While intuition can be a buzzword you have heard a lot lately, heeding it is not a simple task.
Our minds are devastating hunter-gatherers for information in order to form patterns. We thrive on finding patterns in the world around us, people, relationships, essentially within every single infinitesimal factor of life. What many people forget is how much data we absorb every day. Without the capacity to shift, sort, and apply patterns to this data, we would quite literally go mad.
We do this with very little conscious thought, but it’s continuously happening. When making decisions or facing challenges, our minds will ruthlessly search through our data, searching for the patterns, and attempts to figure out the safest way for us to proceed. The data we gather through our lives is also constantly being compared to the data encoded within our DNA. When we get an ‘intuition’ for something, it can quite often be attributed down to our mind’s identifying a pattern, no matter how tiny.
How Our Intuition Develops
Although intuition may be a product of our pattern-seeking minds, there is a wide variety of influences that impact the ways our brains absorb and interpret the information we receive. Let’s take a look at a few of the most prominent, and surprising:
Your Genetic Make-up: lots of researches show that our genetic make-up definitely holds keys to how our behaviour can be expressed and shaped. Among them is a study by Kendler and Greenspan (2006). Some other research has linked specific genes to our ability to transport serotonin, the so-called "happiness hormone" responsible for the feelings of welll-being, learning, memory and more.
The structure of your brain: In his book, Behave, Robert Sapolsky explores how impactful our brains are on a range of behaviours and how we express ourselves. He breaks down how the different regions of the brain have different functions and the influence they have over us. Specifically, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex have a direct influence on whether you are more rational or emotional when making decisions. Activity and how these parts of your brain are physically shaped will impact how you approach decisions and challenges.
Your Guts: the gut itself is far more influential than we realize. The study of microbiome — the plethora of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live inside your guts — is a relatively new area of exploration, but a fascinating one. These microorganisms support critical health and wellbeing functions including metabolism, weight, immunity, and mood (Dash et al, 2015). Often referred to as ‘The Second Brain’, the gut has been shown to be engaged in bi-directional communication with the brain, influencing our moods, and decision making processes.
Your early life experiences: While our genes and biology do influence our ‘intuitions’, they are only one part of a larger, complex puzzle. Our early life experiences — and later experiences too to some extent — have a heavy role to play in how we perceive and interact with the world.
When Should You Trust Your Intuition?
The complexity of intuition can’t be ignored, but neither should we seek to dismiss feelings of intuition when they arise. It exists for the single purpose of helping you make the best decision for you, based on the life you’ve led. Our emotions and feelings are crucial in the face of life’s biggest challenges.
The trouble is the life you’ve led may not have set you up for the best version of success. For example, a slew of repeated failed relationships is a pretty good indicator that your experiences and intuition might not be leading you down the best path.
According to Dr. Connson Chou Locke, a leadership researcher and consultant, before trusting your intuition there are three questions worth asking yourself:
1. Am I an expert?
If not, then who else could you seek out for better knowledge and information?
2. Is this an unstructured problem?
Intuition should be applied to aesthetic judgments — where there are no rules to obey, and the decision-making involves the least clear process, objective criteria and an abundance of professional data.
3. How much time do you have?
Your brain should weigh up all the variables, pick out some patterns, and deliver the outcome to you via your intuition rather than deliberating over a heap of data for a few days. But be warned that it might still lead you down the wrong path.
Complex = Human
Knowing how and why your intuition develops, and the potential influences that affect what it ‘tells’ you are important. Knowing why it arises when you meet a new person, or ‘just get a feeling’, can help you further understand the complexity of your own mind.
It can also help you recognize where it might be leading you down paths that prevent you from meeting your potential.
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