“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” – Albert Einstein
I used to think of intuition as a nebulous, catchword used by the devotees of the alternative health movement. It seemed to me that it was a word that could be substituted for coincidence. Adding to the mysticism surrounding intuition was the notion that females possessed more of it than men. When I would find myself ambling the aisles at a health fair, it seemed that every fourth person was marketing themselves as an Intuitive. These people claimed to be able to “read my soul” and tell me about my life journey. I used to scoff at such notions; then one day I actually went to see an Intuitive and my perspective changed.
The word intuition comes from the Latin, intueri, which means to look inside. Over the past several years, I have met many people who seem to have a genuine ability to read people. I wanted to know more about this ability so I began a quest to understand intuition and try to demystify it. To help me understand intuition, it was helpful to think of it as a cognitive (learning) style. If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI), you will know that Intuitive is one of the possible descriptors a person can have for cognitive style. The MBTI is based on the work of Carl Jung who thought that people essentially sensed their world using Thinking and Feeling or using Intuition and Sensing. The MBTI also includes categories for Introversion and Extroversion. There are 16 possible MBTI types. As I recall, my MBTI produced a result of INTP (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving).
In the MTBI, you are either: Extroverted/Introverted; Intuitive/Sensing; Thinking/Feeling; Judging/Perceiving. Examining the category of Intuitive/Sensing, Richard Scholl, from the University of Rhode Island, said that people who make decisions by Sensing learn by:
- Collects data through five senses
- Uses primarily inductive reasoning
- Focuses on details
- Learns experientially
- Sees the differences between two concepts or situations
- Is able to focus on and isolate component parts of a system
- Disassociates process with goals
- “Knows” something (cognition) because she/he has seen or experienced it.
Where as Intuitives, learn by:
- Develops knowledge through deduction.
- Prefers to view things globally
- Sees the similarities between two concepts
- Sees the connections and integration between parts of a system
- Learns theoretically
- Connects processes with goals, often goal rather than process focused
- “Knows” something (cognition) because it is a logical deduction or extension of a theory/concept
In short, we could say Intuitives are “big picture learners” whereas Sensors are “detail focused”.
This still does not fully explain how Intuitives read people. In the book “The Intuitive Way” by Penny Pierce, she describes Intuition as the sense of knowing something by the feeling of a “vibration” at a gut level. In speaking with intuitives, I have heard them describe these feelings. While some may do readings using Tarot cards, others simply ask questions and feel for subtle vibrations within themselves that are then interpreted.
Now if you are more of the “sensing type”, you might be thinking that the notion of a subtle vibration providing a signal and an opportunity for learning is a bit of a stretch. Here is a headline from a recent study that the deductive, sensing type may find interesting: “Gut Feeling Could Prevent Unhappy Marriage.” This study which was recently published in the journal Science, asked participants who had been married less than six months to quickly press a button associating a positive or negative word to their partner’s photo. The study design focused on speed of response which was related to a more visceral or gut reaction rather than a conscious decision. The people who responded positively and quickly remained happily married years later whereas the people who had a slower response time reported unhappy marriages at follow-up.
Professor Gerard Hodgkinson of the Centre for Organizational Strategy, Learning and Change at Leeds University Business School, stated “Intuition is the brain quickly drawing on past experiences and external cues to make a decision on a non-conscious level.” As evidenced by the Happy Marriage study, it is a form of thinking that happens so fast we didn’t have time to involve the conscious brain. “People usually experience true intuition when they are under severe time pressure or in a situation of information overload or acute danger, where conscious analysis of the situation may be difficult or impossible,” says Hodgkinson.
Researchers are starting to not only talk about the need for intuition but prove that it exists and has value. As our lives have become less reliant on intuition and more reliant on facts and conscious decision making, most of us have lost the ability to sense using intuition. I believe our ancestors would have made more of their life and death decisions based on intuition. Since we do not have to fear the lurking saber-toothed tiger or defend our camp with a club, we rely less on gut instinct and as most people now date using the internet as the initial point of contact, we have de-trained our gut instinct about potential mates too.
Some people can wiggle their ears and spread their toes using their own muscles. If you can’t do it, don’t blame your anatomy – try training; the same goes for intuition. Next time you reach the proverbial fork in the road and need to decide on a direction, feel for the vibration and trust that you still have the anatomy and physiology to make intuition work. Intuition can make your life better by helping you make better decisions but it needs to be trained. Having met some highly skilled Intuitives, I am confident in the ability for modern humans to re-learn this skill.