Steve Jobs declared intuition ‘more powerful than intellect’. Einstein called the intuitive mind ‘a sacred gift’. And business leaders throughout the world leverage it in their decision-making every day. That ‘inner voice’ or ‘gut feeling’ we all experience about something or someone can be a powerful guiding force; yet all too often it’s ignored or pushed to one side — denying us a valuable resource of information.
Going inwards for answers — focusing on what your inner self is trying to tell you — is not just nebulous ‘self-help’ advice; it has actual scientific basis. The human mind is wired to see patterns, processing and storing insights from all our past experiences. New research models suggest that intuition may in fact be a form of thought created in the whole brain, drawing on all the data amassed by a person, consciously and unconsciously — rather than one traditionally thought to be a product of the right, or ‘irrational’ side of the brain.
Highly developed intuition is a ‘secret weapon’ says Judith Orloff, professor of psychiatry at University of California, LA. ‘It gives you all kinds of information you wouldn't normally have. This isn't the brain analysing; this is nonlinear knowledge...a second kind of intelligence. You want to use both. Well-developed intuition can seem like a superpower. People get these amazing flashes.’
So, soup up your ‘inner GPS’ with these simple techniques, and start listening to your intuitive self to make better decisions and plot your course with confidence.
1. Quieten your mind
According to research by the University of Iowa, the brain's ‘axis of intuition’ is the ventromedial prefrontal cortex or the ‘centre of the forehead’. A 2014 study1 found a significant increase in vmPFC activity and interconnectivity in 15 test subjects after just four days of mindfulness training. Ergo, learning to quiet the ‘monkey mind’ of worry and anxiety is key to greater intuition. ‘Developing the empowering sixth sense of intuition begins with calm,’ says corporate meditation trainer Maggie Richards. ‘The deeper our calm, the more receptive our minds become to the messages sent us from the still, small voice within.’ By clearing your mind of distractions even for a few minutes a day — through meditation or even just spending time in nature — you’ll be able to ‘tune your mental radio’ more effectively, allowing you to recognise subtle impulses from within.
2. Learn to do nothing
In the same vein, avoid too much ‘input’ in your life if you want to hear the messages your intuition is trying to tell you. If you’re constantly trying to distract yourself with ‘busy’, listening to a different podcast every time you go for a walk, are always around other people, or overloading yourself with data and information from many quarters, you deprive yourself of the receptive qualities of those pockets of silence where inspiration can arise. To increase your connection with yourself, stop filling every second of your day and give yourself time and space to think your thoughts and feel your emotions. Telling your subconscious/the universe you’re open to receiving messages when you wake up and before bedtime can also help increase connection with your intuition.
3. Think from the gut
We’ve all heard the phrases ‘trust your gut’ or ‘gut feeling’. Far from folk wisdom — it’s scientifically sound advice as well. Much has been written recently about the gut as a ‘second brain’ in our gastrointestinal systems, something that scientists call the enteric nervous system (ENS). With 100-million nerve cells, the gut might not be capable of ‘thought’, but it does communicate with the ‘big brain’, sending signals to the central nervous system that can affect mood and perception. If you’re stressed or nervous, it’s likely your gut will likely know before you do – resulting in ‘butterflies’ or even a ‘sinking’ feeling. Pay attention to your gut and keep it healthy with plenty of fibre (prebiotics) and a good probiotic, and you’ll benefit from subtle but powerful messages on your most fundamental reactions to people, places or opportunities.
4. Observe your energy levels
Keeping yourself in an optimum state means maximising your energy levels and not letting yourself be drained by anything or anyone. It can be hard to quantify rationally just why something makes you feel depleted while something else energises you, but the important thing is to pay attention to the signal given to you by your body’s natural response. ’If you don't feel well around someone, your intuition is trying to tell you something,’ notes Dr Judith Orloff. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if the energy of a person, situation or environment resonates with you, then it could be a sign that your inner GPS is trying to tell you something — perhaps pointing you to an area worth exploring or a place where you might garner a valuable connection that will take you forward.
5. Ask clearly…and record quickly
Receiving wisdom from your intuition isn’t a passive experience, so get specific about the information and the kind of answers you’re looking for to maximise your chances of getting them. In his book Awaken the Giant Within, motivational guru, Anthony Robbins discusses what he calls the Reticular Activation System (RAS). It’s a filter we all have to stop us getting overwhelmed by the avalanche of data picked up by our senses, 24-7. By setting intentions, even loose ones such as ‘I am finding a way forward in my career’, you indicate to your RAS that anything associated with this is important. In turn, this can help boost your intuition by allowing it to bring data aligned with your intentions to your attention. On the other side, intuitive insights are subtle wisps that can fade from your conscious mind quickly, so capture them as soon as you have them — neuroscience research indicates that those not captured within 37 seconds will likely never be recalled again.
6. Develop your cognitive empathy — the female way
Intuition is often prefaced with ‘feminine’, but is there any truth in the idea that women are better at listening to inner guidance that doesn’t come from logic or intellect? Well, perhaps some, according to a study conducted by Australia’s Berghofer Medical Research Institute, which found that women consistently out-performed men in divining a person’s mood just from looking at pictures of their eyes. Research on nonverbal communication skills has also demonstrated that women, as a group, are better at reading facial expressions than men and as a result more likely to be open to and pick up on subtle emotional cues — which in turn can provide valuable guidance and intuitive ‘temperature taking’. Develop your people-sensing skills by consciously ‘tuning’ into a person or gathering, and learning to trust what you feel, and you can help boost the layers of intuitive information you receive.
7. And finally….use it and watch it grow
Intuition is a mental ‘muscle’ — the more you tap into and it and trust its messages, the stronger it will become over time.