A few years ago I kept a journal of stream of consciousness thoughts.
I would start with the writing prompt, “What do you need to know today?”, and then write whatever entered my mind without consciously considering the topic.
One particular day, I wrote the words, “Your life is about to be turned upside down and inside out.” When I wrote this in my journal, my life was chugging along normally. I had no idea what this statement meant, and I moved on and forgot about it.
Three months later, my life was turned upside down with a huge life change I never saw coming. When I read back over my journal, I was shocked to see the words I'd written months earlier.
Why did I write this before I had any conscious awareness of the portending upheaval? How did I “know” that my life would be turned upside down?
I believe my intuition was speaking to me before my analytical mind had a chance to notice the signs or pick up on the subtle signals that must have been swirling about me.
Have you ever had something like this happen to you?
Maybe it wasn't as dramatic as my journaling scenario, but I'm sure you've had “gut reactions” or intuitive feelings that have guided your decisions — or should have.
Intuition isn't a skill just within the purview of gypsies and crystal carriers. We all possess it, and it is a well-researched phenomenon revealing that our brains have an amazing ability to pick up on patterns and respond to them in a nanosecond in the form of intuitive insights.
According to a team of researchers at the Centre for Organisational Strategy, Learning and Change at Leeds University Business School, “Intuition is the result of the way our brains store, process and retrieve information on a subconscious level and so is a real psychological phenomenon which needs further study to help us harness its potential.”
Why should we care about intuition? What makes it so valuable that it merits scientific study and competes with our analytical brains for equal power related to our decisions, behaviors, and beliefs? Why would Steve Jobs, the founder of a company built on left brain talent in engineering and analysis, tout the virtues of intuition? Here's what he said in his 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech:
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. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Everything else is secondary. Wow, that's powerful stuff. In fact, here's what using your intuition can do for you:
- It reduces stress by helping you identify and handle problems more efficiently.
- It makes you more sensitive to the energy of the environments and people around you.
- It keeps you safer as you become more aware of potential danger or threats.
- It boosts imagination and creativity.
- It supports and augments your analytical brain in decision making.
- It helps you get clear on your true purpose and calling in life.
- It allows you to be open to new ideas that can lead to success.
- It improves your relationships when you “tune in” to the feelings of others.
- It boosts your confidence in your own judgment and wisdom.
- It makes you feel like a more integrated, authentic person.
Many highly sensitive people and empaths have a well-developed intuition that is a natural part of their personalities [go here for a list of personality traits]. But if you are more of a “left-brained” thinker, please don't assume that the intuitive process isn't available for you. The power of intuition can be developed and improved.
Massimo Pigliucci is Professor of Philosophy at CUNY-City College, and in his book Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life, he cites some of the recent research on intuition and how it can be improved:
One of the first things that modern research on intuition has clearly shown is that there is no such thing as an intuitive person tout court. Intuition is a domain-specific ability, so that people can be very intuitive about one thing (say, medical practice, or chess playing) and just as clueless as the average person about pretty much everything else. Moreover, intuitions get better with practice — especially with a lot of practice — because at bottom intuition is about the brain’s ability to pick up on certain recurring patterns; the more we are exposed to a particular domain of activity the more familiar we become with the relevant patterns (medical charts, positions of chess pieces), and the more and faster our brains generate heuristic solutions to the problem we happen to be facing within that domain.
Intuition is a dynamic, powerful, highly valuable skill to develop. Spending a little time every day strengthening your powers of intuition can pay off exponentially over time — with your relationships, your health and well-being, your career success, your finances, and your overall happiness. By combining intuition with analysis, you're employing an arsenal of tools to empower your life and make the very best possible choices.
Here are 21 ways to develop your intuition:
Try my method of stream of consciousness writing in a journal. Begin with a prompt like, “What do I need to know?” or “What is the best decision?” Then simply write what comes to mind without judging it or even thinking about what you are writing.
I find it's helpful to set the journal aside for a few hours or days before going back and reading what you've written so you have more distance and perspective to consider the message to yourself.
Meditation is one of the most useful ways of clearing your mind of extraneous thoughts, worries, and overthinking. Even 5-10 minutes a day of meditation can help you tune into your deeper feelings, desires, and needs.
You may have insights that come up during the meditation, or they may arise later after you are in a more calm and centered state of mind. Remind yourself to pay attention to any ideas or “ah ha” moments that arise shortly after meditation.
3. Pay attention to your dreams.
Dreams are your subconscious mind's way of processing information and dealing with internal stress, repressed feelings, or unacknowledged longings.
Dreams are often symbolic and offer deeper messages than the strange and convoluted nature of a dream reveals on the surface. Read about common dream symbols so you can better understand the meaning of your dreams and what your intuition might be telling you through your dreams.
4. Get creative.
Creative activities like drawing, painting, writing, or anything that you find creatively stimulating puts you in a state of “flow” where time stands still. You are lost in the activity and feel free of distractions and worries.
When you are in this state of flow, it is similar to the meditative state. Your mind is receptive to ideas, insights, and awareness that you might not experience in the busyness of daily life.
Through art, writing, music, and dance, you can express emotions and desires that you may not consciously be aware of, but you provide an outlet with these creative endeavors.
5. Walk or run.
I find when I take a walk or go for a run, I often get answers to problems or have insights or ideas on a project I might be working on.
Removing yourself from your daily schedule and distractions allows you to focus on intuitive thoughts that arise spontaneously.
The shower is another place for those spontaneous insights. Like me, you may find that some of your best thinking is done in the shower.
The combination of the quiet space, the warm water, and the small enclosure lends itself to tapping into your intuition.
7. Pay attention to sudden feelings.
Have you ever noticed that your mood changes suddenly? Or you walk in a room of people and feel uneasy?
Remind yourself to pay attention to these shifts in mood, and once you are aware of them, ask yourself why you are feeling this way. Close your eyes, and say to yourself silently, “What is this feeling telling me?” Then wait for an answer.
It may not arrive right away, but at some point you'll have an insight into your mood change. The key is learning how to use these insights to manage your life in order to minimize negative people or circumstances.t
8. Notice your body's reactions.
Your body is the perfect messenger of intuitive knowledge. You've heard the expression, “Follow your gut.” You often feel things in your gut that let you know loud and clear that you aren't in the right place, with the right person, or making the best decision.
Your body will tell you through pain and disease that something is wrong or that you need to make a change. Treat the symptoms, but also seek out a possible cause for your physical reactions that might be more than just physical.
9. Go on a retreat.
Take a sabbatical or an extended break from your daily life and work where you are completely disconnected from technology, distractions, and responsibilities.
Try to find a place where you can spend a lot of time in nature just being. Take long walks, meditate, journal, stare at the ocean or mountains. Listen to the sounds of nature.
Give your brain and body full permission to tap into your intuitive processes and invite insights and “ah ha” awareness. Sometimes we need a full detox from our busy lives in order to kickstart intuition.
10. Employ hindsight.
Think back over past hunches or moments of insight you've had. You may or may not have acted on these hunches, but now looking back at them, can you see how your intuition was at work?
What can you learn from these past experiences, and how can you honor your intuition more going forward by taking action on your hunches?
11. Do something repetitive.
Chop vegetables, staple papers, knit — do a repetitive activity that doesn't require much brain power. While doing these activities, ask your intuitive mind for guidance on a problem or ideas for a project.
Don't allow your mind to wander to the grocery list or the rude waitress from last night's dinner. Ask yourself questions during these rote activity times, and quiet your mind to listen for the answers.
12. Don't fight it.
When you receive a hunch or intuitive urge, try to go with it rather than fighting it. Many of us don't trust our intuition, so we try to quiet the voice in our heads in favor of thinking it out or simply ignoring the hunches.
Practice assuming your hunches are valid and can lead you to something positive. Take small actions on your intuitive urges that feel relatively safe. In time you'll feel more comfortable acting on bigger hunches that require more risk.
13. Do a blind reading.
Grab three blank index cards, and think about a decision you are currently struggling with. On each card, write down a different possible solution or choice. Shuffle the cards and place them face down on a table next to each other.
Run your hand over each card slowly, noticing any feeling you get from the cards. Pay attention to the card you are drawn to the most, and flip it over to see the solution or choice on the card.
Try this several times to see if you continue to be drawn to the same card.
14. Ask a question, listen for the answer.
Whenever you are faced with a choice or decision, find a quiet place, take a few deep breathes, and ask yourself what you should do. Then listen intently as though you are struggling to hear a very quiet voice.
Simply wait for a clear answer to come to you. Ignore the internal “chatter” or outside distractions. Wait for the clear voice.
15. Take drive with no destination.
On a day when you don't have much going on, get in your car with no clear plan and just start driving. Allow your intuition to direct the turns you'll take and the direction of the car.
Ask yourself when you should stop and get out and what you should do. Simply view this as an “intuitive adventure” and see where it takes you and what you encounter.
16. Envision a conversation with your wise mentor.
Go to a quiet room, sit in a meditative position, and quiet your mind as though you are entering meditation. Instead, envision two chairs facing one another. Envision yourself walking to one of the chairs and sitting down. Then wait for your wise mentor to walk up and sit in the other chair.
Who is this person? What do they want to say to you? What questions do you want to ask him or her? Listen carefully and think about what this person and conversation means for your life.
17. Flip a coin.
This is another exercise to help you with a decision that has two possible directions. Grab a coin and assign one decision to heads and the other decision to tails.
Flip the coin high in the air, and as you release the coin, pay attention to the side you hope it will land on. Your internal voice is telling you what you really want with this situation.
18. Prepare your subconscious before sleep.
Before you go to bed at night, give instructions to your subconscious mind. If you have a decision or problem you want to work out or an idea you want to develop, ask your mind to come up with the answers while you sleep.
Put a reminder on your bedside table so you can ask yourself for the answer when you wake up in the morning.
19. Try to anticipate outcomes.
Practice anticipating how things will work out. When a friend tells you about something happening in their lives, think about how you believe it will resolve, and write down your thoughts in a journal.
When you're reading a book or watching a movie, ask yourself how you think it will end.
As you practice thinking ahead about possible outcomes, you'll tune into the mental patterns and connections that lead to the most obvious or natural result.
20. Carry a notebook.
Buy a small notebook you can carry with you or use an app on your phone to make notes about your hunches, ah ha moments, and sudden bursts of ideas.
When you write down these intuitive bursts, you increase the likelihood you'll remember them and act on them when the time is right.
21. Don't confuse intuition with wishful/fearful thinking.
Sometimes we are invested in a particular outcome or fear a possible result. Try to distinguish between an intuitive hunch and wishful or fearful thinking.
Some decisions that we know are good for us intuitively can make us afraid on the surface. Learn to discern between your “deeper knowing” and reactive thinking or feeling.
Always combine your intuition with solid analysis and due diligence to ensure you're using your full brain power to make the best choices for your life.
Intuition is a powerful force that can be developed to give you an edge in life. Don't neglect this ability, even if you think of yourself as more of an analytical thinker.
As Henri Poincare, French mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and philosopher of science says, “It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover.”