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Should you trust your intuition and gut feelings or not?

You are lost.

Your mind tells you to go left, but your gut tells you to go right.

What should you do next?

For my 2016 Self-Love Project this month, I’m focusing on trust. Trust is a firm belief in someone or something. And trusting our intuition is the best demonstration of faith.

There is no reason to trust our gut feelings. It doesn’t provide us with concrete evidence. It doesn’t make logical sense. It just gives us the answer. And we have to decide whether to follow it or not. That for most people is scary.

But intuition is surprisingly accurate despite having no explanation.

“Intuition is only right 100% of the time.” Lester Levenson

I believe that intuition is always right. But the problem is sometimes we couldn’t distinguish our intuition from our thoughts and emotions.

Take me for an example. Just last year, I was faced with this dilemma of staying in a contract job or joining an animation studio. Something doesn’t feel right with joining the animation studio. But I thought I had this weird vibe because I was afraid to make a job switch. So I decide to be “courageous” and went ahead. In the end, the deal with the animation studio didn’t pan out and I was left with no job.

I had mistaken my intuition for fear.

So how do we tell apart our intuition from other noises?

What Is Intuition?

Google has a pretty good definition of intuition. According to Google:

Intuition is the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.

The keywords to take note here are “conscious” and “reasoning”.

Intuition comes from the unconscious. It doesn’t require a conscious effort on our part to activate it. Carl Jung defined it as “perception via the unconscious”. It is an “abstract function”. Most people deem it as:

  • gut feeling,
  • sixth sense,
  • gut instincts,
  • spiritual guide,
  • hunch,
  • inner wisdom, or
  • inner vision.

On the surface, intuition seems invalid or random because no work was done. But the truth is information was indeed processed. It was just processed unconsciously and not revealed to our conscious mind.

People who are highly intuitive (those with “N” in their MBTI profile) would experience a lot of “A-ha” moments. They are able to see connections between two different things, understand deeper meanings, and solve problems creatively. And all of these were done with any reasoning.

What Is the Difference Between Intuition and Thoughts or Emotions?

Intuition vs. Thoughts

Intuition gives us the answer upfront, while thoughts start with the reasoning.

It’s like doing a Maths question. Intuition would tell us immediately what is the best method to use to solve the question. Thoughts, on the other hand, will get us to compare different methods and see which one makes more sense to use.

Like I was in New York once. Right in the beginning, I was told by my intuition to watch the Broadway play, Orphans. But it was interrupted by my thoughts. My mind kept asking, “Should I watch Orphans? Is it the right show for me to watch? Perhaps I should watch a musical instead.” So I sat there in the cold at the steps of TKTS, trying to figure out what shows to watch.

If you can’t tell intuition and thoughts apart, ask yourself:

What comes first – answer or reasoning?

Thoughts are mostly noisy. They want to make sense of everything. They want you to examine, reason, and analyze. So that we make a perfect choice.

Intuition is always clear what is best for us. It doesn’t need to explain its choice. I do however come up with reasoning afterward for the sake of communication. Most people want to know why and how I derive my conclusion.

Intuition vs. Emotions

It’s much harder to tell apart intuition and emotions because both of them give us bodily sensations. In her video, Marie Forleo said that intuition makes us feel either expansive or contracted. When we feel expansive, our chest and shoulders open up, our face lit up, we feel good going forward even if we might have a little fear in us. When we feel contracted, however, everything starts to pull in and we feel a sense of dread.

Emotions are different in the sense they affect our normal body functions. For example, fear and anxiety. Our breath gets shorter, our heart beats faster, our body feels tense and we might sweat a little more. The same goes for excitement. Even though it’s a positive emotion, our heart beats faster when we are excited.

Intuition is neutral, while emotions are reactive.

Intuition is neutral. It’s firm yet soft, and it has a quiet presence. It wouldn’t force us to do anything. It will just suggest to us, “This is what’s best for you.” or “You might want to avoid this.” and let us decide on our own.

In contrast, emotions are reactive and easily influenced by external factors or our thoughts. When our thoughts keep filling our minds with negative images of the future and “what ifs”, they cause us to panic and be afraid.

Furthermore, emotions are energy. They are wavering. They change from moment to moment. They come and go. They are like guests. They visit us only once in a while, while intuition is always there and clear about its choices.

How to Trust Your Intuition and Listen to Your Gut Feelings

We have a gut feeling but that doesn’t mean we would trust and listen to it. Usually, our mind gets in the way and cloud our vision. I know it first hand when I dealt with depression last September.

My intuition had been telling me to be a writer for years. It showed me lots of hints. But I refused to listen. Because to me, it didn’t make sense to be a writer in Singapore. My mind kept telling me I won’t be able to make a living as a writer in Singapore. It wasn’t until I had depression that it forced me to listen to my intuition.

You don’t have to be like me.

Our intuitive voice gets clearer when we develop it. So here are some ways of developing intuition:

1. Meditate (or other relaxing activities)

Not everyone loves to meditate. Sitting still and staying quiet for a few minutes could make some people feel restless.

But for the intuitive voice to be heard, we need to quiet ourselves down. Even though intuition is firm, it’s pretty soft-spoken compared to our other voices. It gets clearest when you are relaxed and quiet. So mediation does help to empty and calm our mind enough for us to tap into our inner wisdom.

We can’t hear our intuitive voice when we are too emotional or analytical.

But meditation isn’t the only way. We could empty your mind by doing relaxing activities such as walking in the street. I used to write songs and got most of my ideas from walking.

Some of us might experience insights when we were about to sleep at night or in the showers. For example, I would jump out of bed at night sometimes to scribble inspiration in the dark.

As long as we are relaxed, intuition would come out naturally.

2. Observe

Another good way of developing intuition is to observe. Observing the subtle differences between our emotions and hunches would make us better at differentiating them.

Observe also means looking at the situation from a third party’s point of view.

It means detaching ourselves from the situation. When we are constantly busy and too emotionally involved in something, we would be oblivious to the hints that our intuition leaves us. Taking a step back from the situation to see what is and removing ourselves from the situation would allow us to see the bigger picture.

We all have the answer. We just need to pay attention to the answer when it presents itself to us.

3. Be Receptive

Sometimes, we might not be able to accept the message from our intuition. It might not make any sense to us now so we reject it. But if we keep dismissing our insights, we aren’t developing it. Instead, we are asking our intuition not to disturb us, and one day it won’t.

The solution to this is to be receptive and not judge our insights, even if we couldn’t accept them now. Listening to our insights doesn’t mean we have to act on it immediately. We could let them sit for a few days.

If you have an insight which you couldn’t accept now, sleep on it.

Most of the time, I would jot down my ideas and act on them later. I love sleeping on my decisions because sometimes I’m not sure if it was my intuition talking or my fear is talking. Fear tends to fade away after a few days while intuition stays strong.

Also, be willing to let go of our existing beliefs. Beliefs limit our ability to perceive the situation as it is. Instead, open up our mind by reading more books and listen to different points of view.

Intuition is based on the information and experience we have collected through our five senses over our lifetime. So the more information we collect, the better our intuition would be.

4. Play with it

Instead of getting our intuition to help us make big life decisions, why not practice it with the small stuff first?

Sometimes, when I’m not in a hurry, I wouldn’t use the map. I would let my intuition guide me to the destination. At times, I got it correct and at times I don’t. But it doesn’t matter, it’s fun to be lost.

But I realize when I’m in a hurry, my intuition is mostly wrong. Because I’m so anxious to get to the destination, my anxiety clouds my instincts. So it’s best to practice with insignificant activities first.

Another good game to play is the elevator game. Ask your intuition to tell you which lift would open first and stand in front of the lift. See if your intuition is right or not. I also like to guess the winner of competitions such as American Idol or Survivor. I want to train my gut feeling to spot potential winners.

5. Just believe

Previously, people asked me why did I go to Malaysia to work as an animator:

  • How could I believe a company that is from another country?
  • Wouldn’t I be scared that I would be cheated?
  • And how did I know that giving up my high paying job as an accountant for a low paying job was right for me?

Well, I would always give them answers and explanations which I had prepared beforehand. But the truth is I just know because my intuition tells me so.

Trust = Believe. If you want to trust your intuition, just believe it.

We can’t develop our intuition if we doubt it all the time. Intuition wouldn’t give us any explanation. It’ll just give us the path to follow. And our only task is to believe and follow. Simple yet difficult for most.

The universe won’t let us suffer. We have to believe that the universe is on our side, no matter what decisions we make.

Even though I was wrong about being an animator, my intuition has always been right. My intuition had been hinting me to be a writer, but I wasn’t listening. I could continue to write after I published my first book in 2014, but I wasn’t ready for it. So my intuition gave me an alternative (i.e. animator) first and patiently guided me back to being a writer.

Although our intuition often doesn’t make sense, there’s no “reason” NOT to believe it. Don’t you think so?

Featured Photo Credit: I’m Breathing / Shanon Wise