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What Is Intuition, And How Do We Use It?

We don't have to reject scientific logic in order to benefit from instinct.

Key points

  • Intuition is a process that gives us the ability to know something directly without analytic reasoning.
  • Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of using our instincts as a guidance tool.
  • We don't have to reject scientific logic in order to benefit from instinct.

Have you ever had a moment where you felt as though something wasn't right? Perhaps stepping into a parking lot late at night, or feeling negative around someone without knowing why? And if you've experienced this before, have you shrugged it off, dismissing it as illogical nonsense?

As a culture, we have learned to believe that rationality is what should prevail when making decisions about anything from crucial business mergers to what to eat for lunch. But what of that "inner voice," that gut feeling, that little something instinctual from within that tells us how we feel beneath those layers of logic?

This is how I define instinct and intuition:

• Instinct is our innate inclination toward a particular behavior (as opposed to a learned response).
• A gut feeling—or a hunch—is a sensation that appears quickly in consciousness (noticeable enough to be acted on if one chooses to) without us being fully aware of the underlying reasons for its occurrence.
• Intuition is a process that gives us the ability to know something directly without analytic reasoning, bridging the gap between the conscious and nonconscious parts of our mind, and also between instinct and reason.

In essence, we need both instinct and reason to make the best possible decisions for ourselves, our businesses, and our families. Unfortunately, many of us—even when we experience success using this lesser-acknowledged part of us—are uncomfortable with the idea of using our instincts as a guidance tool. We are embarrassed to say that we follow hunches, we mistrust the sometimes-cryptic messages that our instincts send to us, and consequently we diminish our capacity to leverage the power of our own instincts when we need them most. Our discomfort with the idea of relying on our instincts is based on millennia of cultural prejudice.

Think of the common phrase, ‘‘We are not like animals.'' It tells us that the assumed difference between humans and animals is humans' ability to reason with our instinctual impulses, and the unspoken message is that reason is a higher and better quality to possess. The thing is, not only are we like animals, we are animals. However, we are animals with the distinct advantage of having both instinct and reason at our disposal. So we don't actually have to reject either morality or instinct; rather, we have the capacity to honor and call upon both.

We don't have to reject scientific logic in order to benefit from instinct. We can honor and call upon all of these tools, and we can seek balance.

How do we include intuition into our everyday life? Since we've spent so long ignoring or dismissing this aspect of the self, how do we now successfully re-integrate it into our practical decisions? The answer is simple: dialogue it.

The conscious is an expert at logic and will use it relentlessly. Conversely, the unconscious mind searches through the past, present, and future and connects with hunches and feelings in a nonlinear way. Its process is cryptic to the logical mind, as it defies the conventional laws of time and space. For example:

You: What should I wear today?
Your Unconscious: Red.
You: Red what?
Your Unconscious: I don't know, just something red.
You: Why?
Your Unconscious: Feels good.
You: But I have an interview today; isn't red too aggressive?
Your Unconscious: You're missing the point.
You: What's the point?
Your Unconscious: You like red. It makes you feel happy.
You: What has happiness got to do with this?
Your Unconscious: Everything.
You: How?
Your Unconscious: You'll see; just trust me on this.

And perhaps in doing this, because you simply feel good, you exude more confidence at your interview, and you receive the job based on this. Perhaps your interviewer loves red, and enjoys that you were bold enough to not wear black. Perhaps the color is what makes you stand out from so many others. Who knows? The point is, you listened to your instincts and made your decision, including intuition and benefitting from it, without worrying about the logical reasons why.

But let's not stop there. Here are three ways to listen to that internal voice and allow its guidance into your everyday life:

1 - Keep a Journal. Writing your thoughts and feelings down on paper—even if you think you have little to say—helps the nonconscious mind open up. You may find you're writing words and phrases that don't make sense to you, or stir emotional responses rather than intellectual responses. When this happens...

2 - Turn Off Your Inner Critic. Oftentimes we rationalize away those voices within. This time, listen without judgment. Allow the inner dialogues to happen without fear or ridicule.

3 - Find a Solitary Place. A place where you can allow emotions to flow freely is an imperative part of finding and retaining the building blocks of intuition. Here you may also want to create an emotional connection to an object, a color, a piece of music or literature—anything that will allow feelings to stir that are solely from within.

These three exercises will aid you in creating a new, deeper relationship with the self, help clarify that inner voice, and allow you to bring your true instinctual awareness back into your rational everyday life.

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