September 10, 2018

Something just doesn’t feel…right.

You can’t quite put your finger on it, but if life were a literal cartoon, little red flags would be popping up everywhere.

Maybe it’s the hmm you thought after the weird way a first date ended or the feeling you get when you go into work on a Monday, questioning whether you should do this task or that task first. Or, maybe it’s as simple as that thought bubble that arises when you reach a street corner, and part of you says to go left when you always go right.

All those little signs are your intuition. And boy, does it want you to pay attention.

Intuition is that sense of knowing what the right answer or decision is before you make it. It's a deep, internal, visceral feeling. You know your intuition is around when you say things like, “I can’t really explain it, but…” or “It just felt right” or, more likely, “It just felt wrong.”

Intuition is that sense of knowing what the right answer or decision is before you make it.
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Intuition can feel like this “woo woo” thing, but experts back it up as valuable. It’s our past experiences and learnings feeding us information in the present. Strong decision making is all about having a mix of intuition and logic.

“To act on the basis of intuition would mean that you open your mind to your own thoughts and feelings and balance those against the data gained by your senses,” Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today.

Our intuition is always there. It's that feeling that we should speak up in a meeting or say hi to that person at the party—our intuition knows. But sometimes our fear holds us back from acting on it. Fear that we’ll fail. Fear that we’ll look silly. Fear that we won’t get a second chance.

I’ve been in many situations that felt like the wrong fit. My intuitive brain would say, Back away! But my rational brain would say, But don’t you really need to do this? And it’s not so bad, right? I’ve learned over the years how to trust myself a tiny bit more—it’s not a perfect system, mind you, but more like an essential redirecting and refocusing back into what fires you up.

Here’s how to activate your own intuition muscle.

1. Think: 'Is This Right For Me?'

Usually, intuition arises when you’re debating between two options. Should I stay, or should I go? Yes or no? Cheese fries or onion rings? But the real question should be: Is this right for me, or for somebody else?

This question has saved me a lot of time and energy over the years. Because if I’m waffling over an opportunity and ask myself “Is this right for me or for somebody else?” that shuts down an endless pro-con list and lets a deeper feeling of intuition take over. If you can imagine giving this opportunity to someone else—literally, imagine yourself handing it over—and feeling OK about it, then it’s probably not for you.

2. ‘YES! or no?’

This idea was popularized by Derek Sivers, who found himself incapable of making a decision about an upcoming trip. Finally, he set down a strict divide. If the answer to a question isn’t “heck yes, I want to do this!” then it should be an instant “no.”

If you didn’t respond to the opportunity with an enthusiastic YES! the minute you heard about it, perhaps it’s not the best fit for you right now.
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This is like taking your intuition for a test drive. Think about something you can’t decide on right now. Maybe it’s attending a bachelorette party or taking on a new hobby. If you didn’t respond to the opportunity with an enthusiastic “YES!” the minute you heard about it, perhaps it’s not the best fit for you right now. Because you know how you feel when something is a “heck yes”—you can’t wait to reply and say “I’M IN!!!!,” and probably reach for your phone to text your friend. You’re that excited. That’s because, intuitively, you know it’s right.

3. Remember Your 'Intuition For the Win' Moments

Even if you think you’ve been avoiding your intuition, there are likely so many examples when it worked in your favor. Your gut told you to say yes to that concert (where the surprise opening act turned out to be your favorite singer) or that random coffee meeting with someone who ended up getting a big promotion the next year—making it your best networking move ever.

Anytime you’re debating something and you hear that 'do it/don’t do it' voice in your head, write it down.
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Anytime you’re debating something and you hear that “do it/don’t do it” voice in your head, write it down. Consider this your intuition log, and a few hours or days or weeks later, you can read through it and see your intuition track record.

4. Check In With Yourself Post-Decision

One of my friends told me this week that she quit her job after 10 years. cue confetti and streamers

“How did you know it was right?” I asked her. She said the timing was never going to feel exactly right, but once she made the decision, she felt instantly happy and couldn’t stop smiling. She felt settled with her decision. Her intuition was leading the way.

To try this out: Make the decision—either for real, or just tell yourself you have—and check in on your reaction. How does your body feel? Your brain? Are you excited in an “OMG-what’s-next?” way or an “OMG-what-did-I-just-do” way? See what your gut is telling you.

Your intuition is a future compass—and it’s showing you the way.


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Need a little help remembering your power when it comes to making decisions? Listen to our Own Your Power meditation in the Shine iOS app.

Read next: A Gentle Reminder: Your Happiness Counts