From Albert Einstein to Oprah Winfrey, many top leaders ascribe their success to having followed their intuition. Intuition is that feeling in your gut when you instinctively know that something you are doing is right or wrong. It’s also that moment when you sense kindness, or fear, in another’s face. You don’t know why you feel that way; it’s just a hunch. In this blog, we will dive into what intuition is, the evidence of intuition, the difference between intuition and instinct, psychic and empathic intuition, and how you can better tap into your intuition.
A Look at Intuition
Intuition, sometimes also known as “the sixth sense” or “gut feeling,” is the ability to gain immediate understanding without the agency of conscious reasoning. Intuitive understanding bypasses the logical arm of the mind-brain network. In all probability, the majority of us have had such an experience at some point in our lives.
You may already have a good idea of what intuition is and the role it plays in your life. Perhaps you’ve had experiences like these:
- You had a sense of the best decision, like who to hire or when to make a career change.
- You had a feeling or a sense about a situation or person, for example, you knew something was wrong with your child or that you could trust a particular person.
- You knew in advance who was calling on the phone or what someone was going to say.
- You encountered intuition as part of your religious or spiritual life; perhaps receiving intuitive guidance in various circumstances.
Look over the words or phrases in the graphic below. If you have used them, you were probably describing an intuitive experience.
Even people who are familiar with intuitive experiences find intuition and how it operates hard to describe. One helpful way to understand intuition is as direct knowing or an inner knowing without thinking it through.
The Evidence of Intuition
According to Joel Pearson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, intuition is real and can be measured. In fact, it’s been widely studied by an array of scientists, spiritualists, and researchers.
In one study, participants had to decide whether dots were moving left or right on a screen. While this was occurring, subliminal messages were flashed quickly, influencing their choices. The positive subliminal messages made them trust their intuition, which resulted in more accuracy.1
Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist, says we have two different thought systems: “System 1 is fast and intuitive; system 2 is slower and relies on reasoning.” He argues that intuitive thinking can actually cloud judgment at times. But Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, believes most people don’t reason with logic alone, but also with intuition.2
Gigerenzer says intuition is a “form of unconscious intelligence.” Furthermore, researcher Kamila Maleswka doesn’t think intuition equates irrational or illogical. According to her, it’s “experience and knowledge that people gathered throughout their lives; an ability that can be trained and can play a constructive role in decision-making.”3
In another study on intuition, participants played a rigged card game. There were two decks of cards that they had to pick from. One was rigged for both big wins and big losses, while the other was small wins with rare losses. After 50 cards, a hunch began to tell participants which deck was safer. After 80 cards, they knew the difference between the decks, but before their analytical brain knew anything, they started to intuitively select from the safer deck. 4
Intuition can also depend on the task at hand. In one study, participants completed eight tasks. Four were reflective thinking and the other four were intuitive and creative thinking. The former was about discerning rules, while the latter was about innovation. Participants rated the extent they used intuition or gut feelings for both. The result was that intuition hindered the results of reflective thinking and benefited creative thinking.5
Intuition vs. Instinct
In short, intuition is a divine, finer knowledge of humanity that has both instinct and the ability to foretell future outcomes or identify a person’s true character. In contrast, instinct is a natural, raw, earthly knowledge limited to the changes affecting our natural environment/surroundings.
For example, if you undertake a project or investment and sense a feeling of unease or foretell some shortcomings that eventually lead the project or investment to a hiccup, that is intuition. If you take a walk in the park and sense that rain is coming or a tree is going to fall, that is instinct.
Here’s a deeper look into the differences and similarities between intuition and instinct:
Instincts Are More Primal
The Fight-or-Flight reaction is a common instinct that gives you a sense of potential danger and how to respond appropriately. The keyword is “reaction” as the information goes through the brain stem and demands a response similar to a reflex.
Intuition Is Derived Both From Past Experiences And Deliberate Thought
Intuition is a sense or hunch that informs one’s decisions, but the individual may or may not be able to pinpoint the source of information. There is more of a connection with the prefrontal cortex, where the feeling is evaluated with some potential logical leads. Intuition leads to intentionality on what to do with the feeling rather than a knee-jerk reaction.
Instinct Is the Sensation of Awareness Towards Changes in Our Natural Surroundings
Instinct tells us of any impending danger coming to sight. For instance, instinct in animals allows them to detect the ecological imbalances of their natural habitat like a forest fire, which leads and guides them to migrate to a safer place to live.
Instinct in humans fulfills the natural expansion of life and survival. It enables us to watch out for incoming dangers or misfortunate incidents, similar to the animal instinct.
Intuition Is the Faculty of a Higher Sense of Perception
This higher sense of perception is a level of development above instinct. Intuition is the ability to identify a person’s moral character, be it of good or bad intention. However, intuition can only be developed after the basic instinct of being constantly aware of the natural surroundings and their changes – instinct is a prerequisite to gaining intuition.
As an exception, intuition is sometimes gifted in certain individuals, hence you may notice some people have a keen perception to foretell the outcome of a phenomenon or even an impending windfall or problem. Even so, intuition can be trained and cultivated in everyone through the constant practice of correct contemplation and meditation.
The Difference Between Psychic and Intuitive Experiences
The terms psychic ability and intuition are often used interchangeably, and while there is some overlap, many individuals define them differently. Intuition is a natural ability that every single person has without having to put effort into aside from listening to your body and trusting it.
Psychic ability, though, is preternatural and often takes effort to develop and maintain. Perhaps the main difference is that intuition is based on external environmental information, whereas psychic ability is not. Psychic individuals tend to be highly intuitive, but intuitive people are not always psychic.
The overlap with psychic ability is that the mind usually isn’t aware of where the information is coming from. Listening to your intuition helps you tap into your psychic ability; the common ground between them lies in learning to look inward, focusing, and trusting what you’re receiving.
Psychic experiences, on the other hand, have absolutely no reliance on external environmental factors. They are preternatural in the sense that there’s no explainable reason why that information has been received in the way that it has been.
In her book, Hidden Channels of the Mind, Louise Rhine, the wife of famous Duke University parapsychologist J.B. Rhine, analyzed thousands of intuitive and psychic stories that the public sent to her. She noticed that psychic experiences occur most frequently in emotional situations or where there are emotional connections.
Are You An Intuitive Empath?
Intuitive empaths are believed to be a unique kind of empath that combines empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, with instinct and perception. According to Judith Orloff, MD, a psychiatrist, intuitive empath, and the author of The Empath’s Guide To Survival: Life Strategies For Sensitive People, intuitive empaths may have the following traits:
- A psychic ability that can manifest as a sense of knowing
- An openness to telepathy
- An ability to receive messages in dreams
- A capacity for animal and plant communication
- An ability to receive gut feelings and the signals of the body
Some people believe that intuitive empaths fall into certain categories and have subtly different characteristics. While the research is lacking, you may feel your traits and characteristics resemble one of the following types if you identify as an intuitive empath:
Highly Intuitive Empath
A highly intuitive empath is believed to have very high levels of intuition. They are said to be extremely perceptive and sensitive to others’ emotions. They may take on the suffering of others and often go the extra mile for people as a result. Highly intuitive empaths may also be easily overwhelmed by noises and smells.
Claircognizant Intuitive Empath
While there is no evidence supporting clairvoyance, some people believe claircognizant intuitive empaths may have psychic and telepathic abilities. It’s suggested that they have a strong sense of knowing, whether it’s telling when someone is lying or perceiving the best course of action to take in any situation.
Emotional Intuitive Empath
Some believe that emotional intuitive empaths tend to absorb others’ emotions and can become easily drained and exhausted as a result. They can be hugely impacted by external energy and need to be very careful about who they choose to spend time with.
One study noted that people with high trait empathy may be able to tap into other people’s emotions. However, there is no evidence that this is the case for intuitive empaths specifically.5
Animal and Plant Intuitive Empath
Animal and plant intuitive empaths are believed by some to feel a deep connection to flora and fauna and have the ability to communicate with them. They are considered to be very nurturing, loving, and compassionate.
According to one study, plants are in constant dialogue with organisms in their environment through volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This may even have applied uses for agriculture. However, there is no current research indicating that human beings can communicate with plants via VOCs.6
Tapping Into Your Intuition
Intuition is a powerful extrasensory intelligence that we all have; but, because it occurs subconsciously, it takes more sensitivity and subtle approaches to hear what it has to say.
Developing intuition is a skill that you can get better at with the right techniques. Here’s how to feed your intuition so it can be flourishing and ready to advise:
- Trust your gut feeling. Research suggests that emotion and intuition have a physical presence in our gut. The gut is lined with a network of neurons and is often referred to as the “second brain.” It’s known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), and it contains about 100 million neurons, which is more than the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system but less than the brain. This is why we get nervous about having to make a tough decision or knowing we’ve made a bad one.
- Listen. It sounds simple enough – and it is. Your intuition can’t talk to you if you’re not listening. When you start to take notice, good things can happen.
- Feel. You can feel your intuition in your belly or in the form of goosebumps on your skin. It may even send a shiver down your spine, race your heart, and quicken your breath. Sometimes it’s even more subtle and the only way to describe it is as a “knowing.” You’ll feel when something is right – it will feel clear, nourishing, and enriching. You’ll also feel when something is off – it may feel like an ache or a flattening. Trusting your intuition might be difficult at first, but give it time.
- Be ready to let bad feelings go. Negative emotions will cloud intuition, which is why when you’re angry or depressed, bad decisions can happen easily. Research has backed this, finding that people made better intuitive choices in a word task when they were in a positive mood as compared to when they were in a negative mood.
- Pay attention to what’s going on around you. The more information you can gather from the environment, the more the intuitive, subconscious part of your brain has to work with – and the more accurately it will inform your decisions.
- Find time to be silent and still. Having solitude turns down the clamor of the world and allows you to tune in to your intuition. Your intuition is always sending warnings and encouragement but you may be too busy to notice. Let your mind wander and be open to what comes to you – feelings, thoughts, or words. One of the ways to do this is through mindfulness, which gets rid of mental clutter and makes way for you to connect with your intuition.
Intuition is an incredibly powerful tool for decision-making. It ensures we respond in the moment, freeing up valuable mental resources to tackle novel experiences and optimize learning. Intuition provides us with a “gut” response – an inner voice – beyond logic or learned responses, revealing both who we are and the knowledge we have gained.
Intuition is also understood in many cultures as fundamental to religious and spiritual experience. Consider this: no one can point to any Deity as a material object or describe the physical dimensions of prayer. Worship is inherently an intuitive experience, a spiritualized dialogue among people and what many call the divine.
Have you had an intuitive experience? Let us know in the comments!