Many self-help writers will talk about the power of intuition, about how by making decisions based on gut feelings can achieve even better results than through consciously thought out decisions. It is easy enough to appreciate this advice; everyone knows from their own experience that this method can work, that by simply getting “in” to a situation, or by “going with the flow”, we can get things done better than if we think them through more carefully.
Still, while everyone understands this idea, it is not always so easy to follow through with it: even though we know that intuition can get us farther than a ready-made plan, we often find ourselves, without such a plan, at a loss for what to do, and no gut feelings to go on. Because this is the case, here are five points which might help you get beyond simply getting the idea of acting intuitively, and actually doing it.
- Forget about yourself. Think about what is happening at times when you are deliberating about something, about what is going on in your head. I think you’ll find that, often, you are thinking about how others will view your decision. If I decide this or that, how will I seem to those around me? Based on this way of thinking, making the best decision means simply pleasing those around you. It is almost too big a platitude to even mention that it is impossible to please everyone. But, even beyond forgetting what others are thinking about you, you’re better off not thinking of yourself at all.
- Focus on the matter itself. To forget yourself, you can’t simply make yourself vanish; you have to focus on something else. What better to focus on, then the matter itself? Within the context of the decision alone, regardless of how your decision will make you appear to others, decide what is the best thing to do. Having this kind of focus is the only way you can deal with matters directly, and even if it doesn’t please everyone, many people will likely respect you for your independence and directness. But even this is secondary: don’t even worry about acting in a way that will bring you respect from others, simply act in a way that is appropriate to the matter at hand, regardless of anything else.
- Don’t think too much. Thinking is a broad term. It’s not that you shouldn’t think at all; it is only a certain kind of thinking that you may want to avoid. If you think according to a pre-made plan or rule, you may prevent yourself from getting “in” to the moment. The whole point, after all, is to think and act intuitively, which means seeing for yourself, in an immediate way, what the right thing is to do. You need to block out all other thoughts, almost like when meditating. Only this is more like a meditation of action: you are not blocking out all external thoughts for its own sake, but to focus directly on what you are doing, and how you should respond to it “in” the very moment.
- Practice. It might sound strange to say that you should practice intuition; intuition is supposed to just “come” all on its own. Still, there is no easy fix; there is no one single thing you can do that will make everything just work automatically. That would be like shutting yourself off, and letting your cruise control take care of the work. But intuition is not like cruise control; in order to act intuitively, you need to be active. Driving itself is a good example: think about how many little things you are doing while driving that you are not even thinking about. Still, even though you are not consciously thinking these things, you are still doing them actively; you are not sitting back and letting them be done for you.
- Keep fit, physically and mentally. Keep yourself on your toes in body in mind in order to better respond to what is going on around you. The attitude that an intuition or a gut feeling will just come to you on its own, that you just have to sit and wait at your leisure, could make you sluggish, and unable to respond to situations in the intuitive way that you are trying to. On the other hand, if you regularly exercise both your mind and body, you can nurture a livelier attitude towards things, and be better prepared to act “in” the moment than if you are lazily sitting by, waiting for magic to happen all by itself. In other words, by staying on your toes in this way, you can be more ready to respond to things actively – even if you are not consciously thinking about your actions – than if you allow yourself to become sluggish, either in body or in mind.
Now, how will all of these points help you to catch hold of gut feelings, or to pick out the good gut feelings from the bad ones? Think of an example of something you have a lot of experience with, something you are good at. Let’s say it’s playing music: when you are playing music, and playing well, even at your very best, you are not thinking of yourself, or of what others are thinking of you; you have gotten “in” to the matter itself. Only afterwards, will you stop and say, “that was really good.”
When you get “in” to things in this way, there is no deliberation; there is no “should I do this or that?”, but it is seen immediately what should be done without any deliberation. Still, as much as the knowledge of what to do simply comes to you, this doesn’t mean you can just sit back and let it happen. Obviously, you need to practice to get to this point in playing music, and obviously, even the most accomplished musician isn’t going to be able to get “in” to things every single time.
Regarding gut feelings then, they are simply there or they are not there. It doesn’t make sense to talk about choosing between one and the other – in the type of intuitive activity we’re talking about, you are not supposed to be deliberating or choosing at all. The gut feeling is something that is immediately felt in the situation. You just know it when you see it, and immediately. There is no rulebook when it comes to acting intuitively; allow yourself to get into the situation, and you will just recognize what to do right away, and the feeling and the action will become the very same thing.
Think of the example of love at first sight – a cheesy example, I know – but that’s the kind of certainty you need to be able to act confidently. There can’t be an external guarantee, the certainty felt within things is necessary for you to act with the confidence that you are looking for. So there’s not question of choosing a good gut feeling from a bad one – there is only one true gut feeling – you either get it or you don’t. But don’t worry, use some or all of the ideas above to help you get “in” to a situation, and you WILL get the gut feeling – even if not right away, or not every single time.