Trust your gut

One of the perils of being human is over-cognition.

We think and think and talk and talk and often end up going against our initial instinct, in the name of reason, science or who-knows-what.

It’s how we tell ourselves it’s ok to sit 1000s of miles up in the sky in a tin box. Or to whizz around the country at 70mph in another one. Or to put everything on red (actually that’s probably not such a great idea…) We’ve constructed an entire society which requires that we can do this.

But sometimes it’s not the “sensible” option.

I used to work in a rescue centre in London. This brought me into contact every day with dogs displaying aggressive behaviour. Part of my work included relocating them to a more appropriate kennel facility so that no-one got hurt. Then I had to find out how they had ended up in the wrong place. I had numerous conversations with staff who would tell me they had “a funny feeling about this one, but I ignored it”. Why? Why did you ignore it? “I couldn’t work out why I felt like that.”


Evolution is what made you feel like that. A visceral “gut” reaction (actually caused by your amygdala) that tells you you’re in real and present danger. It’s how we’ve made it this far, by running away from the first sabre tooth tiger we met, not standing around trying to figure out why we were scared. What Seth Godin rightly calls the lizard brain may well be a hindrance to risk-taking in business, but is quite useful in keeping us safe in life and death situations. When survivors of natural and man-made disasters are interviewed later, they often state that they had a sudden feeling everything was not ok which caused them to flee. Natural selection beats over-cognition every time. Rationalisation isn’t always rational.

Dogs don’t suffer from this. If they are scared, they will let you know.  Barking, growling, snapping (biting if you push things far enough). Don’t try and interpret your dog’s behaviour from a human standpoint. It may be “rude” by our societal rules, but doggie-rules are different. Respect what the dog is saying and move away. Once everyone is safe, then make a plan for dealing with the problem.

But at that exact moment where you feel everything isn’t ok and your gut tightens inside you, pay attention. The oldest part of your brain is trying to save your life, again. As it has done for all the humans who have lived long enough to reproduce before you. Ignore it at your peril.

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