It’s easy to dismiss a gut feeling as something divorced from logic, but are you denying yourself some major benefits to trusting your intuition in the process?
The concept of intuition suffers from an image problem. Somewhere along the way, the idea of listening to your gut feeling became synonymous with putting emotion above reason and rejecting empirical evidence.
It’s easy to see why people have become alienated from going with their gut – it is ostensibly a form of decision-making that requires you to trust a conclusion without seeing the processes that led you to that conclusion.
But, just because it is difficult to understand intuition, that does not mean it comes from an unpredictable, irrational place – far from it. Intuition could be the most reasonable source of information you have.
Studies suggests that people aren’t as objective in their decision-making processes as they may presume. Stock markets can be influenced by something as arbitrary as the weather due to the fact that the sun makes people’s perception of their future more optimistic (or ‘sunnier’, so to speak).
Perhaps logical, algorithmic thinking isn’t infallible. In that case, should you trust your intuition?
What is intuition?
If you want to develop a good grip of what intuition is, look to research psychologist Gary A Klein.
Klein set out to find an answer to a question that has fascinated psychologists for years: how do those who work in unpredictable and occasionally dangerous environments successfully make critical decisions with only seconds to ponder the issue?
More than 20 years ago, he founded his research company, Klein Associates, which studies people working in intensive care units, Black Hawk helicopters, fire stations and other career areas that necessitate life-or-death decisions.
When first starting out, Klein quickly discovered, to his horror, that most of the people interviewed didn’t have any real explanation for why they made the decisions that they did. They “just knew”.
Yet he quickly realised that although these individuals weren’t aware of what was happening, a very complex process was occurring in their minds.
The process of intuiting
Though it is difficult to be aware of it, the process of intuiting things is really just a process of rapid pattern recognition.
The experienced firefighters and nurses Klein spoke with had enough time on the job to form a mental bank of previous work situations to call upon when sizing up problems they encounter on a day-to-day basis.
Having strong gut feelings about where a fire is coming from, or why a baby’s temperature is spiking, comes from the person’s ability to compare a current situation with one they’ve seen before and determining what to do based on that.
A veteran firefighter can understand the cause and effect of every possible course of action without having to consciously draw upon that reservoir of information in the mind. A nurse with enough experience can tell when the slight blanching of a baby’s colour indicates that they’re falling victim to an infection.
With enough practice, a person’s perception becomes enriched with experience in a way that becomes so seamless, it flies under the radar.
Getting more in touch with your intuition
So really, your intuition is more like a processing powerhouse than anything else, a radar that is tailored to your past experience that can help you determine the best course of action.
That said, it can still be difficult to trust intuition, because you’re asking yourself to make a decision based on data that’s just out of reach of your own consciousness. Is there a way to foster a better connection to your intuition?
For one, they practise mindfulness. Mindfulness has become somewhat of a buzzword of late, but ultimately it is just about increasing your own awareness of yourself. As Bradberry puts it, you “ filter out all of the distractions” that could make it difficult to distinguish what your gut feeling is telling you.
Those more in touch with their intuition are also willing to lend credence to that gut reaction. If you’ve ever found yourself making a choice that reason dictated was the best one, but you got butterflies in your stomach or started feeling clammy and unwell, consider that your gut is trying to tell you something.
What may seem ostensibly like baseless nervousness may in fact be your brain trying to signal to you that past experience indicates something is amiss.
When can intuition go wrong?
Intuition is your own personal expertise based on your lived experience up until this point. We’ve established that intuition can be a valuable tool, and is already wielded by many to help them navigate tricky snap decisions. Is there a situation where it can go wrong, though?
“As we gain experience and expertise, we build up a foundation for making decisions intuitively,” Davis explains.
“But relying on instinct before you have any experience is just reckless. All the money lost by novice investors who bought stocks because they ‘had a good feeling’ about them is a testament to this fact.”
It seems that the key to honing intuition in a useful way is being self-aware throughout – not only aware of your gut, but of whether you genuinely have the wealth of experience to enrich your perception in a meaningful way.
If you start a new job and have an instinct about, for example, how best to approach dealing with a client, ask yourself if you have enough experience in your organisation to make that call.
Equally, however, you could come to the conclusion that experience in a previous job, or even experience in your personal life, is allowing you to recognise that something important is informing your gut feeling about a situation.
Overall, take the time out to foster your relationship with your own intuition. By dismissing it, you could very well be undermining all of the expertise you have developed in your life.