Can you feel your heart beating?
A recent study asked a group of Wall Street traders just this. The hypothesis is that those of us who are most in touch with our own hearts – physically as well as emotionally – are most closely in touch with those instinctual “gut feelings” that lead us in the right direction.
Researchers measured how accurately subjects were able to assess their heart rates. The results showed that the better a trader was at sensing his own heartbeat, the more successful he was at trading. Those who were more sensitive to their own bodies routinely made more profitable trades and had longer careers.
“Traders in the financial world often speak of the importance of gut feelings for choosing profitable trades,” the study authors wrote. “By this they mean that subtle physiological changes in their bodies provide cues helping them rapidly select from a range of possible trades the one that just ‘feels right.’ Our findings suggest that the gut feelings informing this decision are more than the mythical entities of financial lore — they are real physiological signals, valuable ones at that.”
For some, such as legendary billionaire George Soros, those instincts have very concrete manifestations. Soros said that when he suffered from acute back pain, it was often an early warning sign of things going awry in his hedge fund portfolio. For most of us, it’s something more subtle – just a hunch or a nagging feeling about something we should or should not do.
From an academic perspective, the study does not establish causality. But anecdotally many of us can attest that when we follow our hearts, we are at our most successful. And when we ignore ‘that little voice,’ we are often sorry.
Making choices is difficult. We operate in an environment of incomplete information, and we work to accumulate as much data as we can. But sometimes our bodies have wisdom that our minds can’t process. If your heart (or your back) is telling you which path to follow, it may be worth listening.