This is episode 2 of a 3 episode series on emotional intelligence.
In the previous episode, I talked about what emotional intelligence is, how empathy should be treated as a skill, and how to practice it.
Today, I want to talk about intuition: what it is, how it plays a vital role in your decision-making process, and what we can do to have more of it.
What is Intuition?
Intuition happens when you perform an action without consciously processing the information. To put it simply, it’s your brain on autopilot.
This mental process is often associated with words like ‘hunch’ or ‘gut feeling’ — with the latter having an actual connection with our guts — because these are ways in which intuition manifests.
Have you ever arrived at a destination without realising how you actually got there?
This happens because our instincts (our hard-wired natural behaviour) allow us to have the intuition (the learned association of concepts and ideas) to make a choice. In this case, it’s dodging potholes or avoiding accidents.
I experience this often when driving to work, ironically, this episode has the very fitting name of highway hypnosis.
Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the process of making good decisions, apart from feeling good with ourselves when they’re brilliant. In reality, much like highway hypnosis, our brain drives us to that ‘aha!’ moment with intuitive thinking.
We typically solve problems with an analytical, left-brained perspective. But only when we search for the answer in our intuitive and creative right brain is when we consider the most unexpected solutions to solve the unsolvable.
So it’s safe to assume that intuition acts as an essential part of our idea formation process when we explore hypotheses, or as part of our day-to-day process when approaching solutions to problems. Intuition is in all we do.
Even a brilliant mind like Albert Einstein relied on it a lot, he said:
“I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am.”
So how do we recognise when intuition comes? How can we practice it? And how often?
Two ways to practice Intuition
There are many ways in which you can access your intuitive thinking. For me, the best way to do that is to write my thoughts down and give them some deliberate thinking.
Yes, this is a bit counterintuitive and that’s exactly why it works. It’s like building up reserves of ideas and consciously training yourself to think more, so you can have more of the unconscious and intuitive thinking when you need it.
I’ve already touched on these practices in The 6 Rules to Own Design, but today I want to dig deeper on how they are useful. I’m talking about journaling and meditation.
Think of the best detectives, scientists or innovators to ever exist. They all relied on their intuitive clues, hunches, or even dreams.
Do you know what geniuses like Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, and the great Leonardo Da Vinci all had in common?
It might come as a surprise to some of you, but there are many benefits in writing down our thoughts. There are even studies showing that writing helps us to control our emotions, but it doesn’t stop there.
Keeping track of our thoughts and intuitions allows us to do even more things, such as:
- Better connecting the dots, making sense of a situation and seeing the bigger picture;
- Removing mental blocks;
- Better understanding ourselves and others around us;
- Tracking trends, improvements, patterns and overall personal growth;
- Reflecting on previous difficulties and experiences with a different perspective;
- Realising how we actually solve problems;
Best selling author and top leadership expert Robin Sharma said this on journaling:
“Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself.”
If you have no idea where to start, journaling isn’t something that needs to be particularly structured. However, if you’re wondering what you should use to do it, it’s better to use a physical journal.
Apart from benefitting from some off-screen time, this study shows you’re better off by hand-writing your notes than taking them on your laptop.
I personally keep a small pocket journal with me, it’s literally the size of my back pocket. In this journal I capture any interesting thoughts I come across, silly or not, it doesn’t matter. The ideas could be related to design, writing, cool quotes I pick from books, or about life in general.
When I do my (almost) daily journaling — either at the beginning or end of the day — I revisit the things I jotted down and maybe dig deeper to see if there’s anything interesting in there.
But if you do need more of a structure, I suggest you take this approach from Medium writer Barry Davret on how he does his own “experience journal”. It’s where I got the inspiration for my own structure as I found it very simple and practical.
Although meditation is an ancient practice, it’s become more and more popular in the last four or five years, and for a reason.
Meditation is like going to the gym for your mind, so it shouldn’t come to a surprise that the more you do it, the more your mind becomes stronger.
These are just a few of the benefits of sitting down with your thoughts:
- It increases immune function and improves weight loss in overweight or obese individuals (i.e. it makes you healthier)
- It can improve key components of mood, like decreasing anxiety, depression and stress (i.e. it makes you happier)
- It gives you more self-control with increased focus and decreased mind wandering (i.e. it makes you more productive)
- It helps you be less aggressive and reactive to negative feedback (i.e. it reduces job strain and burnout)
Meditation is also a great way to train your intuition muscles, and whether you believe in intuition or not, meditation can change your brain to make better decisions.
Bill Gates, in one of his notes, said this about why he’s into meditation:
“For me, it has nothing to do with faith or mysticism. It’s about taking a few minutes out of my day, learning how to pay attention to the thoughts in my head, and gaining a little bit of distance from them.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m on the hype train, and I have no plans on getting off. When you start meditating consistently, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.
I personally meditate and practice mindfulness for 15–20 minutes every single day, sometimes with guided meditations, sometimes just by myself. There are numerous benefits in doing both, but it might be beneficial to start with guided meditations until you’re comfortable with doing it yourself.
This is such a broad subject, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But for those who are starting out, here’s a great step-by-step meditation guide on how to meditate.
Many people think that intuition is just some new age fad. It’s not. It’s measurable, there is a study that shows it, and it’s an essential skill to have as part of our emotional intelligence.
People with stronger intuition are more prone to great decision making. Who doesn’t want that?
Ask yourself this:
How much better could my decisions be if I looked at them from different perspectives?
How much could my life improve if I started to think about how I think?
What parts of my life can benefit from me becoming a more thoughtful and intuitive person?
Start with simple steps, and keep practicing!
So far I’ve talked about the skills of empathy and intuition and how coupling these two together could make us better listeners and decision-makers.
In the next episode, I’ll talk about Creativity and the role it plays in our idea formation. I will also give a few suggestions on how to practice our creative thinking.
Thanks for reading and sharing 🙏🏼