Although intuition has been a topic of interest for me for over 20 years, I realized that I have not written much for you on intuition (with an exception of this Amazon Kindle book and this blog post for The NY Open Center). Topics related to executive coaching somehow seem more respectable. Well, as a PhD student, I’m exploring intuition in analytical thinkers, and it’s time to open up to you about the topic.
Should you care about intuition? Yes! Here’s why.
Analysis can show you patterns in collected data, find averages or outliers, organize your data in a variety of ways, but it won’t tell you how you will feel, or what will happen (think of a dating app algorithm). Analysis can’t always tell you what decision is best for you (think of medical decisions and quality of life). Data doesn’t provide foresight, reflection, or understanding, which are critical in difficult situations. Analysis does not bullet-proof your decisions, and does not necessarily tell you what to do.
To be fair, intuition does not necessarily tell you what to do either, and also does not bullet-proof your decisions, but it does tell you how you feel, and where your attention is. Intuition is an additional source of information that may enable you to make a decision that feels harmonious to you.
Ideally, we should have mastery of both analytical and intuitive abilities, and know when and how to rely on each. For example, financial analysis may reveal whether a house is affordable for you, but only through sensing you can learn whether the house feels like home to you.
Intuition gets a bad reputation from having become a [misused] synonym for “psychic powers”. In addition, intuition is sometimes mistakenly reduced to “thinking fast”, “nothing more than expert judgment”, “simply recognizing previously seen patterns”, or is confused with bias and instincts. Moreover, when intuition feels indistinguishable from fear or hope, it may feel safer to just dismiss it altogether.
Still, many exceptional performers in science, engineering, art, music, sports, and other fields credit intuition as a significant contributor to their success (I have a ton of references for this, just ask me). What’s going on here? Can intuition be a real deal after all?
Here is what the intuition research community generally agrees on for now:
-Intuition is direct knowing, without knowing how we know. (I would add that intuition is direct perceiving, because it is multi-sensory; see below)
-Intuition is multi-sensory: it can be mental (an “aha!”), affective (a shift in mood or emotion), and/or physical (a change in your physical sensations).
-Intuition is rapid perception that likely bypasses analysis.
-Intuition is often pre-verbal: one may experience it as a vision, a flashback, or a sense which can’t quite be put in words.
Is intuition justly called a “gut feeling”?
Well, there are many nerve endings in the solar plexus area, so we often seem to experience intuitive information-carrying impulses in the gut. However, there is no evidence that the gut is the home of intuition, or the only home.
Is intuition a “sixth sense”?
Not really. We have many more senses than five (think of sense of balance or sense of pride), and intuition can employ any of them. Intuition can use the whole body as an instrument. Think of intuition as a source of information.
Is it reliable, though?
Well, it depends (and sadly, we don’t always know what it depends on, although there’s some relevant research about expertise, incubation time, complexity level of problems, etc.).
Our other senses are not always reliable either, but it does not stop us from using them, once we learn “the rules of engagement”.
Think about your vision: is your vision reliable? Eyes deceive us all the time, and moreover, what we see or ignore is very much defined by what we think/believe. You may need glasses to correct your vision, and not even know it. You may need a knowledge base to understand things like optical illusions, or to know that when you look in your rear-view mirror, things are not exactly as they appear. With practice, you learn when to rely on your eyes and when not to. The same principle applies to intuition.
Can YOUR intuition be reliable?
While it is not sensible to make generalizations (aka “is everyone’s vision reliable?”), it is possible to work on your personal intuition to make it more reliable. Start noticing…
… how your intuition speaks to you,
… where it speaks in your body,
… when it speaks,
… under what circumstances it shows up,
… what you are making it mean, and
… how you can verify that the resulting information is useful and relevant.
For example, do you experience tightness in your shoulders, heaviness in your gut, or lightness in your chest, when there are seemingly no reasons for it? What are you making it mean? What else is going on with you at the time? Start keeping track of what your mind, heart, and body tell you in response to a particular situation. Notice whether there is a disparity between the messages you are getting from these sources. Over time, with practice and reflection, you can develop a better sense for your intuition: when you can rely on it and when you can’t.
I wanted to tell you so much more, without oversimplifying it, but this is already getting to be too much. So, let’s do this, if you want to know more:
– Email me with questions, or let me know if you want me to write more about intuition
– Talk to me about setting up a workshop on intuition in your company or for your group of friends (I’ve taught classes on intuition at companies like Google as well as in private homes, so can make great things happen).
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WHAT: “Intuition: Myths, Science, and Practice” (2-hour lecture and Q&A session on understanding and developing intuition)
WHEN: Sunday, December 15th, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Brainstorm Learning & Arts Center