Overthinking can seriously impact your life and your mental health. Here, a psychologist shares her advice on how to get in touch with your intuition and learn to trust your gut to help you make decisions.
Welcome to The Curiosity Academy, Stylist’s new learning hub where you can access workshops, how-to guides, new research and learn the most up-to-date skills from the UK’s most in-the-know people.
Self-doubt is seriously difficult to deal with. Not only can it lower your self-esteem but it might also affect your ability to make decisions. You’ve probably experienced gut feelings before. But how many times have you listened to them? There are probably very few people who can say that they regularly make decisions based on their intuition, even though doing so can be beneficial to us in so many ways.
Intuition is the idea that individuals can make successful decisions without deliberate, analytical thought. It sounds nice, right? Overthinking has become second nature for so many people. Because of that, the idea that you might be able to have confidence in all of your decisions because of an unconscious feeling might seem almost impossible.
But, actually, there are many ways to get in touch with your intuition. In fact, research shows that women have a greater ability to do so than men. Women’s corpus callosum – which connects the two sides of the brain together – is thicker than men’s, which means women have better and quicker abilities to access each side of their brain and make intuitive decisions accordingly.
There are a variety of things which might be preventing you from accessing and acting on your gut feelings, however. This is what psychotherapist Lizandra Leigertwood helps her clients explore. “I help people to deal with anxiety and calm the nervous system so they’re not reacting from a place of stress and trauma,” she says.
“People have a very difficult time trying to work out the difference between anxiety and intuition because both of those things take place within the stomach,” Lizandra continues, explaining that the inability to differentiate between these two feelings is often a result of past trauma.
“Learning to get in touch with your intuition is a process of learning to trust yourself – often you might be doubting your feelings,” she says.
Here, Lizandra shares her tips for how you can improve your intuition by dealing with issues like anxiety, self-doubt and people-pleasing.
Check in with how you feel each day
If you’re unable to access your intuition, it might be because you don’t understand the feelings you’re having and why you’re having them. Lizandra therefore recommends that you interrogate your feelings and work out if you’re reacting to situations from a place of anxiety.
“Recognise what the beliefs are behind the way you’re reacting and if there is any fear behind your decisions,” she advises. “There’s a real difference between fear and intuition and the more that you build up your self-awareness, the more you’ll be able to differentiate between the two.”
Journal regularly using the ‘thought diary’ technique
A great way to keep track of how you’re feeling is to journal regularly. Lizandra recommends trying out a thought diary.
“With a thought diary, you focus on writing about your feelings and your behaviours and find the connection between the two,” she explains. “Write your thoughts out to figure out what is a rational thought and what is an irrational thought. Ask yourself, are you basing that feeling on fact or on assumption?”
Figure out what you like and what you don’t like
As well as being in touch with your emotions, it’s crucial to have good self-awareness if you’re looking to get more in touch with your intuition. “Pay attention to what makes you feel uncomfortable, as well as acknowledging the things that make you feel safe,” Lizandra says.
“When you know what makes you feel safe, you’ll be more aware of the things that make you feel unregulated,” she adds. Thinking about this consciously will improve your ability to make unconscious decisions because you’ll be more naturally in touch with your preferences.
Let go of the fear of making mistakes
The reason so many people are prone to overthinking is the fear of getting something wrong. But Lizandra says that it’s really important to let go of this fear. “We want to have that certainty that if we make the decision, it’s going to be the right one but sometimes making a quick decision is more useful for you and those around you than making what you might consider to be the right decision,” she explains.
Lizandra suggests that you trial making impulse decisions about small things in your life, such as what travel route you’re going to take or what you’re going to have for lunch. When you see that these decisions mostly turn out okay, you’ll have more confidence in making bigger decisions based on your instincts. “This will help you learn to trust that your first judgement is usually the right one, rather than second guessing yourself,” Lizandra advises.
Avoid thinking about other people’s responses
If you’re prone to people-pleasing, you might be making decisions based on how other people will respond, as opposed to what you really want. “Intuition is an unconscious knowing but we’ve been conditioned to ignore it,” Lizandra says. “Your initial reaction is usually based on what you want, so that is the best option to go with.”
Just like with over-thinking, the best way to get over people-pleasing in this case is by trialling following your instinct based on what you want and looking at how people react to that. As long as you have good intentions, their reactions probably won’t be as bad as you think.
Always prioritise self-care
You’re more likely to be able to access and respond to your gut feelings when you feel happy and comfortable in yourself. Looking after yourself is the best way to reach this point. “Make sure that you’re spending time doing the things you enjoy and making time for rest,” Lizandra says.
“When you pay attention to what your needs are and meet those needs, you’re more likely to feel aligned with yourself,” she adds.
Lizandra Leigertwood, MA MBACP psychotherapist and coach
Lizandra is a psychotherapist, relationship therapist and coach working from her private practice New Frame Therapy helping big hearted souls to heal from trauma and toxic relationships. She is an advocate for mental health, healthy relationships and setting boundaries.
Images: Getty and Lizandra Leigtertwood