Trust your gut instinct

If others’ opinions are throwing you off course, it might be time to look within and take your own path

Illustration: Kate Styling
Words: Stephanie Lam

Should I go with my gut?

If you’re sailing through a cloudy night, without the stars as a guide, you need an accurate compass. You can’t trust someone else’s word that you’re going in the right direction – like a GPS signal, it might fail you. But a needle pointing north never will.

This is even truer for your inner needle. That’s your unique compass, forged from gut instinct and experience. As you navigate life, decisions must be made – often about practical matters, but also in relation to morals and values. A good compass guides you through rough seas. You can rely on it to tell you the right thing to do – who to trust and when to change direction.

But life is complicated. It’s easy to lose your way when pressure descends. Later – sometimes, years later – you’ll recognise that the needle was off. And that’s made more difficult by other people telling you in which direction you ought to head – because what prompts you to lose your compass is trusting someone else’s instead.

Why do I feel lost?

A map that appears to align looks simple to follow. And if you forget to look within, it’s easy to ignore your north and dismiss the niggle that tells you all is not well. Yet that niggle means your needle’s swinging, and it’s trying to alert you to your mismatched path.

You’ll veer off course if you travel via a sense of right and wrong dictated by those who claim to know. Yes, a few degrees misaligned might seem slight at the time. But as any sailor will tell you, that incremental shift leads to many miles in the wrong direction. You may cling to your mismatched passage, even as the uncertainties multiply. Better to row back now before you meet the iceberg and it’s too late.

It might seem insurmountable to return to where you started, but the wellbeing factor of resetting your compass is a relief that you deserve to feel. To be aligned with your true north is to feel rooted. No more blindly following the path you’re told is correct. You can trust your inner sense of what’s right.

So, the next time you feel an inner disquiet, go inward, and sit with yourself in the dark. Identify where your needle is pointing you, and know that you need never feel lost again.

How to follow your inner compass

  • Recognise when you haven’t trusted yourself. Recall any agonising over the so-called right thing to do.
  • Acknowledge that you always knew which route to take but fear put you off following your truth.
  • Notice if you’ve outsourced your moral compass to another, instead of trusting yourself.
  • Now go inward, to where your compass sits. Take it from the shelf and sit quietly with it, relearning its work.
  • Begin a process of trust. Notice any discomfort you feel when others tell you what’s right and wrong. Don’t ignore the message. Instead, understand what your compass is trying to say.
  • Align your path with your true north. Following your own values, not another’s, will give you a sense of wellbeing that’s hard to resist.

You can read more articles about mental wellbeing in the latest issue of Breathe magazine.