How many times have you said to yourself, “I had a bad feeling about this. I just wish I had listened to my gut!” You don’t have to be a psychic to tune in to your inner voice, and it can help you make better decisions in every area of your life.
Are intuition and instinct the same thing?
“People who think intuition comes from the unconscious may be confusing it with instinct,” says Seana Moran, EdD, a developmental psychologist at Clark University. Dr. Moran gives the instinctive, fight-or-flight stress response as an example of the body’s inherent, instinctual responses. “As opposed to the instincts expressed through our bodies, intuition is our mind’s automated response to multiple situations. It is often based on learning a task so well that it becomes natural,” she explains. Instincts, like the fight-or-flight response, are often triggered by chemical responses in the nervous system. Here are some weird things which may trigger it.
So, if it’s not an instinct, what is intuition, exactly?
Many experts say that intuition is a type of sixth sense that can help steer you toward a good decision if you let it. It may sound airy-fairy intangible, but in reality, intuition is a fine-tuned muscle you can develop over time based on learning from your experiences and environmental clues. “Intuition is, ‘I just know.’ It’s involved in the ‘aha!’ moment when a good idea suddenly comes to mind,” says Dr. Moran, who thinks of intuition as a confident decision that does not result from conscious analysis, logic, or deliberate steps. “It’s involved in everyday behaviors that have been overlearned, and are done automatically, such as brushing teeth, or riding a bike,” she adds. She cites Nobel Laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who refers to intuition as fast thinking that we feel internally, as an immediate answer. Multiple studies, including a 2006 study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences substantiate this claim.
Learning how to flex the intuition muscle
“I think like a lot of things, intuition takes practice,” says therapist Phoebe Farber, PhD. Dr. Farber thinks of intuition as a visceral sense that can aid in your decision-making if you pay attention to it. “Say you’re meeting someone for the first time,” she explains. “You pick up on something about them that doesn’t sit right with you but the person is friendly, so you stop thinking about your first reaction. Later on, you realize that something was wrong, after all, and that your inner voice was trying to tell you. I’ve had situations when I didn’t pay attention to that feeling and then, it wasn’t OK,” she explains. The more you use your intuition, the easier it gets. According to data from Civic Science, a marketing agency, the experiences you acquire over your lifetime also help. That’s why older individuals tend to “trust their gut” more often than young adults do. Civic Science’s main findings indicate that 84 percent of Americans believe in intuition, but that those who don’t believe in trusting that sixth sense are more likely to be under 18. The group also found that people who do believe in intuition are more likely to have kids, jobs, and a spouse. They’re also typically 35 to 54 years old.
Gut, mind, or muscle memory—where does intuition live?
Whether you think of your intuition as a gut instinct, or the accumulation of sensory input activating the median orbito-frontal cortex of the brain, intuition may be hard to identify, and even harder to grasp. There’s even some research indicating that intuition may reside in, or at least impact, the heart. No matter where you believe your intuition lives, it’s important that you learn how to work this all-important, albeit intangible, muscle.
Learning how to listen to that inner voice
Think about all the stimuli around you at all times. “So much is coming in—so much sensation—that we’re saturated with it, and this can create a level of unconsciousness about how we take in the world that we’re completely unaware of,” Dr. Farber explains. “That unconscious osmosis is really important because it gives us significant information we can use to guide our conscious decision-making.” Dr. Farber meditates daily, which helps her tune in to her intuitive thoughts and feelings. “Quieting the noise may be as simple as paying attention to your sensations, reactions, and feelings, so you can slow yourself down, and not go on automatic pilot,” she suggests. Practicing meditation, yoga, and deep breathing are all ways to help yourself quiet down. Exercise, saunas, and even hot steamy baths, may help. The less chaos you let affect you, the more you’re able to connect with your intuitive self.
I think, therefore I am (unable to tune into my intuition)
The biggest enemy of intuition is another bane of modern life—overthinking. “If we reasoned our way through every decision or behavior, our minds would gridlock on processing all the details that need to be coordinated,” Dr Moran says. “Take, for example, walking. We learned to walk as toddlers, and now our bodies know how, so we don’t consciously think about it anymore. Same with speaking or writing or eating. As a result, intuition could be considered the after-effect of overthinking, or over-learning.” Overthinking eliminates your ability to tap into intuition.
Can intuition make you more successful at work?
You know that person in the boardroom who always seems to be one step ahead of everyone else? A lot of that may be due to good old-fashioned elbow grease, but intuition, and the confidence it brings, are probably playing a big role. Huffingtonpost.com reported on the 10 things that highly intuitive people do differently than the average worker, and one of them is that they listen to their instincts. The article also quotes Steve Jobs as saying that intuition is more effective in business than intellect is. You’ve probably spent most of your life trying to learn as much as you can, with good results. Tapping into your intuitive sense, however, in addition to the knowledge and skills you’ve already acquired, may very well make you unstoppable. Here are some additional strategies successful people use at work every day.
Can intuition make you more successful at love?
What if there really is such a thing as love at first sight? Could it be that your inner voice can identify the person who will be good for you instantaneously? For some, the answer may be yes, and for others, not so much. But the next time you see that person across a crowded room, you might want to try trusting your gut instead of tuning it out and listening instead to the unending parade of thoughts that often accompany those meetings. Instinctual thought works the same way in all situations, by culling, instantaneously, your past experiences and environmental clues. Whether the person you’re meeting is a future boss or a future husband, your gut instinct has no choice but to operate on your behalf. Once you learn how to connect with it, it won’t steer you wrong.