How Intuition Helps Us Make Better Decisions
In 1983, the Getty Museum in California received a freestanding Greek sculpture of a naked youth. The sculpture, named Kuoros, was subjected to tests at the museum with the aim of verifying its authenticity. After two years of testing, the museum was convinced that the sculpture was authentic and bought it in 1985 for $9 million.
After the purchase, some experts came to view the statue, and without even conducting any tests, they all declared that it was a fake. Asked why they thought it was a fake, they could not give any specific reason. They all claimed that they had a gut feeling that something about the sculpture was not right.
After many more tests over the course of several years, it was confirmed that the Kuoros was indeed a fake, and that its accompanying provenance documents were forgeries. How did some experts recognize it as a fake even without any tests to back their arguments? Their decision was based on intuition.
Intuition is not restricted to museums and fake Greek sculptures. In fact, intuition is a very common phenomenon that we depend on every day. Consider the following situations: have you ever felt like you were being watched, and on turning around, you found someone staring at you? Have you ever thought about someone you had not been in contact with for a while, and then that person gives you a call on that same day? Have you ever been in a situation that you felt was not right – even if you couldn’t point out why – only to have your fears confirmed?
All these are examples of intuition. The truth is that people rely on intuition to help them make decisions in a number of situations every day.
Today, there is a lot of emphasis on rationality and logical decision making, especially in our professional lives. We are taught to carefully analyze everything before making a decision. The problem is that our intuition has been relegated to helping us with small decisions and emotional encounters. But should it be this way? Should intuition be regarded as a mysterious and unreliable process that we should largely ignore, or is it a great force that can help us make better decisions?
WHAT IS INTUITION?
According to psychologists, intuition is automatic feeling of immediate knowledge, understanding, or awareness that neither comes from reasoning or perception. The knowledge, understanding or awareness appears suddenly. We cannot explain where it came from, and it usually comes with a sense of certainty that distinguishes it from making an educated guess.
In less formal terms, intuition, sometimes referred to as the sixth sense, gut feeling or instinct, is the inexplicable feeling that helps us sense something that is not clearly obvious. It is the nagging feeling at the pit of your stomach that tells you that something is not right.
It is the little voice that whispers to you that something is right or wrong, that you should do or avoid doing something. It is the shiver that runs down your back warning you about something. Regardless of whatever form it comes in, intuition has only purpose – to provide you with information you need at that particular moment.
Intuitive decision making is a decision making approach that is less structured and more fluid compared to other approaches like rationalistic decision making. Rational decision making is sequential. It follows a series of steps and analysis of facts and figures and relies on the conscious part of the brain to come up with the most appropriate decision. Intuition is the complete opposite of this. Intuition does not follow any series of steps. Instead of itemizing parts of the problem, it considers the whole picture. Secondly, intuition does not rely on the analytical, conscious part of the mind. This is why most people have a hard time explaining intuitive decisions or perceptions. Finally, intuitive decision making relies more on emotions and feelings instead of facts and figures. How does this happen?
The human brain consists of two parts, the conscious mind, which we have control over, and the subconscious mind, which we have little control over. The human brain processes huge amounts of information, most of which is done subconsciously. Therefore, intuitive thinking, which arises from the subconscious, can be extremely powerful, giving us access to information that is not within the grasp of our conscious mind.
The subconscious draws from all our experiences since birth, our long term memory and any information acquired through associated learning. It finds patterns from all this information and then uses it to provide us with cues about the current situation. Since these cues seem to come from the gut, it is no surprising that some scientists refer to the gut as a second brain.
WHAT FACTORS INFLUENCE INTUITION?
Some people to have a more developed sense of intuition than others. For some, their intuition is ever present and is always correct. For others, their intuition kicks in only occasionally. Why is this? Well, intuition is influenced by the following factors:
Experience: The more experienced a person is in a particular field, the more their subconscious mind will be able to observe and recognize patterns, which translates to better intuition. When this formula one driver braked sharply while approaching a hair pin bend due to a gut feeling, it saved him from crashing into a pile up of cars that was up ahead, a crash that would have probably cost him his life. He could not explain what compelled him to brake. Upon laterforensic analysis by psychologists, it was established that his subconscious mind noticed that instead of cheering him on, the crowd was looking at the area just after the corner. His mind noticed an anomaly in the pattern and concluded that something was wrong, causing him to brake, even though he didn’t realize at the moment what made him brake. An inexperienced driver would not have noticed the anomaly and would therefore have crushed.
Networks: The more a person interacts with a network of people with a lot of experience in a certain field, the more they learn about the minute cues that help the others make their decisions. This teaches the person to recognize small cues and patterns that people outside the network would be oblivious to.
Emotional Intelligence: According to neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, the emotional part of the brain perceives, analyzes and acts on stimuli faster than the cognitive part of the brain. Therefore, people with a higher emotional intelligence – people who are more in tune with their emotions – tend to have a more developed sense of Intuition.
Risk Tolerance: Intuition is strengthened in an environment that allows a person to experience both positive and negative experiences. People who are willing to take risks and make mistakes learn more about their field than those who follow a safe path. People who have made mistakes are more likely to recognize indicators that things are going south. This translates to a better honed sense of intuition, since people who have a higher tolerance for risks and mistakes usually have a wider range of experience.
Limits: While intuition is a powerful force, it is not always right. People with a highly developed sense of intuition know the limits of intuition. They don’t always follow what their intuition tells them. Instead, they listen to their intuition and then reflect on it before acting. Knowing the limits of their intuition, there know when to rely on it and when not to.
WHY IS INTUITION IMPORTANT?
We know that intuition relies on the subconscious, which has access to everything we have learnt from our experiences since birth, but does this translate to our ability to make decisions? Does intuition actually help us to make better decisions?
People often assume that humans are logical beings who make rational decisions after considering and analyzing the various facts and details surrounding a situation. The truth is that people don’t exclusively use the rational decision making model. More often than not, our decisions are more subjective, influenced by a combination of tacit knowledge, judgments, heuristics, and intuition. This is a good thing, because various studies have found out that intuition helps us make better decisions.
According to this research, intuition is a powerful and scientifically backed skill that helps us make better decisions and gives us more confidence in the decisions we make. Using your intuition to make your decisions can give you a competitive edge both in your personal and professional life. This other survey conducted on top executives found that majority of top leaders turn to their experience and feelings when making important decisions. Another study found that 81% of CEOs who exhibited high levels of intuition doubled their business within five years.
Intuition is especially important in situations where a decision needs to be made instantly, without time to consider the different aspects of the situation. Think about first responders responding to an emergency, or a solider in the heat of battle. In both situations, there is no luxury of time. Taking a few seconds to think things through is literally a matter of life and death.
You might be wondering how intuition can sometimes be superior to rational decision making, which is based on analysis of data. The thing is, the human mind is naturally wired to recognize patterns. Your subconscious mind processes everything you experience and stores all the insights gained from these experiences. This means that your intuition started developing from the day you were born and keeps developing and expanding each day.
When you make decisions by intuition, your subconscious mind draws from all these experiences and insights, trying to identify patterns or anomalies. Therefore, you can also say that intuition depends on data, only that you don’t analyze the data consciously. Since your subconscious is faster and has a wider pool of information to draw from, it is sometimes more reliable than rational decisional making.
Scientists and researchers have realized the importance of intuition, which is why data scientists and machine learning experts have started combining data science and intuition. The scientists are not alone. Even the military has realized the importance of intuition, which is why the U.S. Navy invested $3.85 million to help Marines and sailors hone their intuition.
Even going back in history, we find that intuition has always been an important skill. Most of the world’s greatest inventions and discoveries, from the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming to the detection of X-rays by Wilhelm Rontgen all happened due to intuition. More recently, successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Elon Musk have credited part of their success to their intuition.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF RELYING ON INTUITION
Relying on your intuition has a number of advantages, including:
- One of the greatest advantages of intuition is that it allows you to make decisions in complex and unfamiliar situations quickly and effectively.
- Your intuition helps you identify your purpose in life. Since your intuition is attuned to your subconscious, it can point you in the right direction and help you identify dreams that are aligned with your core values and your true sense of purpose.
- People who rely on their intuition are more open to new ideas. The rational mind relies on logical patterns which can sometimes be limiting. Intuition, on the other hand, sees things that your rational mind is oblivious to, allowing you to recognize new opportunities.
- Intuition helps you read people. For instance, you might be talking to a client who says that he will hire your company, while his body suggests that he has no plans of working with you. Intuition can help you sense such signs, allowing you to tweak your approach in order to retain the client. Sometimes, this can be the difference between success and failure.
- Intuition also acts as a cautionary voice. Sometimes, you might overlook some risks even after carefully analyzing a situation rationally. Intuition can tell you when something feels off, allowing you to steer clear of situations that would have otherwise turned out badly.
- Intuition gives you access to deeper intelligence and wisdom.
Despite the importance of using your intuition to help you make better decisions, it’s good to note that intuition is not always right. It also has its disadvantages, which include:
- Since it depends on your experiences, intuition can sometimes be subject to bias and prejudices. Your emotions and prejudices can sometimes result in poor intuitive decisions.
- Intuition is not sequential, therefore most people cannot explain the thinking behind their intuitive decisions. This can pose a challenge when one is working within the context of a team.
- Sometimes, people who have extensive experience and a high sense of intuition within one field might become over reliant on their intuition and apply it even in situations they have little experience in, resulting in poor intuitive decisions.
From this, it is clear that one needs to learn the limits of their intuition. The best option is to use your intuition to complement your rational decision making process. This way, you can take advantage of both instinct and strategic thinking.
HOW TO HONE YOUR SENSE OF INTUITION
People are not born with an equal sense of intuition. Some people are more intuitive than others.
Some studies have even found that women have a stronger intuition than men. Even if you were not born with a strong intuition, you can still hone your intuition and develop it as a decision-making skill.
Since intuition is influenced by factors such as life experiences, emotional intelligence, risk tolerance and your network, you can make some changes in your life that allow you to refine your sensitivity to intuitive impulses, giving room for your intuition to grow. Below are some techniques that will help you hone your sense of intuition and become more sensitive to its cues.
Take Note Of Nagging Feelings
Many times, your intuition does not come in the form of a voice that tells you exactly what you should do. Intuition is subtle and non-demanding, and more often than not, it comes in the form of vague clues. An image that appears and disappears in a flash. An uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. A shiver or cold sweat running down your spine. A subtle thought. A hunch. A sour taste in your mouth. Goosebumps. Intuitive cues are vague and varied, depending on the person.
The first step to getting in tune with your intuition is to start taking note of these cues in non-critical situations. Whenever you feel a nagging feeling, thought, vision or any other such thing that either sticks in your mind or makes you unsettled or gives you a sense of knowing and certainty, take note of the cue. What were you doing when the feeling came? What were you thinking about? What decision were you considering? What happened after you sensed the feeling?
You can even start keeping an intuitional journal. Any time you get an intuitive hunch, record it on the journal, alongside how it made you feel and whether or not it was accurate. By taking note of such cues and then analyzing what happened after, you will start getting an idea of what your intuition is trying to tell you. You will also gain a good understanding of when to rely on it and when to ignore it.
Clear Your Mind
The subconscious mind does not like busy, noisy, environments. If you want to get in touch with insights coming from your subconscious mind, you need to find time every day to clear your mind of the multitude of thoughts that are constantly running through the mind.
There are various techniques you can use to clear your mind – taking a mindful walk in the park, writing down your thoughts and reflections in a journal, meditation, gardening, or any other activity that allows you to focus on your mind. Only after you clear your mind of the cacophony of thoughts will you be able to focus on deeper thoughts and feelings.
Observe Your Dreams
Sometimes, our intuition speaks to us through our dreams. Have you ever dreamt you were with somebody, only for that person to call you shortly after you wake up? That was your intuition speaking to you through a dream. By paying attention to your dreams, you can gain some insights into your inner thoughts and feelings.
When trying to decipher a dream, don’t get too caught up on the events that happened in the dream. Instead, pay attention to how these events made you feel. This will give you a better idea of what your subconscious mind is trying to tell you. It might also be a good idea to keep a dream journal where you write down your dreams immediately after you wake so you don’t forget them.
Writing down each dream and analyzing how it made you feel will make you better at keeping in touch with you inner self. It might also teach you how to be a lucid dreamer.
Trust Your Doubts
Have you ever planned to go ahead with something, then found yourself filled with doubt just before you did whatever it is you had planned to do? This is another example of your intuition talking to you. This does not mean that you should avoid taking action every time doubt crosses your mind. If you experience such doubts, take some time to explore the reason behind the doubt. Is there something you overlooked?
Analyze your course of action again and make sure that you have taken every important thing into consideration.
You can also hone your intuition by engaging in intuitive exercises. There are several types of intuitive exercises, such as playing with angel or tarot cards, using crystals to enhance your intuition or blind reading.
Intuition is a powerful force that can help us make the right decision, especially in situations where we don’t have all the relevant information or where we need to make a decision instantly. The beauty of it is that our intuition keeps growing and developing as we go through life.
By learning how to harness and use our intuition, we can become better at making decisions, with successful outcomes most times. To make matters even better, intuition can be applied both in our personal as well as professional lives.
However, we should also note that our intuition can be wrong in some cases. The best option, therefore, is to use intuition to complement our rational decision making processes, rather than relying on it alone.