Don’t ignore that gut feeling.
Too often we clutch at analysis and ignore our instinct – a clear, distinct message from the inside, bubbling up because of our previous knowledge and experience, perhaps because the seductive analysis is denying our intuitive, surprisingly solid logic. “It’s time for instinct to be respected as a deeper source of intelligence that enhances our everyday decision-making,” career coach Rick Snyder writes in Decisive Intuition.
His book is aimed at business entrepreneurs, for whom stories of intuition are of course widely celebrated. But government executives can be entrepreneurs as well. While it’s obviously not a good career move to decline to write the detailed report your boss demands because your intuition is telling you clearly what to do, often interpreting the right direction after the report is submitted calls for intuition. Indeed, Snyder argues with the advent of artificial intelligence, big data and the digital age, intuition is needed more than ever to balance humanity and emotional intelligence with the vast swaths of data to make a good decision.
He says that the conscious, rational mind is limited. Intuition is connected to a deeper intelligence inside all of us that enriches our lives personally, professionally, and creatively. And it’s a skill: Something you can learn, develop and refine.
But five obstacles prevent us from taking advantage of our intuition:
- The rational mind: The speed and volume of our thoughts, continuing from the moment we wake to the moment we go to sleep, pushes aside our inner signals and cues, preventing us from seeing all angles of a problem. We enter deeper brain states when we access our non-conscious mind but that doesn’t happen easily. To reconnect with our intuition we often have to deprogram from our default patterns of thinking – we know what we know so don’t usually go further. We over-identify with our thoughts and assume that what we think is true.
- Doubt: We second-guess our deeper knowing, disempowering ourselves. “The destructive result is that we stop trusting ourselves. Doubt can creep in, especially when a situation seems risky and unfamiliar. As intuition is neither linear nor predictable, it is a threat to the control aspect of the mind, which seeks order,” he notes.
- Busyness: The overstimulation of our lives – what he calls “go mode” – orients us towards tasks that take us away from listening to our inner guidance, which requires stillness and space to access. Stillness helps us to be receptive and open to what is happening in the moment.
- Fear: Intuition doesn’t come from our conscious mind and thus our known universe. We can’t control it – it is unpredictable and may rouse powerful feelings. We feel vulnerable. So we try to return to the comfort zone of the known and familiar. We need to lean into these fears, starting with trying intuition in small doses rather than on the dominant issues facing us. “Listening to, trusting, and acting on your intuition no matter how much fear arises will build experience and confidence, and become one of your most valuable resources over time,” he argues.
- Ego: We all have stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, creating and defending self-image. If those stories don’t include being intuitive – if your stories celebrate your logical skills and rationality – you will block off intuitive feelings. But he counters this by arguing your intuition is rooted in a deeper source of authenticity. “It is about having the courage to say or express what you are feeling from deep within. Intuition threatens our nice little story we have about ourselves. This is great news, because we are so much more than we believe we are,” he says.
If you push past those obstacles, there’s another. Executives want to seize control – plan and act. So plan to be more intuitive, and act. But it’s not that simple since he advises you don’t find your intuition, your intuition finds you.
He still comes up with some options, with that conundrum at the heart of the first bit of direction: Make space so your intuition can find you. You need to reorient from your go-go mentality, slowing down so you can be in touch with and even guided by the deep knowing inside. Remove yourself from your desk and interrupt your routine when struggling with a decision, making people know you’ll be unavailable for 30 minutes. Walk around the block. Move your body. Get present, letting your thoughts about the day slip away and immersing yourself fully in the present moment.
A similarly helpful exercise is to take a breath and go within when asked a question or dealing with an issue at a meeting. Do a quick inventory of what you are feeling in the moment. Notice what stands out. Avoid reactive problem-solving. Consider what you’re feeling – what is your inner radar indicating?
Doing this during a meeting can be helpful not just with the immediate quandary. “Following your inner radar can be especially difficult in meetings. Yet, whenever a leader takes the time to listen to a question and really ponder it, everyone else in the room feels a sense of gravity and respect because the leader is truly considering the situation. By honouring themselves with a pause, such leaders train others to do the same,” he points out.
He says there are many chances to practise pausing in a work environment. In every space you create, there is a chance to change perspective and consider new possibilities. “When we interrupt the usual mode of being, we shift our ways of thinking and responding, and make room for the deeper intelligence within to find us,” he says.
He stresses that slowing down is a surprisingly effective action step. “The paradox is: When you allow time to slow down for your intuition to find you, you arrive at a decision more quickly. By relaxing your mind and accessing your deeper consciousness, the answer is already there, waiting for you,” he says.
If you’re dubious, he offers this statistic: Neuroscience shows that the subconscious mind processes 20 million environmental stimuli per second compared to 40 (yes, 40) interrupted by the conscious mind. He compares it to a 20-lane highway versus a single lane in terms of processing speed. You are connecting dots that your conscious mind can’t possibly hold. Developmental biologist Bruce Lipton has said: “The subconscious mind, the most powerful information processor known, specifically observes both the surrounding world and the body’s internal awareness, reads the environmental cues, and immediately engages previously acquired (learned) behaviours – all without the help, supervision or even awareness of the conscious mind.” So slowing down the conscious mind fast tracks your way to a greater information resource.
The saboteur in this effort could be your inner critic. Relax and open up… and negative thoughts might flood in. He urges you to make friends with your inner critic – distinguishing it from your intuitive voice – to be successful. He notes the inner critic is only part of you, not all of you, and you should map it – considering its characteristics, when it arises, what moods, behaviours and emotions trigger it. When it is activated, pay attention, naming what is happening – this is your inner critic stirring, not your true, whole being.
Understand the positive intention behind the inner critic’s prodding. What is it protecting? How can you integrate its wisdom as you move ahead without being paralyzed by its negativity? “When you can accept how it’s trying to serve you, the critic begins to disarm its grip. There is nothing to fight because you are both on the same side,” he says.
Turning on your intuition is not as simple as turning on a tap. There are obstacles. It will feel uncomfortable, at least initially. But as you become more comfortable allowing your intuition to play a role at work, it will be easier. And the results, he argues, will be better than just depending on your rational mind.