Some people talk about intuition as if it’s this airy-fairy thing, this obscure, weird thing that perhaps mediums have, or very spiritual people or something like that. In reality, it’s something we all have: a personal guidance system. It’s your sense of what’s right for you and what isn’t,
- what’s important to you and what isn’t
- what’s interesting to you and what isn’t
- what’s worthwhile to you and what isn’t
- what makes you happy and what doesn’t,
and listening to that guidance can help you find your way through the maze of life in a much happier state.
What is intuition?
I’ll begin by getting clear about what intuition means for the context of this article. I’ve picked the Oxford Dictionary definition because it seems to fit what I mean when I talk about intuition and it’s also clear and concise (unlike when I try to explain it myself):
- The ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning.
- A thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.
So, it’s a sense of knowing, without knowing why you know.
I had a conversation with a friend recently about intuition. He doesn’t believe it’s a thing; he definitely thinks it’s hocus-pocus. I mentioned his ability to be very clear about what he wants out of life and he said it’s nothing to do with intuition, it’s all about reason: he knows what he likes, what he doesn’t like and can see that some jobs/activities/situations would suit him and some wouldn’t. … but in reality things aren’t always clear on paper.
Sometimes the choice that looks best on paper is not what’s right for you. For example, if you are someone who doesn’t like risk, then a risky choice is never going to look right on paper but there may be times when you have to take a chance to make yourself happy. This can sometimes make it hard to explain your choices to other people. It can also make it difficult to stick to your own choices and opinions. – “Why do you want to choose that career?” – “Oh, because it just feels better than the other options.”
However, trusting your own feelings over the opinions of others means making choices that are right for you and they will work out better for you in the long run.
It’s so exciting to realise that each person knows what is right for them. You can see it in young children who haven’t yet been trained out of listening to what they feel – or in the very old who sometimes somehow exempt themselves from the systems they followed during their lives, caring less and less what other people think of them.
Where to start?
Warning! If you haven’t been listening to your gut all along it can mean some disruption in the short term as you undo some of the things you have put in place that aren’t right for you and begin to put better choices in place.
How do you know what you’re feeling?
If you haven’t been in the habit of listening to your own feelings, maybe you don’t even know what you want sometimes. It can take some practice but eventually you will be able to tune in and know what’s right for you.
There are many ways to sense what you are feeling. When there is no pressure and the choice is easy you might just know what’s right for you. If not, you can try some of the ideas below, or invent your own until you find what works for you.
It’s just a question of recognising what you really want – ice-cream or no ice-cream? Chocolate or vanilla? Sometimes the options are fairly clear and you can quickly sense how you feel about them. It’s much easier when there is no pressure.
The more you practise on simple, everyday choices, the easier you will find it to figure out how you feel about more complicated topics. Have fun with it. Instead of just going for your routine choices, offer yourself some more options: would I like something different to drink this morning? Would I like to try a different type of bread? Instead of playing on my phone, what do I really feel like doing? Do I want to turn left or right at this junction?
The feeling itself is really just about comfort and discomfort. If you feel good about something, your intuition is telling you it’s right for you just now. If you feel uncomfortable, it’s not right for you at the moment.
If you don’t have a sense of comfort or discomfort, try focusing on a particular part of your body to literally feel the answer physically. For example, put your attention on the palm of your hand while you ask yourself a yes/no question: warmth means yes, cold means no.
When teaching my children to tap into their intuition the easiest way for them was to identify whether they felt comfort or discomfort in their stomach.
Sometimes I ask the question in my head and I can hear a yes or a no answer. Sometimes when I am very relaxed and not worried I can “hear” a more detailed answer but I need more practice at letting go!
Toss a coin
My Dad taught me this one. If you are really unclear about a decision, make the decision one way or the other (it works just as well with multiple options, though not with a coin). Pretend that is your final decision and see how it feels. If it feels terrible. Try the other option(s) for a little while.
Meditation is one way to get in touch with what the universe is trying to tell us. I won’t tell you how to meditate because if you don’t already know there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of sites, apps and books with detailed advice. In terms of intuition, by meditating you empty your head and leave room for the answers you’re looking for. They may come as light-bulb ideas after the meditation, or as pictures, words or sensations during the meditation. You can ask a question at the beginning of your meditation, before you begin to clear your mind.
Signs and synchronicities
Sometimes the answers come in the form of signs or coincidences in every day life. You were just thinking about a friend and you see someone drive by in the same car that your friend has – call them! You’re trying to decide whether to buy a particular phone and you see three people having problems with the same type – don’t buy it! When you are open to these signs and you follow them, life gets more interesting.
Whispers from the universe
If you get really tuned in, you can start to hear the answers without even asking a question. It often comes as just a whisper, a hint of an idea: “leave early”, “talk to that person”. Or it might come as an image of a place, a person, which route to take. When you follow these suggestions, life seems to flow more smoothly, you’re in the right place at the right time and you meet the right people – not always for major life events, sometimes just to have a lovely day – though hopefully also for major life events!
When you can’t tune in
Sometimes, none of the alternatives feel good and we need to investigate what is going on.
Many things can put pressure on us, making it hard to make a decision. Having a limited amount of time to decide; other people watching/judging; if the decision feels very important and you don’t want to get it wrong, etc.
Try and take some of the pressure off. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that much and you can just choose anyway. Get away by yourself for a short while – go to the bathroom if necessary – and just clear your head and get in touch with what you feel. Extend the time limit if you can.
Sometimes your intuition tells you that something is wrong for you and sometimes you are just afraid. If all you feel is discomfort or “no”, it’s hard to tell which it is. However, if it’s your intuition telling you something is not right for you, you should feel better about the thought of not choosing that option. If your fear is telling you not to do something and you think about not choosing that option you will usually feel just as bad or worse. An example of this would be having to make a speech in front of a bigger group than you are used to. You might be afraid of doing it, but you know deep down that you want to do it to develop and progress. The idea of NOT doing it would make you feel worse.
With the example of a speech, you can probably understand the logic of it, even if you are feeling afraid. In more complicated situations it might not be so obvious though, for example, quitting your job to do something you are passionate about. However, if you have taken the time to get quiet and really sense what is right for you, you can feel confident in your decision, perhaps still being afraid and yet having that deep-down sense that “this is right and good (for me at this time)”.
Wants & desires
Funnily enough, wanting something badly can really put you off hearing your inner voice. I see this in my children when they REALLY want something, they sometimes can’t tell that their intuition is saying NO and it happens to everyone in big and small ways. If you really want that dessert, you don’t hear the voice saying you’ve had enough; if you really want this new house or job, it’s the best you’ve seen and you’ve been looking for ages, it’s hard to hear the voice that says “not this one, wait a little longer”.
It is extremely easy to ignore your intuition when you are in a conflict with someone else. When we are pushing against someone else, we forget that there are more than two options: mine or theirs. There is a whole range of other possibilities, some of them much better than the idea we have stuck in our head, and if we could only stop fighting for a moment, we might be able to see other possibilities.
Try taking time out, perhaps getting quiet by yourself and ask if your option is really what is right. And ask if the other person’s option is really right. Then see if you can have a better conversation.
Distractions and habits
Obviously, if you have a decision to make and you are asking yourself questions, then distractions aren’t really an issue, but habits and distractions can affect whether you are listening in the first place. If you have a habit of eating something at 10 am, you probably won’t stop to ask yourself whether you are hungry or if you have a habit of driving a particular route at a particular time, you won’t be trying to tune in and see which way you should go. Once you have started to find answers to other questions, open up to new possibilities and ask more questions.
Distractions such as playing on your phone, or any activities that you use to fill the void, stop you from sensing what you really want to be doing – read a book, call a friend, go for a walk, contemplate the view from your window, try something new…
If you want to get the most out of your intuition, you have to make some space in your life for it, some empty space. Let yourself get bored sometimes.
Have fun with it!
The good news is that once you start practising listening to your inner guidance, all of these situations become easier. You become more sensitive to your emotions and once the magic starts happening it’s easier to pass up something you thought you wanted because you trust that something better is coming your way.
Make it fun for the little things and you won’t have to worry about your decisions any more!