Harness your intuition to make faster, more effective decisions
Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without recourse to conscious reasoning. Sinclair (2011) described intuition as “direct knowing”; Vaughan (1979) explains intuition in terms of knowing without knowing. Almost everyone will have experienced this phenomenon at some point, you can feel something is wrong or right, but can’t quite understand why.
In the past this phenomenon has been disregarded as some airy-fairy, non-scientific, mystical type of process; however, in recent times the cognitive sciences have started to appreciate the legitimacy of intuition as an effective decision-making tool.
These scientists have found that our intuitions come from the unconscious mind, where they are rapidly processed and delivered to us in the form of an instinct, or as other would say, “hunch,” “gut feeling” or “inner voice.”
The unconscious mind is where the vast majority of information is processed and stored: past memories, insights, beliefs and experiences. It can process millions of bits of sensory data per second, registering subtle cues in the environment that you aren’t even aware of.
When we think about the sheer amount of information that our brains are constantly being bombarded with, it makes sense that the vast majority would be processed unconsciously. Imagine being consciously aware of the millions of pieces of information per second your mind is taking in, as well as every single experience and memory you’d ever had; this would send you crazy!
In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the power of intuition and snap judgements. He writes about how powerful a tool they can be to make effective decisions. Gladwell explains how our intuitions work through a process he calls “thin-slicing”. This is a process by which our unconscious mind identifies patterns and signatures that the conscious mind doesn’t pick up, it then picks out the relevant information, leaving out the rest, and processes this all in a matter of seconds. This is a much faster and efficient processing method than you get with analytical reasoning because analytical reasoning involves processing information step by step, piece by piece, making it much slower and much more limited in the amount of information it can analyse at one time. In addition, the amount of information actually available to the conscious mind is much more restricted, because as described before, it would be too overwhelming.
In this way our intuitions can be significantly more powerful than logical reasoning, drawing from a vast database of information that the conscious mind isn’t privy to, and being able to process this data much more quickly.
Sadhguru, the Indian Yogi has described intuition as “simply a different level of computing.”
Using this analogy, we can think of logical reasoning as akin to using an old classic computer to work on one computation at a time. Whereas letting your unconscious mind work for you, is like using a state of the art quantum computer that can work on a million computations at once.
Intuition is something that many of the world’s most successful and influential people have utilised for making hard decisions. Almost all spiritual teachers tend to be highly intuitive, which is no surprise considering the massive emphasis that a lot of spiritual disciplines put on being able to operate beyond conscious thought. Two great examples of this can be seen in the eastern traditions of Zen Buddhism and Daoism. They often try to feel out a situation intuitively because they never feel that they can discover it analytically. In Zen Buddhism, they actually have a way of training students to act without thinking so that they can further develop their intuition.
Socrates, credited as one of the founders of western philosophy, said he had a daimonion — inner voice — which often warned him against mistakes.
Some of the world’s most impactful and successful entrepreneurs have talked about how they rely on intuition to make a lot of their decisions: Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, to name a few.
In addition, when you look at the world’s best artists and sports players, they all use intuition. Most artists don’t logically think through how they are going to create their art, they just flow and use their intuition to create what feels natural — even when they do think through the masterpiece beforehand, the actual act and process of creation is highly intuitive. Most sports stars only have a split second to make highly important decisions that can change the outcome of a game, they don’t have the time to logically weigh up the different variables and think through the decisions, they act instinctively, using intuition.
In order to harness your intuition, there are a few things you can do: Firstly, just listen to it more often when you do feel it. I know it’s a Cliché, but practise really does make perfect.
Meditation is a great tool for developing intuition; it allows you to silence your mind and become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, which in turn will help you get more in touch with your intuition. It’s harder to hear or feel your intuition when your mind is constantly distracted and chattering. Sadhguru says, “If you want to develop intuition, the first thing is, you must learn how to sit here fully alert and not thinking about anything.” In other words, meditation.
Living a more minimalistic life will also help you get in touch with your inner voice. This is particularly relevant in our day and age where people live such busy lives. When we are doing so many things, engaging in so many distractions; our attention is fragmented so much, that there isn’t enough left of it to actually notice and feel our intuition. Slowing down the pace of your life, doing fewer things with more attention and engagement is an amazing tool that has helped me to develop my intuition magnitudes above what it used to be.
An important thing to note about harnessing your intuition is that you already have it. Your intuition is already inside of you, not something you have to go out and search for. It’s not so much about doing things to enhance your intuition as it is about removing the things which are stopping you from connecting to it.
Ultimately, it’s clear to see how powerful our intuitions can be. It would be a waste not to utilise this invaluable asset that we have at our disposal. It would be like walking to work every day when we have a brand new Lamborghini Aventador just sitting in the garage, collecting dust. However, It is also important to note that our intuitions are not always perfect. Because they draw on our past experiences and interpretations of information received, they are also subject to cognitive biases. In addition as Gladwell mentions, stress and time pressure can also affect the accuracy of our intuition.
It is important to have a balanced approach, using a mixture of intuitive thinking and analytical reasoning depending on the situation. Just like the builder who has a variety of tools at his disposal, to use as and when he needs.