We all have intuitive feelings about things. Sometimes these intuitions can be right, and sometimes they can be wrong. In some cases we need to overrule these feelings with logic, but in some cases it seems that our intuition adds value to our lives.
How can we determine which is which? How important is intuition?
Related questions: How can we improve our intuition? How does our intuition change as we age?
4 thoughts on “How Important Is Intuition?”
The field of psychology is currently at an interesting turning point with the concept of prospection (Review of General Psychology; Vol. 20 , March 2016). Prospection, the ability to consciously and – importantly – unconsciously plan for what will happen in a complicated future. Much of our human brain energies are devoted to the tasks of prospection. Consider how much time you spend in a typical day thinking about what will happen in the future based on actions in the present: “What happens if I sleep another ten minutes?”; “What do I want for breakfast?”; “Should I attend that meeting?”; “Should I move to Canada?”; “Should I have kids?”. Compare that to how much time you spend in the actual moment or reminiscing on the past.
Intuition, I would suggest, is a part of our unconscious prospection peeking through into the conscious. It is a tool, honed over millions of years of human brain evolution, to take patterns of years of past experiences and make an instant prediction of what will have the best outcome for us in a particular situation. It is, however, a fallible tool. Nothing can predict the future. And it is the not the right tool for every job. However, without it, we would be at a significant disadvantage because we would have to spend hours of research and logical rationalization to make even the simplest decision – and still end with an unfavorable outcome.
I’ve learned to trust intuition a lot more over the years, especially when making big life decisions. It has helped me as much as, or more than, any pro/con list in making a decision.
I trust my intuition in helping me to determine whether I’m doing something because I “should” or because I “must.” In her essay and book “The Crossroads of Should and Must,” artist Elle Luna defines “should” as things that society expects from us and “must” as the calling from within ourselves. https://medium.com/@elleluna/the-crossroads-of-should-and-must-90c75eb7c5b0
I was at a meditation retreat when I learned (or re-learned) the inherent value of trusting my body’s response. Often, this response is my intuition talking to me. During the retreat, when I thought about attending a writing retreat that I had attended for three previous years, my body felt uncomfortable; a small pit formed in my stomach. When I imagined the ideal writing retreat for myself, I thought about making it truly my own, with a place for writing and a room for playing and recording music. And once that happened, I felt a warmth flood my body, telling me, yes, this is what you need to do.
A similar experience occurred a a few months ago, when I was trying to figure out how to fix a work/life balance situation. One idea was raised and my body reacted so strongly (and negatively) to it that I curled up into a ball. Another idea was raised and I sat with it for a few days, noticing as my angst steadily grew. Then a third idea came up and I felt instant relief and joy.
I can’t think of a single time that my intuition has led me astray.
There are two things I think of when I think of intuition: first, the Myers Briggs pairing of intuition and sensing; and, second, the Dreyfus model of skills acquisition. With Myers Briggs, its the difference between paying attention to patterns and meaning (intuition) and facts and details (sensing). With Dreyfus, it is an attribute of the highest of the five levels of skill acquisition (novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, expert) and represents a shift from having to carefully follow rules in order to perform well to being able to assess a situation in its proper context in an instant and immediately decide upon a plan of action. Based on these definitions of intuition, I find it to be incredibly important and valuable.
I think having intuition does add value to our lives. It helps us to quickly evaluate situations without having to think deeply on them, saving time and energy. I also think that intuition is not something that comes naturally. Much like a conscience, our intuition must be trained to benefit our lives.