Why You Should Trust Your Intuition

We’ve all experienced it - the ability to form a firm conclusion based off of a feeling. A gut feeling. We cannot explain it, but we know deep down that it’s the truth. And it drives me nuts.

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I am decisive. I am rational. I am frustrated when I feel as though I know something is true with absolutely no basis. I want to be able to explain the reasons for my decisions not only to others but to myself. How am I to justify my rationale when it’s only comprised of, “My stomach churns at the thought of going through with the other option?" Surprisingly, that justification is sufficient all on its own.

Intuition - a gut feeling that something is true. It’s more academically defined as “the ability to understand immediately, without conscious reason.” The key right here is the word ‘conscious.’ Before, I had this idea that intuition was absolute witchcraft, and that there was no reason at all to trust it. Turns out, the reasons are all there; we just aren’t cognizant to them.

Scientists speculate that only about five percent of our thinking is conscious. Five percent. It makes you wonder what would happen if we thought with one hundred percent! Well, we actually do without knowing it. The rest of the proportion goes to the subconscious. These are the inner wheels that turn without us realizing it because frankly, it’d be distracting. David Eagleman wrote in his book, Incognito, that if the subconscious was active, it’d be the inner voice that blurts out literally everything that’s going on at that moment, internally and externally. “Hey, the sky is blue. Also, your macrophages just ate a bacterium. Wash your hands next time, please. Also, the sky is STILL blue. Your kidney has been filling your bladder with pee this entire time. Did I mention the sky’s blue?” And on. It’d be downright annoying if our inner monologue was engulfed by the most mundane possible narrative.

The conscious, on the other hand, sends flaring signals when the information in and around us is important. Your body doesn’t tell you when your kidney is producing filtrate. Your body tells you when you need to empty the filtrate in its storage container - when you need to pee. Interestingly enough, this same logic applies to decision making. Our subconscious sorts through all the nitty-gritty information without telling us then notifies the conscious when a conclusion has been made. When I first encountered this concept in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, I was shook.

Gladwell speculates a curious psychological wiring occurs when we feel the tug of intuition. When someone gains experience over a long period of time, they develop not just those experiences, but all the discrete elements of those experiences. They have slices of those experiences. When someone encounters an event reminiscent to one of these slices within a new experience, their brain is reminded of the past, usually unconsciously. Gladwell dubbed this cognitive phenomenon ‘thin-slicing,’ and it’s been tremendously useful to validate intuition. Finally, I had a reason to have no reason. I felt far more comfortable trusting my intuition, my gut feeling. Really, it’s appropriately named a 'gut feeling.' Physiologically, your mind and gut are intertwined by networks of neurons that send information back and forth. When your mind produces a potential scenario and you feel queasy, that’s legit. If your body physically recoils at the thought that something may be wrong, then something may actually be wrong.

I hope this research puts your mind at ease. If you have a good feeling about someone, go for it. If you have a bad feeling about someone, stay the heck away from them. Your brain knows more than you. Trust it!

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Image credit: Tiffany Pollard NOT HAVING IT / You ARE stronger than you think you are