I is for Intuition
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
What is intuition?
“The only real valuable thing is intuition” Albert Einstein
Intuition is sometimes referred to as your “sixth sense” and it unconsciously or consciously plays an important role in our lives and our decision making.
“Our bodies have five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing, but not to be overlooked are the senses of our souls: intuition, peace, foresight, trust, empathy. The differences between people lie in their use of these senses; most people don’t know anything about the inner senses while a few people rely on them just as they rely on their physical senses, and in fact probably even more.” C. Joybell
“There is a universal, intelligent, life force that exists within everyone and everything. It resides within each one of us as a deep wisdom, an inner knowing.
We can access this wonderful source of knowledge and wisdom through our intuition, an inner sense that tells us what feels right and true for us at any given moment.” Shakti Gawain
It is sometimes difficult to explain why you have an intuition but you are normally confident of its validity.
The word intuition comes from the Latin verb ‘intueri’ to consider or from the late middle English word ‘intuit’ to contemplate.
Every time we have a decision to make or a problem to solve, we are either using intuition or logic or a mix of both but
“As we develop our capacities to trust our intuition in all situations, we stop making decisions based on what we think we should or should not do. In the process, we grant more freedom to ourselves and others by allowing conversations, meetings, and other activities to occur in the most perfect time and place”. Jan Stringer -founder of the National Business Research Institute
As a culture, there has for a long time been a rationality bias; we have learned to believe that rationality should prevail when making decisions but there is an equal and very important place for our ‘inner voice’ that gut, instinctual feeling that can come to the fore.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gifts.” Albert Einstein
Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without recourse to conscious reasoning i.e. “learned responses that are not the outcomes of deliberate processes” R. M. Hogarth, 2010 *Intuition: A challenge for psychological research on decision making. Psychological Inquiry, 21(4), 338–353)
How do we become more intuitive?
“People with high levels of personal mastery do not set out to integrate reason and intuition. Rather, they achieve it naturally - as a by-product of their commitment to use all of the resources at their disposal. They cannot afford to choose between reason and intuition, or head and heart, anymore than they would choose to walk on one leg or see with one eye.” Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline)
According to a survey of 3,500 admin workers and 1,300 senior managers by the International Association of Administrative Professionals & Office Teams, it they discovered that 88% of them make decisions based on their gut feelings.
Types of intuition
Five types of intuition were identified:
1. Analytical Intuition (involves spending a lot of time researching and gathering data before making a decision – exploring every potential scenario and seeking to understand the details before making a decision)
2. Observant Intuition (involves gathering clues about people and scenarios, often visual learners who pick up on visual clues in their environment, and notices subtle differences in their environment e.g. someone not returning a smile or an object that is no longer there)
3. Questioning Intuition (involves judgements based on real life evidence, asking or surveying others directly rather than analysing statistics)
4. Empathetic Intuition (involves good listening skills to understand where the source of the problem lies) and
5. Adaptive Intuition – this is the most commonly referred to – based solely on gut feelings and used to identify, react and make decisions quickly and effectively.
We use a mix of processes when making decisions or being creative. Scientists confirm this dual-process theory i.e. a decision-making process that is split between intuitive (experiential or tacit) and analytical (rational or deliberate) thought.
Malcolm Gladwell describes the two different approaches as ‘blinking,’ when intuition is used and ‘thinking’ when an analysis is performed. (Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking )
“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.” Malcolm Gladwell (2005)
Hogarth (2010*) suggests “the essence of intuition or intuitive responses is that they are reached with little apparent effort, and typically without conscious awareness. They involve little or no conscious deliberation.”
What is the difference between intuition and instinct?
Intuition is a process that bridges the gap between the conscious and non-conscious parts of our mind. Intuition does not use analytic reasoning but is a sensation that pops up into our consciousness without us being fully aware of the underlying reasons for its occurrence.
You cannot quantify intuition, it is not logical and there is no unit of measurement. Intuition is not the result of a set of considered steps that can be shared or explained and cannot create new knowledge or new solutions but it is based on deep-seated knowledge and the process feels natural and almost instinctual.
Gerd Gigerenzer (a director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and author of the book Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious) argues that intuition is less about suddenly “knowing” the right answer and more about instinctively understanding what information is unimportant and can thus be discarded.
Intuition is quick and usually beneficial but it is not always entirely accurate. The subconscious brain attempts to recognize, process, and use patterns of thinking based on prior experience and take a best guess.
Experts use intuition in their various fields. The specialist draws on years of experience, held in unconscious frameworks, to make fast, high-quality decisions and hopefully their ‘best guess’ is the right one!
“Instinct is untaught ability.” Alexander Bain (Scottish philosopher)
Instinct in contrast is an innate, hardwired tendency towards a certain behaviour or action e.g. the human instinct for survival and reproduction is hardwired into our brain’s circuitry as a result of millions of years of evolution.
“But instinct is something which transcends knowledge. We have, undoubtedly, certain finer fibres that enable us to perceive truths when logical deduction, or any other wilful effort of the brain, is futile.” Nikola Tesla
The definition of instinct according to Merriam-Webster, instinct is:
“a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason.”
“I would rather trust a woman's instinct than a man's reason”. Stanley Baldwin ( 3x UK Prime Minister)
There is an important part for both intuition and instinct alongside rationality and reason.
“Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next”. Jonas Salk (Virologist, who discovered the first vaccine against Poliomyelitis)
Gerd Gigerenzer, says that he is both intuitive and rational. “In my scientific work, I have hunches. I can’t explain always why I think a certain path is the right way, but I need to trust it and go ahead. I also have the ability to check these hunches and find out what they are about. That’s the science part. Now, in private life, I rely on instinct. For instance, when I first met my wife, I didn’t do computations. Nor did she.”
Sometimes our rational mind can lead us astray if we succumb to peer pressure or a real desire for a specified outcome. Fortunately,
“Our intuition is not easily fooled -- essence speaks to essence without words.” Katherine Saux
At times like these, it is our intuition that provides an escape route from potential problems. That ‘bad’ or uncomfortable, uneasy feeling gnawing away at us is our intuition telling us that no matter how much we might try to talk ourselves into a particular situation or action, it is the wrong way to go. Smart people make space to listen to what their intuition is telling them.
‘Cold feet are often symptomatic of a legitimate intuition that you may be heading for the wrong place at the wrong time’. Suzanne Fields
What is the difference between logic and intuition?
Logic is a way of using rules and formulas that you have learnt over time to make a decision or come to a conclusion.
Intuition in contrast is a way of using abstract information that you have picked up along the way to create a sensible reasoning in order to reach a decision.
There is not one method of using these processes to make decisions and both have their own merits and demerits and they complement each other. Intuition can be used to build logic and you can use intuition to test the combination of multiple logical ideas to create an even bigger logic. This is why intuition is so closely linked to the creative process and new discoveries too.
The wide range of knowledge we have built up through experience helps us to make intuitive predictions in the present moment and thereby enabling us to act quickly and effectively in situations that most of us have encountered many times before.
“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than you headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow
Processes involved in Intuition
Herbert Simon’s research in the 1950s influences much of the work on intuition. He suggested that people often make decisions to reduce their cognitive load i.e. they make decisions based on what is good enough.
“Rather than arriving at complete and entirely correct answers, when faced with specific tasks, we often resort to heuristics – or rules of thumb – that help form intuitive judgments”
The process of recognition is also crucial to intuition. Apparently it appears separate from other parts of the human memory in the brain and is capable of persisting in the most challenging conditions with accuracy sufficient enough to be of use for practical purposes.
Our ability to spot patterns also helps support our ability to decide and act quickly and effectively.
When we learn new tasks, we have to consciously consider each move or action but as a result of practice and learning, this knowledge becomes automated or procedural. Intuition also appears to rely on an automated decision-making process i.e. mental tasks are acted out without conscious intervention, saving significant processing power and freeing the mind to focus on more intensive or new actions and skills.
“Intuition isn't the enemy, but the ally, of reason”. John K Lagemann
Is intuition important?
“Come from the heart, the true heart, not the head. When in doubt, choose the heart. This does not mean to deny your own experiences and that which you have empirically learned through the years. It means to trust yourself to integrate intuition and experience”. Brian L. Weiss
Intuition is important because it draws on all our experiences hidden in our subconscious and requires the expenditure of less mental energy.
“Intuition offers a reduction in overall cognitive load and the ability to respond instantly while providing confidence in our knowledge and decision making – even though it may defy analysis” (Hogarth, 2010*).
Past experience can have a positive or detrimental effect on our automatic thinking. Our intuitive responses rely heavily on something described as “cultural capital” i.e. learning specific to the environment in which we find ourselves.
“While this usually helps us, it can lead to bias and prejudice in our decision making – based on religion, culture, social, moral, and even political environments – and may need to be countered by rational thinking.”
We can make more accurate and less biased, intuitive judgments by changing the content and environment surrounding our learning.
Growing our intuitive ability can benefit all areas of our lives; it allows us to open ourselves up and connect with the surrounding world on a deeper level than our five senses alone can access. The benefits can be seen in our professional development, interpersonal relationships, our diet, personal development and ‘spiritual’ growth.
“(advice to the young me)…I’d tell myself to listen to my heart. Listen to that little voice that says, “Mmmm, I don’t think so.” Because when you override that, you basically override who you are.” Glenn Close
Being intuitive allows us to open ourselves up and connect with the world that surrounds us on a deeper level than our five senses alone can access.
“Never apologize for trusting your intuition – your brain can play tricks, your heart can blind, but your gut is always right.” Anonymous
Is intuition a skill that can be learnt?
Yes! “intuition can be explicitly educated,” Hogarth (2010*)
Intuition can be learnt and just like any skill it grows and gets increasingly powerful and more accurate the more you practice/use it. Our prior experiences and learning helps our brain gather the data from its depths that it needs to come to intuitive conclusions. We can increase our intuitive capacity with practice, wherever we are on the continuum of intuitive ability.
“We all have an inner teacher, an inner guide, an inner voice that speaks very clearly but usually not very loudly. That information can be drowned out by the chatter of the mind and the pressure of day-to-day events. But if we quiet down the mind, we can begin to hear what we’re not paying attention to. We can find out what’s right for us”. Dean Ornish
All of us have inherent intuitive skills and capabilities to different degrees. Just like Donkey who called Shrek, ‘Onion Boy’ and said that he was so wrapped in layers that he was afraid of his own feelings, we can think of learning intuition as though as we are removing layers blocking our intuitive knowledge just like we are peeling an onion with intuition in the centre.
The main requirements for intuitive development are intention and attention.
Intuition often starts in the background but as you pay attention to its presence, you can bring it to the foreground. It is often difficult to distinguish intuition from emotions, thoughts, assumptions, attitudes and opinions at first but with practice we can become more skilled in separating these from pure intuition.
There are lots of suggestions as to how we can learn to listen to our ‘inner voice’ and develop our intuitive skills through practice bringing intuitive awareness to the fore of our ‘rational’ (?!) daily life. E.g.
Keep a Journal. Write down your thoughts and feelings even if find the words and phrases don't make initial sense to you or stir up emotional responses rather than intellectual ones. Turn off your ‘inner critic’ and make space to listen to the inner dialogue that occurs without judgment
Find a place where you can spend time quietly allowing your emotions to flow freely.
You can improve your attention skills by simply spending time in nature too as nature often has a calming and centring effect, which helps you access your inner voice.
There are also similar techniques you can use to those used in meditation e.g. you can focus on your question, then let it go. You then can sit in meditation, go for a walk or do anything that calms you and just rest ‘open’ to the solution which may arise in the process, after you finish or later in your dreams.
Find an ‘Intuition Friend’. Humans enjoy learning together and sharing what they are learning. It is important to have at least one person that you can speak openly with about your intuitive experiences and/or do shared activities together e.g. read the same book or see a film that has intuition themes and discuss it, share entries from your intuition diary etc
Intuition is not as a magic wand that eliminates the vicissitudes of life but a gift that adds a richer dimension to our lives. We enhance intuition through intention and paying attention to it in our daily life; being wise simply means having good intuitions about things
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Steve Jobs
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
How often do you listen to your intuition?
How much do you trust your intuition on a sliding scale of 1 – 10?
Which types of intuition do you employ most?
Does your body give off any physiological clues to you that you are not on the right path?
How much time do you spend developing your own intuitive skills?
Do you have an Intuition Friend?
If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started:
Intuition v Projection v Wishful Thinking
Connecting to Your Intuition to Enhance Your Life
Intuitive people do things differently, find out what
Where does Intuition come from ?
The power of intuition | Katrine Kjaer | TEDxHSG
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
Educating Intuition – Robin Hogarth
The Myth of Experience: Why We Learn the Wrong Lessons, and Ways to
Correct Them – Emre Soyer and Robin Hogarth
Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious – Gerd Gigerenzer
Demystifying intuition: What it is, what it does, and how it does it. – S Epstein, (2010). Psychological Inquiry, 21(4), 295–312.
Gut feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious. G Gigerenzer