How to Make the Most of Your Intuitions
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
So said Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds of all time. He is not the only one either; modern stalwarts in various fields like Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet and Oprah Winfrey have been known to put their intuitions to great and powerful uses.
But like most ‘gifts’, intuition too carries some unpredictability, and used carelessly, it can lead to false biases and wrong decisions. As suggested in the previous post, a mix of intuitive and analytical thinking can be a good way forward. So here’s how you can make the most of your intuitive abilities by honing it and avoiding pitfalls.
Three principles of intuitive thinking
- The more you know about a subject, the better your intuition will be on it.
Intuition is not some magic voice inside your mind; it is based on real experiences and observations that gets stored in the subconscious and is a form of fast thinking. If you know little about a subject, your subconscious won’t have formed enough patterns to provide you with reliable intuitive clues.
- Social and cognitive biases can influence intuitive thinking.
If you have grown up in an environment where women are held with little respect, you are more likely to think women as less capable. Now suppose you are hiring for a position where there are two candidates with almost similar credentials – one of them is male and the other female. Your intuition is far more likely to favor the male candidate even if the female candidate is perfectly suited for the profile.
- Some intuitive patterns can be based on false correlations, leading to wrong decisions.
Even years of experience in a certain field can result in false intuitions if it is based on arbitrary patterns. Suppose a woman grew up in a household where most of the men, including her father and brothers, have beards. This may lead her subconscious mind to associate love, security, and familial feeling with bearded men, and subsequently, lead her to expect marital bliss with bearded men.
But a successful marriage requires a lot more than a well-groomed beard, and if this woman chooses to trust her intuition in this matter, she may go horribly wrong.
Sharpen your intuition
So how do we develop the right kind of intuition? With these tips.
Keep an open mind
Keeping yourself open to learning new things and experiences is a surefire way to strengthen your intuition. Plus, it also helps check your existing biases. No matter how old and experienced you are, there is always room to learn. Practice active listening and observing. Engage to understand and not to argue. Always assume, “I don’t know”. All of this will help build deep knowledge that in turn will contribute to a strong intuition.
Practice intuitive decision-making
Everything gets better with practice, and intuition is no different. To develop trust in your gut, you have to allow it in your everyday life. However, keep in mind to choose a safe environment. For example, if you are practicing intuitive thinking at work, start with projects that have a forgiving deadline and room for course correction. Creative work is always a good outlet to exercise intuitive thinking.
Create a feedback loop
Make a habit of following up with your decisions, so that you know what process or thought patterns worked and what did not. All this information works to sharpen your intuition over time. If you are not checking the results of your decision-making process, your subconscious will keep retaining your mistakes or false patterns, which can later sabotage your intuitive decisions. When you take feedback on your actions, it reaches your subconscious as well, and re-shapes your intuitive process accordingly.
Write your thoughts down
Journaling is a great way to tap under the surface of your conscious mind. Practice free-flow, stream-of-consciousness writing – just jotting down thoughts as they come to your mind in free association. Set a time for this kind of writing exercise every day. Over time, you will see thought patterns emerge from your scribbling. Journaling can be a way of digging out a map of your intuitive process for the benefit of the conscious mind. Combining your intuitive knowledge with analytical processing will be much easier this way, leading to overall better decisions.
Intuition is one of the most primal cognitive tools we have, and its potential is too great to ignore. Analytical thinking, however rational it may look, can lead to overthinking which ultimately weakens your decision-making capabilities. So give your intuitions a chance. With the right checks and balances, it can unlock possibilities that you may have never imagined.