Act by instinct or intuition?

To fully understand the difference between acting by instinct or acting by intuition, we first need to understand how the human brain works, since the way we face our everyday challenges highly depends on which part of the brain we activate and we put into action.

In order to understand that, we can take into consideration the schema proposed by Paul MacLean, American doctor and neuroscientist (1913-2007), known for having formulated the Triune Brain Theory, which allows us to understand the interaction between the animal-aggressive region of the brain and the rational, more evolved, area.

Paul MacLean introduces a new method to comprehend how the human brain works, dividing its functions into three distinct structures:

Reptilian Brain: it represents the primitive part of the brain and it dates back 500 million years. This area is the center of all those functions that are necessary for survival, and therefore will tend to run away from what causes suffering; it is the center of gratification and of our physiological needs, of the reproductive activity and of all our fundamental needs, such as choice and defense of the territory,….

The Reptilian brain comes into play when there is a danger, it acts on instinct and, therefore, it is not capable to anticipate or evaluate possible consequences.

Limbic System: this area is mainly devoted to emotions and to an auto-conservative function; its task is to keep our emotional-affective behaviors under control. All the information and the stimuli that come from outside and inside our body are regulated by our emotions.

Prefrontal Cortex (Neo-Cortex): this is the most evolved area of our brain and therefore distinguishes us from animals. It allows us to project ourselves into the future and to go back in the past, to think, to anticipate possible consequences, to make plans, to avail ourselves of logical and abstract thinking, and of our knowledge; it also allows us to create and invent, to elaborate ideas and to use our fantasy.

The Prefrontal Cortex enables us to connect ourselves with our intuition.

Thanks to MacLean’s Theory, we now know that the Reptilian brain is the area of survival, which triggers a survival mechanism as soon as we feel in danger. When this happens, the functions of the other two parts of the brain are inhibited in order to save energy and use them to fight or flight. A rational activity of the Prefrontal Cortex, in fact, is not needed in case of danger or of an urgent situation. When the Reptilian brain activates, all the blood and oxygen flow to the muscles that are getting ready to act on an emergency.

Nowadays, though, we don’t live in a hostile environment anymore, we don’t need to protect ourselves from predators any longer, and we no longer live in huts or caves; therefore, it is important to ask ourselves what are the dangers that trigger the Reptilian brain response? Are we aware when he is leading our lives and we advance in instinct mode, rather than by intuition?

The Reptilian brain comes into play and turns off the Prefrontal activity in the following situations:


If, for example, we are facing a danger, such as an accident or a terrorist attack, our system will turn off the rational part and will activate the “fight-or-flight” response of the Reptilian brain. In case of danger, we do not need to analyze or comprehend the causes of what is happening, we just need to protect ourselves, to attack or flight. Once the stress is over, the Prefrontal will be able to analyze and rationalize what has just happened.


Our thoughts are part of the world of the mind and they have a powerful influence on the activity of the brain. In fact, the negative thoughts that we produce, the way we tell ourselves the story of our lives our capability to welcome others in our minds (giving good or bad intentions), activate the response of protection or attack of the Reptilian brain.

If in a conversation we feel attacked, offended or criticized, we will activate the most primitive part of our nervous system, that will set the destruction mode instead of co-creating with our interlocutor.

Even words like “I don’t deserve this…”, “if this happens… it will be awful…” activate the Reptilian brain. Our thoughts trigger emotional responses that, if constantly activated, become chronic responses and that turn into emotional addiction from which it is more complicated to get out (depression, frustration, anger, …). In future articles, I will talk about how our thoughts and our emotions are deeply connected and how emotions contribute to influence the mental well-being.

BODY CHEMESTRY What we drink or what we ingest (like food, medicaments or drugs) influence our body’s chemistry. If our body is mostly acid, rather than basic, than our brain activity will be influenced. To eat with consciousness means to feed our brain, our body’s orchestra director.


REST If our sleep is not regular, our body will become tired and our liver or our kidneys will start to overload with toxins, at this point they won’t be able to regulate and perform their activity of cleaning that usually takes place during the night. Tiredness can become chronic and influence our entire system.


EPIGENETIC The epigenetic science tells us that negative stimuli from our environment influence us very deeply, triggering a series of biochemical mechanisms that modify our cerebral rhythms, causing the activation of the Reptilian brain. Choosing whom to hang out with, is a process that should be undertaken with consciousness, since people we associate with, influence our lives and our accomplishments.

To access our inner resources and to draw from our full creative potential, means being able to use the most evolved area of our brain, that is the Neocortex – the center of our intuition and creativity – in order to build our lives. If we advance in our lives in a current of malaise with the predominance of our Reptilian brain activity, then we will have the tendency to destroy ourselves, our relationships and others.

It is therefore fundamental to work on a neurological re-organization of the way we emit our thoughts and our emotions in order to detoxicate our body from emotional addictions.

When we live in the neuro-emotional coherence we become unstoppable!


Intuition is seeing with the soul
Dean Koontz

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