By Sarah Jeanne Browne—
Have you ever had a difficult decision to make, and you didn’t know what to do? You create a pros and cons list to no avail. Any choice you make comes with consequences and questions. But you know you have to make one.
In those moments, you know you have to ask yourself what you really want. But what happens when you don’t even see that? You might unravel or spiral, act on impulses, or people-please rather than rely on yourself. You might choose incorrectly.
The pressure is paralyzing. It’s hard to move forward when you feel like that. The good news is that intuition can be a game changer. You can call it in your inner voice, inner guidance, uncanny knowledge, instinct, gut feelings, a six sense, or a hunch. Sometimes looking within is all you have to do.
There are a few things that get in the way of intuition. They are overthinking, ‘shoulds,’ bias, approval seeking, when you really want something, and even trauma. To get through those obstacles, become self-aware, scan your body, and examine your beliefs. Getting out of your own head can actually lead to more intuitive thinking. The benefits are that you find yourself, you make the right choice, you take chances, and you take action where others will not.
Intuition can be of great help. Intuition leads to insight. Scientists and poets both are puzzled by it. Yet it’s a phenomenon that exists. It’s a superpower we all have.
1) Famous Examples of Intuition
There are many examples of intuition. Here are some that might make you think:
- Henry Ford: During decline of demand for his cars and high worker turnover in 1914, he doubled his employee’s wages. He went against others’ recommendations by doing so. Within a year, turnover turned around and demand was back because Ford’s own workers could finally afford Ford cars!
- Stanislav Petrov: In 1983, he defied Russian military protocol. His intuition told him that the early-warnings of missile launch by the US were false alarms in the Russian detection system. By following his gut, he prevented a nuclear war between Russia and the US.
- Albert Einstein: He went against common presumptions in physics due to intuition. In physics In his own words, he said, “I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am. When two expeditions of scientists, financed by the Royal Academy, went forth to test my theory of relativity, I was convinced that their conclusions would tally with my hypothesis. I was not surprised when the eclipse of May 29, 1919, confirmed my intuitions. I would have been surprised if I was wrong.”
- Winston Churchill- There was a bomb near Churchill when he was dining at 10 Downing Street in London. Before a second could land at his exact location, he told everyone to evacuate. His intuition saved everyone.
- Paul McCartney– He had a dream of a tune that would become one of the most popular Beatles songs, “Yesterday.” However, initially he feared it was too different from what they already played. Good thing he listened to his intuition. He called it “the most magic thing!”
2) What Is Intuition
Intuition is “nonconscious emotional information” from your brain or body. Intuition is when you make decisions devoid of analytical reasoning and replaced with emotional information or insight based on experience or other factors. There are two types of thinking- analytical reasoning and intuitive thinking. Most people use a combination of both as they are complementary.
There are three types of intuition. They are as follows:
- Coherence and Insight– Knowing something without knowing the source of that knowledge. This largely correlates with IQ.
- Implicit Learning– Not knowing that you know something. This is picking up cognitive patterns.
- Subjective Intuitive Abilities– Thinking you know something. This is for the intellectually curious who like puzzles and philosophical debates. They tend to prefer intuitive thinking.
Intuition can come from pattern-matching, seeing correlation in patterns from experience to present moment. The brain processes patterns of information through explicit and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is when you are consciously aware of what you know. Tacit knowledge is unconscious. According to Situational Awareness Matters, tacit knowledge is “knowledge that resides outside of everyday awareness.” Intuition can be deemed ‘tacit hunches.’ It pulls from that unconscious knowledge and patterns we pick up. The insights we get from intuition enter the conscious awareness of what we know or think we know.
The brain is a large predictive machine. It is always predicting using present information or with past knowledge or prior model. This is also called ‘predictive processing framework.’ According to World Economic Forum, “intuitions occur when your brain has made a significant match or mismatch (between the cognitive model and current experiences), but this has not yet reached your conscious awareness.”
Positive Psychology says intuition can happen anywhere and sometimes “it just happens.” It also says that deeply stored knowledge can mean better decision making than simple logical choices. There is declarative knowledge in which deep seated experience gives way to the best decision. If you have experience in something, you are more prone to be intuitive about it. According to Huffington Post, “Intuition is really learned expertise in disguise. So if you’ve played tennis your whole life, go with your instinct on the court instead of thinking through each stroke.”
Exploring Your Mind says brain areas involved with intuition may be the precuneus, ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the caudate nucleus, and “it’s hard to chalk all these processes up to accidents or a product of our imagination. Not only is there a neurological foundation to intuition, but it also involves your past experiences, your personality, and your subconscious, or the place that contains the essence of who you are.”
Whether intuition is due to experience or anything else, many cognitive processes occur when you call upon intuition. It may not always be one way, one method. Sometimes, you just know what you know, and there’s not always a logical explanation for where that knowledge comes from. It is something that continues to be studied, but there is a lot of evidence for intuition.
3) The Evidence of Intuition
According to Joel Pearson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, intuition is real and can be measured. In fact, it’s been studied.
In one study, participants had to decide whether dots were moving left or right on a screen. While this was occurring, subliminal messages were flashed quickly influencing their choices. The positive subliminal messages made them more confident in their choices and trusted their intuition more resulting in more accuracy. These subliminal messages triggered an emotional response that relied less on judgment and more on feeling.
Daniel Kahneman says we have two different thought systems. According to Scientific American, he says “System 1 is fast and intuitive; system 2 is slower and relies on reasoning.” He argues that intuitive thinking can actually cloud judgment at times. But Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, believes most people don’t reason with logic alone. They use some measure of intuition, which is underappreciated. He says it’s a “form of unconscious intelligence.” Furthermore, Kamila Maleswka doesn’t think intuition equates irrational or illogical. According to her, it’s “experience and knowledge that people gathered over the course of their lives…an ability that can be trained and can play a constructive role in decision-making.”
Cristina Becchio formed a study where participants had to guess where a person was going to drink or dump a bottle of water. This clip was one-second long and people watched hand movements to try to figure it out. Their accuracy was beyond simple chance. People trusted their intuition to make this prediction.
How is the person able to intuit whether someone will drink or dump water? Becchio believes that the brain’s ‘mirror system’ comes into play. We actually see ourselves as the person with the water and based on that, we are able to predict what will happen. We mirror their movements in our mind. In another study, basketball players were able to predict where a person’s shot would go when watching videos of basketball.
Michael Pratt says firefighters use a mix of sensory information and expertise to make a quick decision. He says, “I’ll talk to a firefighter who left a burning house a minute before the floor collapsed. I’ll ask them how they knew to leave – how they got to that decision – and they usually say their gut told them to leave.”
There was another study where participants played a rigged card game. There were two decks of cards that they had to pick from. One was rigged for both big wins and big losses. The other was small wins with rare losses. After 50 cards, a hunch began to tell them which deck was safer. After 80 cards, they absolutely knew the difference between the decks. But before their analytical brain knew anything, at 10 cards they started to intuitively select from the safer deck. Their intuition took over.
Dr. Keiji Tanaka did a study with experienced shogi players. This is much like chess, and the players relied on intuition for many moves. In the scans, their precuneus area of the brain lit up which deals with consciousness. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex also lit up. This is where we store past rewards and regrets. This part of the brain assists in decision-making, and it responds to emotions. So it has some neurobiological foundation.
Yet, intuition can also depend on the task at hand. In one study, participants completed eight tasks. Four were reflective thinking and the other four were intuitive and creative thinking. The former was about discerning rules. The latter was about innovation. They rated the extent they used intuition or gut feelings for both. The result was that intuition hindered the results of reflective thinking and benefited creative thinking. Intuition may not always be right, but there are arenas where it is strongest, and it can be practiced overtime.
How To Be Highly Intuitive
There are 8 ways to be highly intuitive.
Highly intuitive people tend to take time for introspection. They check in with themselves for self-awareness and body scans. They ask themselves what they are feeling and where they are feeling it in the body. They do a lot of reflecting on their day and inner self. They look for ways to express themselves, and often talk about their feelings. They do not feel ashamed of their emotions. They let themselves feel to heal. They feel the full spectrum of feelings and welcome it as part of the human experience.
They tend to ask themselves, “How am I feeling right now?” more often throughout the day. That way, they know exactly how they feel when something happens and trust that feeling. That leads to intuitive feelings coming forward to show them what to do.
Highly intuitive people recharge often and unplug. They seek solitude when they can to separate themselves from what others think they should do. They listen to themselves. They take a long walk in nature. They take breaks. They look for silence and stillness. This gives their intuition breathing room. It helps them hear their inner voice when they shut the world out for a moment.
Highly intuitive people are grounded in their authenticity. That means they put their authentic self first. Every space is an authentic one because they do not wear a mask. This helps them to truly be self-aware and reflective of their wants and needs. They don’t act from a place of ‘shoulds.’ They act from a place of their values. These values dictate their perspective, leading their intuition to keep them in place.
Highly intuitive people are often empaths. They experience a lot of empathy because they are able to imagine what an experience is like for someone else. They do not necessarily project their own experiences when they do this. It is a selfless insight of desire to help someone else. They are the first ones you call when something goes wrong. They are the ones you lean on in tough times. That’s because they put themselves in others’ places. Their intuition comes from wanting to know how to make a person feel happy and secure. They might go out of their way and even become altruistic to make sure someone is okay. They pick up on body language and other social cues from people that may go unnoticed by most. They see when someone is smiling on the outside, but crying on the inside. They are the ones who hold space and listen.
Highly intuitive people know the importance of safe spaces. They go where they are celebrated and welcome others who are in need of acceptance. They know what it’s like to be different because they are deeply feeling and highly sensitive. So, they know how to interact with people who feel insecure. They are right there with you in the struggles you face. They have great empathy, but also great compassion. They are willing to be a safe space for you.
Highly intuitive people are explorative. They are always seeking new experiences and to learn new things. That’s to sharpen their skills, but also to develop their self-awareness and awareness of the world. That means that they can become more intuitive because of self-discovery and exploration. When you go to an intuitive person, they are pulling from all their experiences in order to listen to you. And they often know just the thing you need.
Highly intuitive people are creative. They trust their intuitions and feelings to guide them with certain projects and tasks. They may find solutions that are not so obvious and straightforward. They may do things in an independent fashion. But they love to help out and are sincere about finding answers to complex problems. Being creative helps them come up with ideas. They intuitively know if something works or doesn’t work.
Highly intuitive people are mindful. They focus on the present moment and tune out everything else. They know what matters most is right in front of them. They are in tune with themselves. They know how to practice the pause. They pause before they react or make a choice. They ask themselves, “What is best here for everyone?” Mindfulness helps them make decisions rather than choose something rashly. They are less impulsive. They know their insights come sometimes in the form of meditation.
A meditation to become highly intuitive is as follows:
Feeling Meditation: Intuition is felt in the gut. Do a body scan and feel your entire body. Inhale deeply and exhale to breathe into your body. This centers you. The body senses what your conscious mind does not. Ask yourself how you are feeling about something and note the sensations that come up. Imagine assessing the situation as swallowing a pill. How does the pill settle in your stomach? Do you have irritation, heartburn, or indigestion? If your body responds well, then you know you have the right answer.