Your intuition can be an effective tool to help you make decisions and guide you in life.
But to get the most from this inner wisdom, you must know how and when to trust its signals.
Fortunately, you can awaken and develop your intuition and learn how to not only listen to it, but properly interpret it too.
Once you do that, you can act confidently and resolutely based on what your intuition is telling you.
In this comprehensive look at the topic of intuition, we explore what it means, the signs you might see, methods to strengthen the feeling, and the obstacles that might prevent you from using it.
Let’s start at the beginning…
What is intuition?
Intuition is a near-instant response to external circumstances and stimuli that occurs at a subconscious level and that does not follow cause-and-effect logic.
In simple terms, intuition is a sense or feeling that enables you to choose how to act in a given situation without knowing the precise reasons why that is the correct action to take. It skips the systematic thinking normally associated with decision-making.
Intuition is a complex cognitive process that can help you make sense of things that might not be immediately obvious. Intuition is sometimes referred to as your sixth sense.
What intuition is not.
Intuition is not foresight or a premonition about what is going to happen in the future— it’s the sense of knowing what the best next step to take is in the present moment.
Intuition is not a thought but a feeling. You can’t think your way to intuition. Instead, it arises from within—sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly.
Your intuition and instinct are not the same thing. Instinct is designed to keep you safe and alive at any given time—it identifies threats and helps you avoid or minimize negative consequences. In contrast, intuition can be used to make decisions for long-term benefit, which may involve facing fears or taking risks.
While it is often said that women are more in touch with their intuition than men—hence the terms “mother’s intuition” and “woman’s intuition”—anyone can access theirs and enhance it with the right approach.
What does it feel like to listen to your intuition?
How can you be sure that you are hearing your intuition and acting upon it, rather than some other feeling?
Firstly, intuition is typically a neutral or positive emotion—it is calm. It doesn’t weigh heavily on you like anxiety or fear might.
People often describe it as “knowing” that something is right or wrong. You feel inclined to do a particular thing, though that doesn’t mean you have to be impulsive and act right away. You can sit with the feeling for a while to get more in tune with what it is telling you.
It is possible to misinterpret other feelings for intuition, which is why it is so important to practice paying attention to the signals your subconscious mind sends you so that you can better recognize what you are feeling and trust yourself to act wisely.
Signs Your Intuition Is Trying To Tell You Something
Since your intuition is a gut feeling rather than thought-based reasoning or cognition, it is vital that you understand the signs it may send you. These signs include:
A sudden clarity about a decision.
Whether you have been pondering a decision for one minute, one day, one week, or one year, it may suddenly become clear to you what that decision should be. This is especially true if there is a lot of information—or complex information—that is difficult to keep at the surface level of your thinking.
Out of the blue, you may experience a calm, deep knowing about how to act—a hunch that may be difficult to explain or articulate.
Answers and solutions come when you aren’t thinking about them.
The clarity mentioned above is likely to come when you least expect it. Often, your intuition will show as an “Aha!” moment while your mind is quiet or engaged in some unrelated activity.
This is because your subconscious mind has been processing the data in the background and springs the answer on you when it has finished its calculations.
A sudden sense of urgency.
Sometimes, the chance to act passes if it is not taken. So, if you get a sudden urge to do (or not do) a thing, it is your gut telling you that you should take advantage of this limited window of opportunity.
This is different from an impulse. An impulse is a feeling you struggle to control—a feeling based on primal needs and desires. Intuition doesn’t dictate what you must do, it gives you the information you need to make a good decision but leaves that decision to you.
Still, if time is of the essence, you’ll know to make that decision swiftly.
You feel positively about a decision you took.
Soon after taking action, you might experience a feeling that it was the right action to take. You feel like a weight is lifted and that you chose wisely.
This feeling occurs before the full consequences of that action can be seen, meaning it cannot be hindsight bias—the tendency to look back on an unpredictable event and believe we predicted it.
You feel uneasy about a decision you took.
Your intuitive mind will also highlight when an action was not a good one to take. If you experience a sense of dread or regret, or feel physically uncomfortable, it may be your body and mind’s way of screaming that you need to turn back or take remedial action.
Your senses go into overdrive.
If you suddenly find yourself sensing things with extreme clarity, it could be that your intuition has picked up on something in your surroundings and is trying to make you aware of it.
That might be your hearing becoming crystal clear because your subconscious has overheard a conversation that might influence how you respond to the people having it.
It might also be that the movement of a crowd, or the body language of the people in it, is telling you that something bad is about to go down.
If your senses perk up, ask yourself what information they are trying to communicate to you.
An inner voice says YES or NO with great conviction.
Although intuition is a feeling and not a thought, you may still get a sense that a voice somewhere inside of you is talking to you. Call it intuition, call it wisdom, it doesn’t matter—you can almost hear someone saying yes or no to a choice you might be about to make.
And the voice is one you feel you must listen to and trust because it speaks with authority.
You have recurring thoughts.
When making a decision, if you find your mind returning to the same thoughts, it means you should pay more attention to the subject of those thoughts.
If the recurring thoughts are about a specific aspect of the decision, your intuition is trying to highlight it for a reason. Maybe there is something important that you haven’t considered properly.
There are patterns to your dreams.
Dreams are portals into your unconscious mind and should be considered valuable messengers of your intuition.
Our true feelings and desires often exert a great influence over the subject and intensity of our nocturnal thoughts, and if your dreams return to similar themes over and over, it’s a sign that something needs your attention.
Good fortune and coincidence are regular occurrences.
Fortune and coincidence are not driven by a mystical force—they occur because you perceive something in a particular way. That same thing would not be considered good fortune or a coincidence if you were in a different mindset.
When you do notice something, therefore, it should be considered carefully to extract the true meaning. If you notice a coincidence, you may read it as your subconscious mind highlighting a particular chance event because of its importance to a decision you are making or will soon make.
Ways To Listen To Your Intuition
To get your intuition’s input on a particular choice you must make, you can try the following exercises. Remember, intuition is a feeling, and these exercises allow you to tap into that feeling rather than help you think about something logically or rationally.
Flip a coin.
If your choice is a binary one, assign one option to heads and the other to tails. Then flip the coin and see how it lands.
If, immediately upon seeing the result, you feel happy or relieved, it means that is the decision your intuition wanted you to make.
If you feel gutted, it means that, deep down, you know you want to pursue the other option instead.
Ask a friend what they’d do.
This is slightly more involved than the coin toss because you can hear the reasons why that person would make a particular choice. You must be careful not to be swayed by their arguments—you may even want to get them to give their decision without any accompanying detail.
You should find yourself either in agreement or disagreement with your friend which will reveal what your gut is telling you to do.
Visualize yourself in the various outcomes.
If you are choosing between outcomes that are fairly certain, you can try to look forward in time in your mind’s eye and picture yourself in each of those outcomes.
Because your intuition leaves you feeling positively or negatively about a choice after it has been made, if you can visualize yourself in the different scenarios, you can pre-empt those feelings and use that to inform you of which outcome you prefer.
Set a timer for 2 minutes. Using pen and paper, start to write out your thoughts about a decision you need to make. While you don’t have to write quickly, you should avoid pausing at any point. Just let the words flow, regardless of spelling, grammar, or even clarity.
Your intuitive mind will automatically prioritize the information it considers most important, meaning that you should have most of what you need on your paper at the end of the 2 minutes.
Both the act of writing and the analysis of what you’ve written should help you get a good idea of your true feelings about something.
Your intuition will struggle to work if you hold thoughts about the decision in your head all the time. You are far more likely to have an epiphany when your mind isn’t thinking about the thing in question.
So do something to take your mind off the decision or thing—something that occupies your concentration and won’t allow it to drift. It may not always work, but you will sometimes get the answer you are looking for at the most unexpected time.
Improve your mood.
According to one study, a positive mood can enhance your intuition, while a negative mood can dull it. So, try to do something that makes you feel happier—or at least less negative—before you attempt to listen to yours.
How To Develop Your Intuition
The truth is, your intuition is already strong, but your awareness of it and ability to understand it may be weak. There are things you can do that, over time, allow you to tune in to what your intuition is trying to tell you. These include:
Journalling is a self-awareness tool that can fine-tune your intuition. It helps you analyze your life, your thoughts, and your feelings. While you can’t think your way to intuitive insight, you can train your mind to see the links between things and the patterns in things.
Journaling is an excellent way to scan for these links and patterns by looking over your journal entries to find themes and the context that those themes are mentioned in.
For example, if you want to know what to do about a friend, you can look for mentions of them and then establish whether those mentions are broadly positive or negative or what the general sentiment is. You may realize that you don’t want to be friends with this person anymore.
In the long term, you’ll start to notice if and when similar things happen with different people and trust that you already know what it means for your ongoing relationship with that person.
Another thing you can do is record every instance where you followed what you think is your intuition. Write down what it felt like, where in your body the feeling was, how you responded to the feeling, and how the situation turned out. This helps you get to know what intuition feels like and the most prominent ways it manifests in you (because it will be different for everyone). It also helps you determine what is NOT intuition.
Write in your journal every day for maximum benefit.
Analyze your mistakes.
In order for your intuition to guide your decision-making process, you must become intimately aware of how you make decisions and the outcomes of those decisions. You will learn the most from looking back at your mistakes and picking apart how you came to make that decision.
By analyzing your mistakes, you grow your learned experience. This learned experience is a vital source of information from which your intuition will guide you in future situations—both of a similar and unrelated nature.
You might think of learned experience as wisdom and intuition as the voice of your wisdom.
Avoid trying to control everything.
Intuition responds to things in real-time, but if you have a rigid idea of how events should pan out, you won’t heed that intuition when it tries to advise you.
An open mind and flexible thinking are good ways to unlock your intuition. This means loosening your grip on situations, trying not to have any expectations of how they will evolve, and detaching from your desires.
This is by no means a small ask, and it goes beyond the scope of this article, but know that if you can stop trying to control everything, you give your intuition a chance to be heard.
Practice non-judgmental observation.
Your intuition works in a split second and is partly based on what your senses are recording at the time. So, by improving your powers of observation, you will increase the chances of your intuition providing you with the optimal choice.
Living mindfully is one way to become better at observing the environment around you. You can’t absorb as much information when your mind is engaged in overthinking. By being more mindful, you give yourself the chance to take in and process more of the sensations around you.
Sight and hearing are the two most important senses to hone as they provide the most pertinent information in most circumstances. Learning to look and listen in more detail and more depth—without judging what you see or hear—will give your intuition more information to work from.
Meditation is the practice of observing your thoughts while not judging them, clinging to them, or attaching meaning to them. You allow thoughts to happen, you recognize them, but you let them leave your mind.
While each meditation is temporary, a regular meditation practice helps to quieten your racing thoughts. A quieter mind has more “space” for intuition to work.
Meditation also helps to induce a positive mood, and it has been demonstrated that a positive mood improves intuitive judgments. In other words, feeling good helps you to listen to your intuition.
When you are curious, you are observant, excited, and open-minded to infinite possibilities; these are all traits of the highly intuitive.
Curiosity doesn’t judge—it seeks knowledge, wisdom, and truth. It also helps you join the dots between the external environment and your internal world, which is essential in understanding what your gut is trying to tell you about a situation.
Creativity—whether through art or solving problems—is a common companion of intuition. By regularly engaging in creative pursuits, you awaken the full potential of your intuition.
Creativity breaches the divide between the emotional and the logical. It involves feelings and thoughts with an emphasis on interpreting the way you feel and putting that into action. This is very similar to the processes you’ll use when interpreting your intuition and making choices based on it.
Forgive yourself for intuitive decisions that don’t go to plan.
Intuition involves trusting yourself to know which direction you should be heading in, but nothing can ever run perfectly to plan all the time.
If you are to learn to trust your intuition, you must not berate yourself when things go wrong. Criticizing a decision only erodes trust, so rather than looking at something as a disaster, look at it as a learning experience.
Forgive yourself and remember that no sea is perfectly flat and no journey on it will be without its ups and downs.
The Obstacles To Trusting Your Intuition
If trusting your intuition was easy, you wouldn’t be reading this article. In truth, several things can stand in the way of you hearing what your intuition has to say and taking appropriate action based on it.
Mental health issues and trauma.
Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are just a few examples of mental health issues that can interfere with the intuitive process. Anxiety leads to overthinking, depression often means you don’t care, and low self-esteem means you don’t like yourself enough to trust what your gut is saying.
Trauma from your past might have left you with abandonment issues, trust issues, or other challenges that prevent the usual and useful process of intuition.
These issues can stop a person from following their intuition when it really knows best. If you are depressed or socially anxious, for instance, your gut might tell you to avoid seeing people, but that might be exactly what would be good for you.
Most types of fear can prevent a person from trusting their intuition. If a person fears failure, for example, they may not listen to their gut and take a risk because they are worried about how badly wrong it might go. The uncertainty will see them silence or ignore their gut in favor of doing nothing.
Fear of rejection, fear of success, fear of the unknown—these are just a few more examples of fears that will impact a person’s willingness to develop their intuition.
It’s difficult to hear what your intuition is saying when you are in a state of heightened emotions. Whether it’s anger, sadness, fear, or something else, while your mind is consumed by it, the little voice inside will get drowned out.
Lack of confidence.
Trusting your intuition requires a certain level of confidence in your abilities, your knowledge, and your resilience. If you lack confidence, you are likely to doubt yourself and second-guess your intuition and the decisions it is recommending you take.
Overly rational and inflexible thinking.
You can’t think your way into an intuitive mindset. Intuition sometimes defies logic. That’s why you will struggle to listen to your intuition if you tend to think in a highly rational way. And even if you hear what your intuition says, if you then proceed to analyze it to the nth degree, you might lose sight of the underlying message.
No single decision is right for everyone. But most people in a society will adhere to many conventions that are deemed to be right, even if they aren’t always.
If you place a high degree of importance on fitting in and doing as everyone else does, you’re going to find it difficult to trust your gut feeling when it is telling you to buck the trend and go against the grain.
The Benefits Of Listening To Your Intuition
If you’re ever in doubt about the reasons to refine your intuition, here is a brief list of the benefits of doing so.
Whether you make decisions based solely on your intuition or a combination of it and rational thinking, you should find that those decisions are more likely to work in your favor than if you relied on thinking alone.
An overlooked benefit of honing your intuition is the ability to forge better connections with others. Intuition is linked to emotional intelligence and empathy and thus can provide insights into how another person is feeling or what they are thinking. These insights can allow you to adapt your responses to reflect where the other person is at.
Living more authentically.
Your intuition is in touch with your true beliefs, values, and principles. By listening to it, you can be a more authentic version of yourself and act in a way that respects those beliefs. Your intuition can guide you toward what really matters to you which will leave you with a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Improved mental well-being.
When you follow your gut feeling about something, you are likely to experience less stress and anxiety about that decision. Instead, you feel more empowered and confident. Your overall mental health should improve when you let your intuition guide you through life.
Flowing with life.
Since your intuition knows your true feelings about something, you will feel as though you are acting in alignment with your core self when you follow what it says. You’ll spend less time deliberating over decisions and life will flow more smoothly.
Your intuition can process complex information in a way that your conscious mind can’t, meaning it can come up with innovative ideas and solutions. You will be able to see from different perspectives and imagine new possibilities that would otherwise be hidden from you.
Things will go wrong even when you listen to your intuition—that’s inevitable. But you will regret fewer of your decisions when they are guided by your gut rather than by logical step-by-step thinking. If something felt right at the time, you’ll accept that it was probably the best decision you could have made, despite it not working out.
When hard times befall you, your intuition can help you to bounce back. Thanks to its role in problem-solving, a strong intuition can make you resourceful, flexible, and adaptable. You’ll find inspiration and ideas to get through to the other side of whatever difficulty you face.
How To Combine Intuition With Rational Thought
Should you always trust your intuition? No, it can be wrong sometimes, especially when you lack experience and expertise in the thing you are dealing with.
Intuition involves affective forecasting—the process of predicting how you’ll feel about a future event based on past experiences. But this forecast can rely on generalizations that may not be relevant to the current situation.
For example, your gut may tell you not to go on a group vacation with your friends because you did when you were younger and you didn’t enjoy it. But this vacation might be very different from the last one and you might be a different person now. This might be a relaxing beach holiday whereas your previous experience was a raucous city break. And you might have grown in confidence and feel more comfortable in your own skin than you did back then.
Intuition also involves heuristics—mental shortcuts—that allow a person to make quick decisions rather than having to stop and think about every action they take. Some common heuristics include:
- Availability: the easier it is to bring something to mind, the more likely you are to use that information when making decisions.
- Familiarity: you will tend to have more favorable opinions of things, places, and people that you have first-hand experience with, even if an alternative provides more benefits.
- Anchoring: you will be more influenced by the first piece of information you learn about something than subsequent facts, even if the latter is more relevant.
Heuristics can lead to cognitive biases—patterns of thoughts that lead to illogical and suboptimal results.
Anchoring can be both a heuristic and a bias, for example. If the first piece of information you come across is highly relevant, it provides a shortcut to make a decision. And if that decision isn’t of great importance, the anchoring heuristic saves precious time and energy.
But the first piece of information you hear can also cloud your view and lead you to make poor choices if it is not relevant, it is only one piece of the jigsaw, or it is an outlier.
For example, if you see a car for sale at a particular price, you might believe that this is the market price for such a car. If you then research other similar cars, you might consider cheaper ones to have something wrong with them and more expensive ones to be over-priced. You’ll find it difficult to compare the relative benefits and drawbacks of the different cars and so might buy one that is more expensive than you can afford or doesn’t have all the features that you wanted.
Some other examples of cognitive biases include:
- The False Consensus Effect: the tendency to overestimate how much other people agree with your beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, and values.
- The Confirmation Bias: the tendency to favor information that reinforces what you already think or believe.
- The Self-Serving Bias: the tendency to give yourself credit for your successes but to lay the blame for your failures on outside causes.
Since intuition is linked to heuristics and heuristics can lead to cognitive biases, it’s important to not rely on intuition alone when making decisions that can have lasting consequences or shape your entire life.
In such cases, intuition should form a foundation for wider logical thinking, research, and deduction. You can take your intuitively derived feelings about something and then look more closely at the details, consider alternative approaches or perspectives, and weigh up everything you discover in the context of that initial intuitive feeling.
It’s important to recognize when you might be suffering from cognitive biases because if you lack self-awareness in this regard, you could find yourself looking for ways to support your intuition without giving due consideration to the possibility that it might be wrong.
When making minor choices, your intuition is a valuable guide. But when dealing with major forks in the road, you should combine intuitive and analytical thinking to shape your decision. In psychology, this is known as dual-process theory.
The more expertise you have related to the thing you are considering, the more you might want to rely on your intuition. Conversely, if you have no experience or knowledge, your intuition will not serve as a good guide and rational thinking would offer more benefits.
A Final Word On Intuition
Intuition is a powerful feeling that can play an important role in helping you live your life in a way you feel comfortable with. It is not perfect, but it does offer many benefits beyond those that analytical thinking can provide.
The more you practice using your intuition, the more you’ll know when it is guiding you well and when a little more thought is required. A good approach to take is to consider the worst-case scenario for a decision you are making, and if it’s not something that will harm you or your life in any great way, you should feel more confident to trust your intuition alone.
The more you follow what your gut feeling is telling you, the more attuned you will become to its signals and messages.