“Listen to your gut” is bullshit – what causes that Bad Feeling before shit happens

Everybody’s had that “bad feeling” now and then. Many a victim of rape, of robbery, of torture had a “sense” that something bad was about to happen to them.

All the martial artists and self defence instructors in the world say “Trust your gut”. Well yahoo for them, if everybody’s “gut” is so fantastic why are there so many victims of crime out there?

 

Conditioning

Your gut (i.e. your stomach) has sweet nothing to do with getting a bad feeling, that’s merely a symptom you get when part of you realises that something bad is brewing. The “lizard brain” is the section of your brain that pays attention to what’s happening around you and trips your built-in oh shit switch. This section of your brain is where your deep-down conditioning lives. (Lizard brain = ancient, primitive instincts + background programming like breathing and blinking.)

You yank your hand away when it gets too close to a hot stove?

Why?

You didn’t think “The stove is hot. If I were to touch it, I would experience pain. Oh look, my hand is too close. I must move my hand.” You only had to touch a hot stove once for your lizard brain to learn from it. And your lizard brain is always paying attention to keep you from pain.

It’s your lizard brain that makes you yank your hand away faster than conscious thought would allow. It’s also what makes you blink when something flies at your face for example.

 

How it works

Biology aside, there’s a very simple mechanism which is at play. You have had a lot of experiences during your life. Normal experiences. Just imagine how many times you’ve touched something, or tasted something. And your lizard brain basically remembers them all. And the lizard brain is always running in background mode, comparing what you’re experiencing right now, with all its idea of normal. And anything that steps outside the definition of “normal” raises a red flag.

This is why you yank your hand away from the stove before you get hurt – as your hand gets closer to the stove it feels the heat coming off it, and your lizard brain registered the fact that there was heat on your hand when there normally isn’t. Plus it remembered the last time, you know, when you were stupid and touched the stove.

This level of conditioning applies to other things as well. Your lizard brain also has a lot of social experiences programmed into it.

 

Social conditioning

Let’s use this video as an example:

 

How often have you ever had a car stop immediately after driving past you? Probably not often. And how many of those times has someone immediately gotten out the car and walked up to you? And then engaged you? And then started acting weird by bending over and pointing at the ground when witnesses went by?

Odds are good that this lady had “a bad feeling” when this went down.

 

Unfortunately just getting a bad feeling doesn’t keep you safe. You have to actually act on your bad feelings.

It’s not like the hot stove example where your lizard brain knows what’s going to happen from experience (pain) and so it takes over and pulls your hand away. There’s a good chance that even though your lizard brain tells you that something is wrong and there’s trouble up ahead, it doesn’t usually take over and control your actions. When it comes to social situations you have to be the one to make the decision and ACT.

 

Listening to your gut

So when people tell you to listen to your gut, what they really mean is heed its warnings. Take notice of the warning your God-given alarm system has given and take action based on that warning. Don’t shove it down and over-ride the bad feeling.

Recognise that something out of the ordinary is happening, kick your ass out of comfort mode, and take steps to evade. This is especially true if you’re in a Fringe Area.

As Rory Miller says: Run early and run often.

 

 

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