Trust your instincts

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

On a certain level adherence to one’s instincts is almost pathological, smacking as it does of compulsive behaviour and irrationality. It’s as though instinct were a substitute for thinking, not exactly what all that education we’ve had has taught us to do. On the other hand I have yet to meet anyone who dismisses the value of acting upon one’s gut reactions even though at times the practice is elevated to the extreme of psychic analysis (“voices from the past” and that sort of thing). Barring however telepathy and clairvoyance, I have increasingly come to view intuitive behaviour as the best guide, by far more shrewd, insightful and discerning than the alternative (rational deduction).

This may at first appear to be an irresponsible vote in favour of impulse but this is to ignore the depth of the morass in which so-called natural feelings operate. Instinct is after all the instantaneous culmination of years of experience, often hard won on the battlefield not in the classroom. To suggest otherwise is the equivalent of saying that it is the key which makes a car run. Certainly a key when properly positioned sets things in motion, but it is all that other stuff behind the dashboard and under the hood which make it happen. Likewise a well-practiced intuition motivates the deeper behavioural decisions.

Let’s face it if you start by heading in the wrong direction, you’re done. That’s what instinct does – it gets you going in the right direction, even if you don’t know why at the time or even if it takes longer to prove itself correct. It is for that reason as well that one must train oneself to trust one’s instincts because often there is nothing other than that trust to sustain the validity of one’s hunch.

It is this training, this learning to accept the reliability of one’s instincts, which is the real challenge. Of course the reason it is such a challenge is because we are customarily too faint hearted to trust our instincts, and as a result we haven’t the track record to enlist in its support. Because instincts are by definition so highly personal, it is useless to attempt to marshal any sort of empirical data to support the proposition. Nobody would believe it even if there were some sort of scientific graph to illustrate the dependability of intuitive behaviour. We have to live the test ourselves. The initial impediment to doing so is the frequent lack of palpable purpose which supports our instincts. It is as though we were simply being guided by a beacon of light without knowing whence it comes. Such “reasoning” is approaching the supernatural or at the very least extrasensory acuity, a trait we sometimes mollify by calling it a “sixth sense”.

I have learned by reliance upon my instincts that not only are they to be trusted, but more importantly that they form the very foundation of not only proper but also fruitful and far-reaching decisions. I might add that part of the conundrum about trusting one’s instincts is that they often lead us in a direction which is completely opposite to which we might otherwise go. This is especially true when emotion forms a substantial element of the thinking process. Emotion is to thinking what water is to oil – they just don’t mix! Nonetheless we insist upon venting our emotions in the face of what our instincts are telling us.

One mustn’t assume that instinct operates in a vacuum, that factual detail is somehow irrelevant to spontaneous behaviour. The decision-making process, whether instinctive or rational, does not ignore the underlying science of the question. The process is about the application of the correct method of determining what to do in a situation. I believe that instinct is the natural ability to know what to do in a particular situation. Just because instinct is basic, even visceral, doesn’t mean it is to be dismissed as “animal”, meaning undeveloped. Instinct is a natural, unreasoning impulse by which we are guided to the performance of an action. It may often be an aptitude, not a mere propensity. For this reason instinctive behaviour is frequently more artistic and skilful than rationality. I think many of us could do with a bit more imagination in our daily lives. Instinct is inventive.