Intuition: How Cultivate It and When to Ignore It

Intuition is a treasure trove of information offered by your body. Often, your body knows something before your mind can find concepts and words to express it. You can enhance your decision-making by paying closer attention to your physical sensations and integrating this information with what you know intellectually.

Your body processes incoming details more quickly than your brain’s frontal lobes (where logical thinking occurs). For example, your gut can be considered a second brain—it has over 100 million neurons sensing internal and external stimuli and communicating with your brain. This recently discovered “gut-brain axis” (enteric nervous system) confirms that our gut feelings are worth listening to.

You can cultivate your intuition by regularly tuning in to your body’s internal experience. Imagine scanning with an inner light from head to toe—watching for tightness, tingling, relaxation, charge, heaviness, calm, etc. At first, it might be helpful to practice these body scans without distraction, using mindfulness meditation. Consider keeping an intuition journal where you scan your body and jot down what you notice to develop your interoception—awareness of your body’s inner state. With practice, you can learn to toggle back and forth between perception of your inner experience and the outer circumstances in real time throughout your day.

Another way to learn from your body is to pay attention to your hands. Gestures were humans’ first language, and our hands sometimes “know” an idea before we can think of what we are trying to say. (To read more on gesturing and interoception, see The Extended Mind). A fun way to tap into this “gestural foreshadowing” is to ask yourself a question and observe how your hands or body want to move in response. Another curious strategy for connecting with intuition is to answer your question while writing with your non-dominant hand to access the creative right side of the brain. Though your logical left brain will likely dismiss these suggestions as silly, give yourself a chance to play with these methods for “unlocking your brain’s hidden app” (check out the TED talk with this title regarding non-dominant handwriting).

As you develop your “somatic rudder,” be aware that your gut feelings can sometimes lead you astray. Biases are quickly activated in the body, leading us to pre-judge unfamiliar people and situations. Plus, internalized bias, where we’ve absorbed society’s negative messages about our own group, can lead us to have distorted reactions to ourselves. For example, if your body feels tight as you imagine applying for a job that breaks through a cultural stereotype, this might be internalized prejudice rather than an intuition.

With practice, you can learn how to listen to your body, screen for bias and mix in your intellectual knowledge. It’s worth developing these skills, because your best decisions will be made when you factor in what your “Spidey senses” are telling you.

Photo Credit: Geralt

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