How to Harness Your Powers of Intuition
Have you ever had a hunch that turned out to be dead right? Did you ever “just know” something, even though there was no logical evidence?
Of course you have. And you’re not alone! Whether we call it a “gut feeling” or a “sixth sense,” we all get these mysterious flashes of insight occasionally, that are as eerily accurate as they are unexplainable.
This instinctive, unconscious kind of knowledge is our power of intuition. And believe it or not, there’s a lot more to it than mere superstition, or a lucky guess…
The Science Behind Intuition
Researchers have studied and proved the power of human intuition, and gained some valuable insights about what’s going on beneath the surface of our awareness.
It’s a Skill, Not a Gift
It turns out that, contrary to popular opinion, intuition isn’t something that we are born with. It doesn’t just come naturally to some people, and not others. Intuition is a skill that we learn, and we can get better at it the more we practice.
According to professor Massimo Pigliucci, in his book Answers for Aristotle, “there is no such thing as an intuitive person.” Rather, intuition is “domain specific,” meaning that we can be super-intuitive in one specific field, like sports or stock investments, and be totally clueless about everything else.
This idea is backed up by research being done at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, which studies the brains of expert shogi players.
Shogi is a Japanese strategy game, similar to chess but even more complex (hard to imagine, I know). In controlled tests, the experts are able to instantly size up the board, and differentiate between an actual game and a random assortment of pieces – something amateurs are unable to do.
Also, by taking fMRI scans of the shogi players, the research team is gaining valuable insight into which regions of the brain are responsible for our powers of intuition.
Hot and Cold Cognition
Scientists have identified two different ways that our brains information. One system, our “cold cognition,” is slow and logical. It is the conscious process by which we analyze facts and data, and come to deliberate conclusions.
The other system, our “hot cognition,” is fast, instinctive, automatic. It processes information in mere milliseconds, reacting to stimuli which we may not even be consciously aware of.
Intuition, of course, belongs in the second domain. The feelings and emotional reactions we have to a given situation are the result of hot cognition processes which are immeasurably faster than our cold, slow, reasoning mind.
But that doesn’t mean that these reactions are irrational, or unreliable.
In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that our intuition, or hot cognition, is more effective at processing information and recognizing patterns, and thus better at predicting outcomes.
A study of car buyers found that those who made intuitive purchases were far more satisfied, in the long run, than buyers who did extensive research and analysis.
Perhaps the biggest reason that our hunches are often more accurate than our deliberate guesses, is because our subconscious has more information to draw on.
The conscious mind is only aware of a fraction of all that our senses actually take in. There is an unconscious “filtering” process always going on, that decides what information is important to the task at hand, whatever we are consciously focused on at the moment. All the rest is screened out as irrelevant.
But our intuition draws upon that unfiltered data, connecting dots that we didn’t even know were there.
For instance, Science Daily published the story of a Formula One race car driver who instinctively braked when coming around a corner, avoiding a deadly crash into a pile up which he could not even see. Later examination determined that the driver unconsciously picked up cues from the crowd, who instead of cheering him on, were staring in horror at the wreckage.
So, not only is our unconscious mind wiser and more well-informed than we think, but it finds ways to send signals to our conscious awareness, influencing our decisions and actions.
The body is the medium through which we receive these signals.
Racing Hearts and Sweaty Palms
A study done in 1997 had volunteers playing a card game for money. They were asked to draw cards from two different decks, both of which were rigged – one to deliver big wins and big losses, the other to pay out modest wins, but almost no losses whatsoever.
Long before the players had consciously figured out what was going on, researchers noted that their palms would start to sweat whenever they reached for the risky deck, and they began to subconsciously favor the safe deck.
A similar study done in 2006 used a roulette-style computer game, played by participants who were hooked up to an electrocardiograph to measure their heartbeat. The players were asked to bet on red or black, and then the computer would “spin the wheel,” randomly determining the outcome.
Researchers found that the player’s wins and losses were predicted by changes in heart rate, even before the results were determined or revealed.
Foretelling the Future
Scientists are discovering that, not only is the body more aware of what’s going on than we are, but that in some cases our bodies can even predict things before they happen.
A series of studies conducted by Dean Radin measure participant’s reaction to random images on a computer screen by means of their electrodermal response. The volunteers are consistently found to exhibit a measurable reaction even before the image was shown – a phenomenon that Radin calls “presentiment.”
Another study involved a computerized model in which participants were asked to guess whether a given image was behind Curtain #1 or Curtain #2. The computer would randomly place the image behind one curtain or the other, after the participants had chosen.
Again the researchers measured participants’ subtle, involuntary body responses, and found that they indeed predicted the outcome in advance – before the computer had even made the choice.
In other words, they were subconsciously “seeing” 2 – 3 seconds into the future.
Pretty cool, huh?
Developing Your Intuition
Okay, so enough sciency-stuff. What does it all mean? Here are the most important take aways:
- Intuition isn’t something you’re born with, it’s a skill that anyone can learn. (Yes, anyone – even you!)
- Intuition is faster and more reliable than conscious deliberation. (It might even predict the future!)
- Intuition is something you feel in your body. (Sweaty hands, remember?)
So, given everything we know about this amazing human ability, how do we put it to use? I’m glad you asked. Here are 5 simple techniques that will help you to tune-in to your inner wisdom, and start making better decisions in your life today!
1. Listen to Your Body
If intuition is something that we feel in the body, then the most important step in learning to harness it is to become more aware of our body, and how we feel at any given moment.
Body awareness is a form of mindfulness which we can practice anytime, anywhere, simply by shifting our attention from the thoughts in our heads to the sensations that we feel in our body.
Feel the air as to it flows into your lungs, feel your chest and your belly expand and contract, feel any tension or aching in your muscles. Learn to be aware of how you feel, check in frequently throughout the day – especially before and after making any decision, big or small.
Pay attention to your body’s signals. A change in heart rate, sudden sweating or nervousness, or a vague feeling of dread or unease are often signs of a wrong choice; while a tingling wave of excitement and joy is a clear green light.
2. Learn to Be Still
There’s a reason we refer to a hunch as a “gut feeling,” because that’s often exactly what it is – a powerful surge of emotion from the pit of the stomach. But that’s not the only way it shows up.
Sometimes intuition can be very quiet and subtle, a “still, small voice” that is easily drowned out by the noise and activity of life, or the turbulence in our own minds. In order to hear it, we must learn to be still, and quiet ourselves.
Start a daily meditation practice. Make it a habit, once or twice a day, to remove yourself from all of life’s distractions and just sit and enjoy some silence and solitude.
Again, focus on your body, and how you feel. This isn’t a time to analyze your problems. While your thoughts go round and round, like a dog chasing it’s own tail, just sit and breathe and relax. Ignore the craziness of your thinking mind, and tune into your feelings.
This will help you notice and recognize those intuitive signals when they come.
3. Play Intuitive Games
An easy way to do this is to play guessing games with yourself. Try to guess the outcome of movies and TV shows. Guess the results of a coin flip. Guess which elevator will arrive first, or which traffic light will be the first to turn green… you get the picture.
The idea is to check in with your feelings, to consult your body and your intuition instead of analyzing and thinking about your decision. Make it spontaneously, instinctively. Pay close attention to the little feelings and sensations that arise, especially when you guess correctly.
Many classic casino games, like poker, roulette or craps, can also be a great way to test and strengthen your intuition – just don’t develop a gambling problem!
Using your intuition in small things, without the stress and pressure of real-life consequences, is a great way to develop your abilities, and learn to trust the process.
4. Follow Your Hunches
Now you’ve learned to quiet your mind and listen to your body. And you’ve started to consult your intuition in trivial matters, just for the fun of it.
Now it’s time to start putting it to work in your daily life.
Practice body awareness during conversations, business meetings, trips to the grocery store, etc. Pay attention to the way your body reacts to different people and different situations. Consult your intuition when choosing what to wear, what to buy, where to go on a night out.
Learn to hone in on how it feels when you’ve made good decisions – when you are around people you really like, when you try something new that you absolutely love, or when a business deal turns out to be a smash success.
Let those feelings and intuitive signals steer you in future decisions.
Of course, it goes both ways. It pays to notice how you feel before and after bad decisions, too; and learn to avoid people and situations that trigger those feelings in you.
5. Trust Yourself
As you continue to consult your intuition in different areas of your life, it will become easier and easier to hear that inner guidance. And as you become more familiar and more skillful at this, it is important that you learn to trust this process, and rely on it – even when making major life decisions.
Especially when making major life decisions!
There are any number of people in your life who are happy to tell what you should and shouldn’t do. There are countless “experts” and authority figures happy to do the same.
But at the end of the day, you are the only one who knows what’s right for you.
Don’t let others make your decisions. Learn to trust your intuition, your inner wisdom. Learn to trust yourself! Make your own choices, follow your own path.
It’s your life after all. So follow your heart, and make it your own!