The Secret Skill All Truly Successful Women Share: How to tell the difference between a feeling and an instinct.

FeelingsKatherine SchaflerNYC

If you’re a truly successful woman (read: balanced, fulfilled woman), you already know everything I’m about to write.  You already know how to easily access your instincts, you probably do it so much that it doesn’t even feel like you’re “doing” anything at all—it’s that effortless for you.  You’re empowered and excited by the decisions you make because you know without equivocation that those decisions are right for you.  You are highly skilled in a crucial area of decision making. 

Yes, you can tell the difference between your feelings and instincts.

Feelings and instincts are both incredibly useful tools, but for wildly different reasons.  Feelings can be powerful indications that you need to slow down, speed up, do something creative, etc.  The part that’s tricky is that more often than you might think, feelings can be misleading, duplicitous and dangerous in their ability to cloud your judgment.

Everyone knows the expression, “Blinded by love.”  Less glamorous but equally accurate versions of that expression include: blinded by boredom, blinded by sadness, blinded by ambition, blinded by anxiety,” etc.  The point is, your feelings will blind you if you let them.  Don’t let them.  

How does this happen? How are we blinded so easily?  Every day, people grossly underestimate the manner by which their outer world can dictate how they feel internally.

Get ready for a parade of examples.

If you’re stuck in traffic, tipsy, tired, hungry, wearing something you don’t like…if you just heard a sad song (or worse, saw an ASPCA commercial), if you just witnessed a parent screaming at their kid in the grocery store, if it’s too hot, too cold, overcast outside or a perfect day out…if you just received wonderful praise at work, if an attractive person just hit on you, if you seamlessly hailed a cab on a Friday night in the rain, all of these countless circumstances can carry a surprisingly weighted impact on how you feel and all of these circumstances have absolutely nothing to do with the serious choices that need to be made in your life.

Instincts, on the other hand, have absolutely everything to do with the serious choices that need to be made in your life.  Unlike feelings, which can be considerably swayed by external circumstances, instincts are exclusively impacted by your inner, true self.  Notice the messages that don’t change, those are your instincts.  

Moving forward, think of your feelings as signals.  Feelings signal you towards what might need to be explored.  If you often feel tired, for example, that’s good information to have.  Explore your exhaustion.  Are you tired simply because you don’t get enough sleep?  Are you tired because you’re not passionate about the way you spend your days?  Is there a person in your life who is draining to be around? Are there exceptions to your exhaustion and if so, what are they?

Asking these types of questions and allowing your feelings to guide your self-explorations is really about inviting your instincts to authenticate the real from the fake.  Give your feelings a vote and give your instincts veto power.  If you can get your feelings and instincts working together in this way, you’ll instantly begin to lead a life with more clarity, greater focus and an increased sense of fulfillment.  Okay, maybe not instantly, but quickly-enough.

Katherine Schafler is a licensed psychotherapist who lives and works in NYC.  For more information on her background and the work she does with women, please visit