Intuition is a very confusing thing. It’s not a feeling, it’s not the voice of reason. Oh, it’s a voice, all right — it whispers in your ears. But other than that, it’s really hard to explain what it is.
You see, there are actually 3 voices in your head, and that’s if you’re normal. The voice of reason, the voice of feelings, and then — intuition. “Gut” feelings, we call it, as it appears to come from somewhere deeper, but it also feels pretty indistinguishable from feelings, especially strong emotions.
It’s quite easy to misinterpret intuitions, or confuse something else to be your intuition. Over the years I wrestled with this issue, I started developing a system in which I can gauge my internal bearing.
Below is a list I use to test my intuition to see if it’s truly my intuition, or something else (like fear or greed) masquerading as one. Consider it a scoring system — if your inner voice meets a good number of these criteria, the chances are, it’s the voice of your intuition. An important note: I’m taking here about intuition as in decision-making system. Other kinds of intuition exists — like actually foretelling future or sensing what’s wrong with someone’s health — but that’s outside of this post.
9 Ways to Tell You’re Listening to Intuition
1. You still feel that way after everybody else disagrees with it.
Intuition disregards social wisdom or common sense. It’ll remain the same and will not let up until you follow it, regardless of what everyone says.
If you’re unsure about your direction, do seek opinions of people you trust and respect, to see what they would do in your shoes. However, note also that doing so will make it harder to act on your intuition if it still remains after everyone disagreed with you. Proceed with caution — just seek enough counsel to know that you are certain, and go and do it.
2. You still feel that way after sleeping on it.
Intuition stands a test of time. For example, I feel certain that I made the right decision in choosing whom I married — but I knew that the way in which we got married wasn’t quite right. At the time I was graduating from college and my US visa was running out. My then-girlfriend and I had already endured a couple of periods of long-distance separation, so we felt that we didn’t need that test to see if our relationship would stand. So we got married then, even though my wife still had one year of school left.
But as I was going ahead with the plan, I always knew in the back of my mind that it wasn’t quite right, that I didn’t want the visa to be in the picture as the reason to get married. Over a dozen years later, I still feel that way. I don’t know how it should have worked out, but I think I should have listened to my intuition and spent more time exploring various options first, so that when we did get married, I could feel good about how we got married wholeheartedly.
For me, the intuition appears the clearest the first thing in the morning, before various information and emotions start invading my mind. That’s why I’ve learned to sleep on important decisions, so that sleep can wipe away the clatter and I can prepare an open space in which to listen to my intuition.
3. You still feel that way when you are happy.
Some desires enter our minds because we’re under stress. We’re trying to get away or fix it, and come to some rash decisions. So another test is to put yourself in a good place mentally, to make sure that you’re not hearing some voice of fear reacting against your immediate environment.
Music works great for me for this purpose. Be careful with movies — they can influence the mind more powerfully, but depending on the plot or its message, it can sway you to act if your life is a continuation of that story.
4. When you imagine taking that action, you feel relieved.
Following intuition ultimately has a relieving effect. You are stepping into something that is inline with who you are at the deepest level. On the surface level you may feel other emotions, such as fear or discomfort, but deep down tension and resistance get loosened. Be aware of this when you experience it, and look for it in your decision making.
The flip side of this is that when you’re resisting your intuition, it’ll have the opposite effect. You’ll feel tension and stress, and sometimes it manifests itself in physical ways. If you find that you’re talking yourself into something that makes sense logically, yet somehow doesn’t appear to feel like a relief, then that’s not your intuition.
5. When your decision doesn’t make sense.
Intuition defies logic and reason. Some people may think that’s exactly the reason why it’s untrustworthy, but that is simply not true.
Consider this: logic, reason, rationality — these are chains of thoughts that are developed through observation and analysis. In the other words, it’s rooted in the past. This is why weather forecasts are often long. They are derived from analyzing the accumulated data of the past — I’m not saying it’s useless, as that’s the best we can do for that situation — but it’s relying on the probability of likelihood based on the past. It actually doesn’t forecast the future.
But intuition is a deeper antenna that goes beyond such limitation. If people never followed intuition, there would never be technological advances, discovery of new truths, or development of greater societies. Intuition is a mind’s eye for seeing what cannot be seen yet. Don’t worry about making sense. It will, once you follow it.
I love this! And it’s so helpful for me at this particular moment in my life.
I am glad someone understands!
Thanks and welcome to OBV! Glad that you found this useful. It’s certainly a confusing topic, and like you said, it’s hard to understand unless you’re intuitive yourself.
What a great post—and this is one of my my favorite topics, really. I feel that intuition is the same as listening to our hearts. When we listen to our hearts, we rarely make the wrong decision (unless we deceive ourselves as to what our hearts are truly saying).
Whenever I am making a very important deciscion, I nearly always sleep on it before making it. And I also usually make lists, with the pros and cons of each path. Then when I am considering it, my heart usually responds to tell me which side of the list is the best path.
And nearly every major mistake I have made in my life? I didn’t listen to my heart!
p.s. I had a hard time finding the response thingie on your blog! Maybe you should make it a little bigger because I have actually visited before and thought you changed your site so that comments were no longer allowed! Nice to see you again, also–by the way!
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Indeed, I think intuition is listening to our hearts at its deepest. And I’m so with you about how we deceive ourselves — we can misinterpret (sometimes intentionally) what we’re really supposed to do.
It’s cool that you make lists — I sometimes do that, though I had a tendency of rationalizing going against my intuition, using my list as the reason why. For me, my intuition is usually there from the beginning, so I just have to surrender to it.
Thanks for the feedback re comment form. I’ll look into it.
I agree completely! Number 1 is my favorite. Intuition or what I like to call our true “being” is so deep that society and other people can’t sway the right decision. I find that the more present you are every moment the easier those decisions and intuition reveal themselves. Thanks for the creative list!
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Welcome to OBV, and thanks for the comment! I always feel a bit funny about asking for opinions of other people and then turning right around to do what they just disagreed with — but ultimately it’s my life, so I need to do what I believe in.
This piece of yours is particularly brilliant.
You have summed up all the tell-tale signs of intuition that I felt when making a major life decision recently.
I’m not sure if you meant this as a partial response to my question but certainly deals with many aspects of it.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Glad to hear you found this post useful. Hopefully you can use it to make decisions you feel good about in future.
Thanks for this post. I particularly liked the point about not necessarily knowing why you’re doing something when you’re following your intuition. I’ve certainly noticed this in myself — all I knew two years ago was that I was going to be an entrepreneur and that was the way things were going to be, and I left my old job without having a completely clear idea what it would involve. I’m totally happy with my decision. Best, Chris
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Yeah, I had an incident like that recently, and those are hard to follow. But intuition just doesn’t go away, and keeps nagging me — so sooner or later I still have to do it.
1. You still feel that way after everybody else disagrees with it.
This is probably the biggest obstacle for majority of people.
The problem lies in who people listen to for advice or whatever. Usually the advice is just plain dumb with no facts. See people are repeaters, they go around giving advice that they heard from someone else, because they heard it from yet someone else.
We have too many followers and very few leaders, so people are walking around like sheep.
Agreed, and it’s very hard when even people you love and trust disagree with you. It takes a lot of courage and consciousness to not repeat everyone else, like you said.
Great post Ari
I was glad to see you added #7. When peole get scared or uncomfortable, it’s easy to fall prey to those feelings and rationalize ignoring your intuition. I’ve been developing a stong intuitive muscle for many years and I rely on my inspiration and inner nudges that guide me in my life.
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Thanks for the comment, and also for linking to this article! Like you, I’ve always considered myself intuitive, yet I’m beginning to realize how strongly so now that I have given more full permission to live and make decisions based on it. I agree that intuition is a skill one can develop, and I’m looking forward to see where it takes me, now that I’m developing my skill intentionally.
I like your new site design. (I haven’t been here in a while.)
I like this list. I often wonder whether to listen to the signals I’m getting, and this helps decide. I’d be interested in also seeing how to tell intuition from impulse. I tend to be impulsive and sometimes I think it’s intuition, but later I realize it wasn’t.
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Thanks for stopping by! For impulse, I’d pay attention to #8, the one about immediate gratification — as impulses usually gravitate toward that. If you have a quick impulse about long-term gain or solution, that may be worth following.
Great organization of this idea of “intuition”.
You and your family will do fine! Yes, things get hectic and even might seem unraveled here and
there, as in the way you had to adjust to not following your original business plan. It is excellent that you are able to see other opportunities now. If you are not meditating 1/2 hour a day, now would be a good time to start… My mother had a term for the (turbulent/exciting) process you are going through right now- “Upgrading”! She would go for things that we thought impossible, and when we commented, her response was to blink her eyes once, smile big, and say “UPGrading”… That’s what you are doing and it will surely work, just as it did for her. Keep grabbing the opportunities as they come, and they will surely keep coming!
Welcome to OBV, and thanks for the comment! Sounds like you have a great mom. Yes, I’m upgrading — after 2 weeks, I can’t even relate to being an employee now. There’s no turning back!
This only applies if you subscribe to virtue ethics and you’re the perfect person.
Thinking and logic is important, this kind of dumb conception of intuition being right all the time, in the face of logic and reasoning, is the theory invoked by the worst fascists and brutal dictators have justified their evil.
Mao decided to restructure the farmlands against all the protest and uproar from his advisors and economists, and then millions died.
This of course doesn’t even begin to cover the dogmatism of religion that has stifled science, killed millions and to this day denies basic equality and freedom to homosexuals and denies abortion.
That being said, following your intuition doesn’t make you evil, but it makes you stupid.
To believe things in spite of proof against it is ridiculous.
Maybe if I was god I could support blindly following of my intuition, because I would know that I’m doing is right.
Sadly, there is no god and certainly no human fits the role.
Welcome to OBV, and I appreciate your dissenting comment. (I would have respected you more had you identified yourself)
To your point, I’d like to say that I do agree that thinking and logic are very important. And I know that for some people that’s really all they need, and there’s no problem they can’t solve with their rational thinking.
For others, however, intuition does play a part, and to them some situations seem to defy logic. I wrote this article for them. You do realize that Myers-Briggs classify personality types as either Sensing or iNtuitive? They are both valid ways to make decisions.
There are also some people, who, despite being an intuitive person, have the inner compass so thoroughly screwed up or detached that their deep intuitions (or whatever they call it) are separated from any sense of ethics or morality. And I agree with your point that such people are quite dangerous.
But your point about equating intuition with religion is a stretch too big. There’s a strong logic behind, for example, believing that homosexuality is invalid and should not exist. After all, a race would cannot reproduce from homosexuality — wouldn’t it be logic to conclude that nature made us heterosexual for a reason and homosexuality is unnatural? (That is not my view, by the way — I am a strong supporter of gay rights & marriage)
It is hard for logic-based Senser to understand this, I do realize. I have family members like you. But there is a very deep, inner core with built-in sense of fundamental ethics — that of honoring safety, love and companionship — that us intuitives can tap into to help guide us in our decisions. You have it, too, though your antenna there is not very strong or developed. Just like TVs are not built to receive radio signals and vice versa, you have to accept that there are people who can see things you cannot, and you not being able to see it doesn’t make it untrue.
your gay rights argument is logically flawed
although the premise and conclusion are valid with each other, the premise is false
it would be true if the ONLY reason to exist was to procreate, but that is not the case.
there is much more to a happy life than spreading your DNA haphazardly around the globe.
you seem to not realize my point about virtue based ethics.
in order to truly trust your gut, you must be perfect, incapable of mistakes
no one is perfect, everyone is capable of mistakes
so no one should trust their gut.
this ‘intuition’ you seem to support (based upon the myer-briggs scale) seems to imply a subconscious thought process that leads to the right result.
as much as i wish everyone could simply follow this, that process is too illogical, too irrational, and too often wrong to be followed, in my opinion
Glad to know how to call you!
Well, the problem with logic is that you can go on forever coming up with various reasons why things are or should be.
I do see your point about gut, and I’ll be honest, your argument is valid. I constantly question myself that same question — what if my gut is wrong? I am not a god, like you said.
But yet, in my experience, all my mistakes have come from misinterpreting or rejecting my intuition, not from following it. I can’t tell you that my intuition is 100% accurate every time. It appears that way to me, but I haven’t done a scientific research. But I’ve been wrong more often from not following it, and I can’t remember a time when I really felt that I correctly followed it and thought that it was a wrong decision. So I’ve learned to trust my intuition over my logic.
I’m not asking everybody to follow this, Ethan. Just like not everybody is meant to be opera singers, some people are simply not intuitive.
I’ve always said “a few principles, infinite applications.” There is no one blanket advise that applies the same way to every person or situation — you have to look at the context to see the validity or how the principle applies. To tell an non-intuitive person to follow intuition is a bad advise. And that is the case to you.
I can accept that.
I’m simply asking you to also be open to the possibility that this advise may be a good one to other people, as other commenters indicated.
I found this a very interesting article as many of my decisions over the last year or so have been through listening to my intuition. More often than not the choices I have made through listening to my intuition have been the right choices and the most rewarding, yet as you mentioned, not always the easiest.
Very recently I made a decision which was quickly acted upon, my intuition told me not to act on this decision but I did. The result was very bad and I immediately knew I should have listened to my inner voice, my intuition.
A good tip, only really used on making small decisions to be honest, is to flip a coin. It isn’t left up to chance, here’s how it works for me.
You have to decide between two things, yet you cannot decide on which choice is right for YOU. Make choice one heads and choice two tails. If you are unhappy with the result then you know to go with the other choice. For example, you can’t decide between chocolate or vanilla ice cream. So you flip a coin, heads is chocolate, tails is vanilla. If it lands heads up and you’re happy with the outcome, you’ll be happy with the choice, if you think “well I don’t really feel comfortable right now with that, but the thought of tails/vanilla feels better,” then go with it. I don’t know if it works well with other people but for me it helps me realise what I really want. I think it is because the choice is made for us, and in that way it is easier to sense if you like that choice or not.
I will try to apply these 9 ways of listening to my intuition in my daily life, some of which I already do.
Thanks for an interesting and thought provoking read!
Welcome to OBV, and thanks for a great comment! I totally follow you with your coin toss trick — it’s a great way to simulate what you’d feel after you make the decision!
Also, there are situations where the choices are so even that your intuition tells you “it doesn’t really matter which you choose.” In that case, a coin toss will be just fine. 😉
I’ll doing that one of these days. Thanks again!
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Ari – I well understand the incredible popularity of this post on Stumbleupon. (By the way, I’ll look you up there right away!)
Like you, I’m a strongly intuitive type, and all my mistakes have come from not listening to that voice. Most of my professional work has called for quick decisions with groups, and they depend completely on timing. I don’t know why but I have so often held off from just the right comment at the right moment and lost a key opportunity. And the big decisions have gone the same way, as you say – I always know what’s right for me but often go with what’s good.
This is one of the most important posts – in fact, blogs – that I’ve been reading. I’m only sorry that I haven’t gotten here a lot sooner.
One other thing – the differences between your approach and ethan’s are exactly reflected in recent books, as I’m sure you know. For every book like Blink or Sources of Power, there is a contrary one like On Being Certain. Two completely different styles of making decisions – I can’t see a right or wrong there. Different minds relate to the world in different ways.
All my best — John
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I see what you’re saying about timing, and not being able to follow impulse. I hold back, too, and sometimes I’m glad, other times I’m not. It sounds like you’re in a work where quick thinking is beneficial to you.
Thinking on my feet has never been my strength, because I am also feeling-oriented. I have to wade through my feelings before I figure out what my intuition is telling me. But I am starting to figure out that once I remove some of my perceived threats (whatever I consider to be threatening) then I can begin to think clearly and quickly. Both in terms of following logic and listening to intuition. Emotions are important indicators of where we are or where our weaknesses lie, but letting them drive us unchecked is something I’m trying to steer myself away from.
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I have taken a major decision in my life depending entirely on my gut feeling. I keep on wondering whether I did right or reacted to my fears and insecurity. Your article reassures me that it was my gut and I do feel relieved after taking that action :).
I have discovered this site y’day and its just what I need currently. Thanks…its a wonderful endeaver..
Thank you so much for this information. I plan on sharing it with others.
Whenever I listen to my intuition I get a sense of fulfillment and personal satisfaction. I also get a surge of relief and creativity that comes from the confidence in making the choice.
Whenever I do not listen to my intuition I get irritable, achy, depressed, mad, etc. Like you said, pain can actually start occuring as your body’s way of telling you something needs to change.
When making the decision: the right choice usually is the one that seems like I would be stepping off into the unknown (not a crazy “out of the blue” unknown territory, but one that comes from pushing past fears); the wrong choice usually is the one that does not leave room for growth and seems as though I’d be settling (for me, comes from a place of stubborness, inability to change).
Hopes this helps.
Thank you so much for this article. I couldn’t decide whether the voices in my head was me being neurotic or ’emotional’ or whether it was my inner intuition screaming at me! I also feel physically ill when I do not follow my intuition, and on making my decision to follow it I feel more energized and clear than I have in years.