to preach this more or less. It is very hard because people think I am making up things. I try to teach and mentor others things that are against their intuition which sounds like I have some other agenda or I am "full of shit".

It's mostly critical thinking stuff like thinking about how you think, cognitivie biases and such. Having to prove or disprove your intuition with a fact and corroborating that fact independently at least one more time. For myself as well, I have failed in my analytical thinking when I had found things that seemed crazy but instead of being disciplined and disproving the "crazy" I would presume some explanation that feels right and move on to something else which was a critical mistake.

Overall, it is hard fighting our intuition and presumptions. Communicating better and actively avoiding intellectual laziness (or other kinds of laziness) are lessons I've learned the hard way when fighting my intuitions.

2 days

I think us programmer types need to be careful about overanalyzing major decisions and completely ignoring our gut feelings. When choosing a life parter for example, you can find someone who "looks good on paper" and ticks certain boxes on what you think you want, but maybe they aren't a good partner for you for simpler reasons. Unless you are self-aware enough to know what will actually make you happy, you shouldn't discount your feelings. Derek Siver's "Hell Yeah or No" comes to mind here.

2 days

I got a laugh out of this [1] comment yesterday and was considering how it applied here. I don't necessarily think that the methodology is garbage, but I would question the ability of science to contribute useful information here

> they asked people on their iPhones: Who are you with? What are you doing? And how happy are you, 0 to 100? And they built this chart, a happiness activity chart.

... basically, this study "proves" that people say they're happy when they're having sex, in a comfortable environment, or enjoying good community and are unhappy when they are "doom-scrolling". I don't doubt the integrity of the researchers or that the study is reproducable, but I'm confused who this study is for.

Are scientists just now figuring out that there is a discrepancy between what people KNOW is good for them and what they actually do? If not, what business do they have pretending to make scientific pronouncements as if they were impartial researchers who genuinely considered the opposite possibility?


Comment was deleted :(
2 days

I have Crohn's disease. My gut has been fucking with me since I was 12. I never trusted the bastard, and never will.

2 days

Whether or not you should trust your gut depends on what’s in your head. People that have built up a lifetime of wisdom, muscle memory, well-honed instincts, and institutional knowledge should absolutely put a lot of stock in their hunches and feelings.

Everyone else should be somewhat skeptical of their gut and doublecheck with the people from the first group.

24 hours

If there is anything I have learned in life so far (I am close to 50), it is that my first gut feeling when meeting someone irl is pretty much spot on. I have ignored this feeling when it was negative and it never worked and I have ignored this feeling when it was positive and wasted time over it. I seem to have a solid gut feeling about people (but only after talking in person; it somehow doesn’t translate to zoom or something) enough to have people asking me to go into meeting with them and be a fly on the wall to get a feel. They usually ignore what I say but I have not often been wrong; did lose a lot of money and time ignoring it.

Tldr; yes, trust it

22 hours

I am the exact same way and yeah took me till my early 30's and a couple bad calls before I started fully trusting it (in my 40s now). It's weird how it doesn't translate to video chat though, but you are right that it totally doesn't work. Maybe it's because people are able to adjust aspects of their presentation that masks part of their personality. Or maybe something biochemical e.g. pheromones!

2 days

Blindly not trusting the impressions your brain gives you based on connections and information you've gained in the past is wrong, however being cynical when specifically considering the root of why you think a certain way and considering then correcting internal biases is useful (meditation!)

2 days

Article is about how culture puts us on autopilot when chasing happiness. Very little to do with guts.

Many comments, including the top comment at the moment is about decisions on gut instinct and nothing about happiness.

How interesting. I would like to talk about the article but I feel there's a different conversation going on.

2 days

My analytical mind over-rides gut instinct. Second order thinking that conceptualizes every possible permutation and what could go wrong & right given various inputs. Listen to your analytical mind.

2 days

I do the opposite. I let the analytical part make decisions, but gut feeling have veto power.

You can not reason about unknown unknowns or model black swan risks.

2 days

Didn't Malcom Gladwell already answer this question in Blink? Like nearly everything in life, the real answer is "sometimes."

2 days

I agree the answer is "sometimes".

However, I want to point out everything Gladwell affirms should be subject to strong scrutiny, since he seems to follow the playbook of "never letting the truth get in the way of an interesting story". I've seen lots of his assertions challenged.

2 days

that is the best answer for almost anything in life "sometimes" or "it depends"

2 days

Humans have ~500 million neurons in the gut.

Cats have ~760 million neurons in their total neural system.

So guts can have characters of their own.

2 days

My greatest success as a taxi driver was learning to follow my intuition. One passenger led to the next, until I'd met all the people I was supposed to meet for that day.

At the start of a shift I'd ask myself where to go. When I was between passengers, driving around thinking about where to find my next fare, I'd do a "left, right or straight" as I approached intersections. Sometimes it was definite response, sometimes I got the impression that it didn't matter.

One of the passengers I've told you all about ... I was next to her apartment when she called for her taxi. She's doing much better now, because I took some time to talk to her.

Ingo Swann said something about how we have much more than the 5 physical senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. ... Random blog post about our other 'senses':

(I met Ingo before I took to taxi driving: )

Intuition helps keep us alive, and helps put is in the right place at the right time so we can meet the people we're supposed to meet to move us along on whatever we're working on.

2 days

"The average record store lasts 2.75 years. The average dentist business lasts 19.5 years."

Average means nothing unless the distribution is normal. And business longevity is not a normal distribution.

2 days

The older and more experienced I get, the less I trust my gut. My intuition is wrong the majority of the time.

I suspect this also applies to most other people, if they're really being honest about it.

2 days

A new book by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, called Don’t Trust Your Gut, argues that our “gut” — or whatever you want to call it — is usually wrong. And it’s wrong because our intuitions are often influenced by false impressions or dubious conventional wisdom.

The continued existence of homo sapiens over the last X years would be evidence undercutting SS-D's conjecture that intuitive decisions are wrong more often than right. Of course, to understand the relationship between claim and evidence it would be necessary to understand what SS-D means by "wrong."

As an example of right/wrong, he cites the relatively short lifespan of record stores compared to a dentist office as a method of deciding what kind of business to open. It isn't clear if SS-D is being facetious in terms of business opportunity options, but it is clear that SS-D deals in very low dimensional data, not information, knowledge or wisdom.

Skipping to the summary statistical result is a short-sighted decision method. To get Tower or Waterloo or any other cultural institution, many other ventures opened, innovated and failed as part of an evolution of innovation. To get evolution there must be mutation and selection. Survivorship bias makes the post-hoc claim that if only we did it the "right" way we need not have had all the short lived record stores. It doesn't admit that the "right" way wasn't known at the start.

2 days

> Want to be happy? Don’t follow your gut.

And that strapline tells me all I need to know....

I don't care about being happy - its an ephemeral feeling, that can even be induced by drugs. Why should it be held as the pinnacle of anything? Should my life be about chasing doughnuts and bjs?

What I do want is to understand and get closer to the truth and meaning.

PS But I also understand why 'happiness' is promoted as a value to be sought. It opens you up to being sold to alleviate 'unhappiness' and to lessen 'pain'. As if pain is something to be avoided as opposed to an opportunity to learn and change.

2 days

Beyond the little game of reason, gut is all you've got.

Consider our magnificent science. Guess what it stands on?

That's right. Pure gut.

2 days

Science used to be based on theology.

Both Oppenheimer and Whitehead, in their respective histories of science, say that it grew out of a Christian world view - that God created the universe. And not just any God, but a reasonable God, and therefore there was (theological) ground for expecting that the universe could be understood by reason.

This was the difference between the start of western science and, say, the Greeks. The Greeks had most of the facts that western science had at 1600. But the Greek gods did random stuff to the universe for random reasons, and within that world view, there was no point systematically and rationally investigating the universe.

But that was then. Science now is not built on that world view. Science now is built on the track record of science delivering for the last 400 years. Many (most?) people today believe the scientific method without believing the Christian world view. It remains to be seen whether that 400-year record of success is a sufficient epistemological base for science to continue, but it's certainly more than "pure gut".

2 days

Fine. Pure gut and a large account of gut-derived models.

I refer only to the foundation. Not what's been built upon it.

Even christianity is founded upon gut. The layered authoritarian edifice (be it religious or scientific) is... I'm not sure what you call that.

What do you call it when you have a model but have lost the empirical basis for that model?

2 days

Christianity is founded on the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. Not on "gut". (You can argue that the foundation is false, but it's still not "gut".)

> What do you call it when you have a model but have lost the empirical basis for that model?

Epistemological zombie? And yes, both science and (much of) Christianity are in that state - Christianity because many "Christian" churches now reject the historicity of the resurrection, and science because Michael Polanyi destroyed logical positivism and they have nothing to replace it with.

2 days

>Christianity is founded...

I think that's some of that "epistemological zombie" talk. Surely somebody at some point made an observation. And then interpreted it as "resurrection". Or some metaphor thereof.

2 days

i did and refused the covid vaccine.