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Using Intuitive Thinking. How Do You ‘Just Know’ What’s Right for You?

Other people ‘just know’ how to get where they want to go in life! Why not me? The thing is we all have this innate ability of intuitive thinking. It just takes some tuning in to (or rather tuning out of the noise around us). The following looks at just how to ‘just know’.

It’s like a ‘brain wave’ – Image by Nebraska Department of Education from Pixabay 

So, why does Intuitive Thinking matter?

Intuitive thinking helps with quick decisions – to just know what’s right.

This alone can open the doors to opportunities in today’s fast-paced society that’s about thinking on your feet.

It is especially important with the ever-changing demands of today’s society and its complicated market forces.

It is also important on a personal level for financial and relationship reasons.

Be one of those people who succeed in whatever you put your trust in 

You might be one of those people already, or maybe you’re one who oft wishes you were. Check out my articles on the wizards of intuitive thinking and famous people trusting their intuition. You might think you’re just not capable. But the thing is…we all are.

Two ways of thinking

Of course, there are many ways of thinking, but here are two that stand out in scientific literature:

  1. Analytical
  2. Intuitive

You might get stuck in using analytical thinking (or reasoning) in most situations because of our modern day bias towards that.

Society (Western society mostly) dismisses intuition as “touchy-feely.”

Steve Jobs rated it highly:

Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.

Steve Jobs

Successful people like Steve Jobs, learn to listen to their intuition and gut feelings.

You know the saying: I felt it in my bones.

Or, it was just a hunch…a gut feeling.

In turn, how do high flyers just ‘fly by the seat of their pants’?

Let’s explain…

Here is my take. We go to school, and we are taught logic.

By the way, this is relatively new compared to intuitive thinking.

Our schooling advances our analytical thinking — a focused and linear way of dealing with things.

It prepares us for work and situations where explanations are required.

This is the thinking style that we’ve advanced — the one acknowledged by society to bring success.

Meanwhile, our intuition is left to experience.

We gravitate toward reasoning because that’s what we know.

Though…some do embrace intuitive thinking. They learn to trust their intuition, ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ and seem to ‘just know’.

Our innate ability of intuitive thinking is valuable

We are born with intuitive abilities. 1

These abilities are critical and life-saving. Firefighters especially use them.

Charles B. Parselle, professional in dispute resolution, explains the importance of intuitive thinking…

He likens it to the anatomy of our eyes.

We use the very center of our cornea (cone cells) for focusing on objects, far and near (like analytical thinking).

The cells surrounding this very center provide our peripheral vision (like intuitive thinking).

He then explains: “If the cone cells deteriorate, when one attempts to focus upon an object, it disappears; a black spot in the center. But if you lose peripheral vision, even if you retain the ability to focus, it is like observing the world one speck at a time through the means of the focused beam of a flashlight. It is much easier to get around with only peripheral vision than with only focused vision”.

Bottom line…intuition helps us maneuver through obstacles much easier than analytical thinking alone.

Our rational mind Has Limitations

We consistently overestimate the value of analytical thinking in our decision making, according to Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate.²

The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.

Anne Lamott, (in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

We reach crossroads at times with multiple ‘best’ options or inconclusive answers from our rationale.

Without ‘just knowing’ where to go next, our mind will start overthinking.

Limited thinking, such as this, cripples us.

It kills our confidence and creates anxiety and worry.

Napoleon’s secret

When Napoleon dominated the European battlefield he incorporated more than just strict planning.

His secret was strategic intuition as described in Napoleon’s Glance: The Secret of Strategy.

There are similar examples of success using intuition described by Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. This is an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand resource that draws on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology with a prime aim to teach you how to you to make better snap decisions. Gladwell refers to the origins of this ‘just knowing’ (or intuition) as the adaptive unconscious and likens it to our internal computer.

How To Access Your Intuition

Back to Napoleon’s secret as an example of how intuitive thinking works. It is said to involve 4 steps.

#1 Past experience and learnings

This is fast thinking; so fast it seems like you are not thinking at all.

The key feature here is that all the information is computed in parallel, not sequentially.

Compare this to the slower rational thinking, where you examine thoughts one by one.

When optimized your intuitive mind is like a super fast computer sorting through files to bring you the answers. The ‘files’ may be patterns and images store deep.

  • Using the best available understanding of the situation, based on experience and learnings.

It may involve another’s perspective, your own experience, past events, in addition to ideas on new planning and study.

The different patterns and images emerge simultaneous to give you a complete picture.

#2 The presence of mind for just knowing

  • Being calm to think and act efficiently, helps.

Imagine how important (and challenging) this is with decisions in an emergency.

  • Be open to all possibilities.

Tip: One way to do this is to intentionally divert your attention to a somewhat unrelated activity.

Einstein knew this well.

I think 99 times and I find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me.

Albert Einstein

So, Einstein hinted at an intuitive process helping him overcome his blocks.

He took unstructured time away from deliberate thinking.

In this case, it was quiet time within nature — for inspiration and the benefits it offered.

#3 The flash of insight

  • Welcoming the ah-ha’ moment when a flash of insight emerges with a new idea or prospect.

#4 Resolution

  • Putting the thought into action on the just knowing.

Example Intuitive vs Rational Mind Process

It can be like choosing a dish from a menu. How do you do that?

Intuitive Decision Making

Your intuitive mind would process the info given in advice, the ingredients and descriptions from the menu, past experiences and even info from your smartphone in parallel. What emerges is a choice of meal to order that you feel you’ll enjoy!

Rational Decision Making

Your rational mind would take more time in calculating the price of the meal, weighing up whether it fits within a certain budget, and comparing prices on the menu. It may then count how often you may have had that meal previously, how many other people are ordering it, the time you have in your schedule, etc etc etc in a series of thoughts. It may go to and fro in choosing but in the end a meal choice emerges that fits the rational. But, is it a winning choice – one you’ll enjoy?

why don’t we all ‘just know’ what’s right for us

Most people use intuition at one level or another.

Choosing a dish from a menu is one example.

It is intuition that guides one’s final choice.

(Though, an analytical mind might consider the cost of the dish in a budget analysis.)

In this ordinary example, contemplation and resolution are fast.

We unconsciously trust and use our intuition.

Deciding on more important issues is not as easy and ‘just knowing’ at this level takes practice in trusting and listening to your inner guidance.

Be Open To Opportunities

Intuitive thinking comes from experience, and according to several philosophies, is guided by a higher consciousness.

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. ~ Albert Einstein

When stuck, ask yourself the question: what should I do next?

Expect the answer. That is, expect to just know. (See my good habits lists to get you unstuck and live a freer life).

Look for inner guidance — take notice of thoughts, feelings, visions, and words.

But, you will need to make space for this.

You get your intuition back when you make space for it when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. ~Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

So here’s the deal…

To stop over thinking or worrying, learn to trust and listen to your intuition to guide you!

But, how do you know it’s your intuition and not some wayward inner voice?

You might ask: is it intuition or is it emotion that I’m feeling?

Without practice and making it a habit, you probably won’t know. I wrote an article about good daily habits to form for winning at life.

One thing…

It’s unlikely you’ll experience intuitive thought when feeling emotional, anxious, stressed, worried, or fearful.

The wisdom from Dr Wayne Dyer’s Your Ultimate Calling:

“Give yourself the time and quiet space to enter into dialogue with your Source. The answers you seek will come rushing toward you when you’re in authentic communication.”

References:

  1. Hespos, S. J. and vanMarle, K. (2012), Physics for infants: characterizing the origins of knowledge about objects, substances, and number. WIREs Cogn Sci, 3: 19-27. doi:10.1002/wcs.157
  2. Kahneman, D. 2011. Thinking, fast and slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, New York, USA.

Other Sources

  • Scheffer, M., J. Bascompte, T. K. Bjordam, S. R. Carpenter, L. B. Clarke, C. Folke, P. Marquet, N. Mazzeo, M. Meerhoff, O. Sala, and F. R. Westley. 2015. Dual thinking for scientists. Ecology and Society 20(2): 3.
  • Cholle, F. 2011. The Intuitive Compass: Why the Best Decisions Balance Reason and Instinct. John Wiley & Sons, USA.