“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” —Steve Jobs
A quirky urge. A queasy feeling in your gut. A subtle sense of foreboding or a quiet whisper, “This feels right.” I’m sure you’ve had those intuitive whispers before. The question is, how often have you trusted them?
Beyond our conscious awareness, our intuition is informed by minuscule untaught signals that point us to pay attention to something or someone. Uninhibited by our biases, and wired only to perception, our intuition can guide us to predictions we later marvel at.
My own intuition has served me countless times over the years. None more than when, at 21, I set off for a year to travel around the world with little more than a backpack and sense of adventure. Along the way, I met a rich diversity of people and developed a keen sixth sense about those whom I could trust, and those whom it was better to steer clear. I remember getting a lift with a man I met on an Amtrak train. Upon learning that Miami’s Amtrak station was miles from the South Beach hostel where I was meeting up with my friend, and that the public bus schedule on Sundays was very limited, he offered to give me a ride. Not only would it save me a hefty cab fare, but many hours on public buses. While I’m sure most parents would have been mortified knowing their daughter was jumping in a car with a “stranger,” I just knew this man was genuinely trying to help. My intuition proved correct.
In the months ahead as I continued traveling through Europe, Africa and Asia, I continued to extend trust to numerous other equally generous and genuine people, all the while guided by my gut feeling. I also met a few that I didn’t feel were so well intentioned and always gave them wide berth. Not once did my intuition let me down. Nor has it done so in the years since, as I’ve built my business around the world.
Of course, I am not encouraging young women to accept rides from strange men. We know too well many do not have their best interest in mind. But too often today, I meet people, young and old alike, who have been conditioned by their environment (and yes, their well-intentioned but overly protective parents) to be so fearful of every stranger and every unfamiliar situation that they are no longer able to discern between genuine threats to their safety and those merely in their imagination.
Given that the headlines are dominated by news meant to incite fear, it’s little wonder that so many people today live in a constant state of low-grade anxiety, walking through life on high alert for danger—killer viruses, catastrophes, predatory people. They have little capacity left to pick up the subtle signals their intuition may be feeding them about their environment. Of course, the sad irony is that their constant fear doesn’t make them safer; it makes them less so.
As chronic fear diminishes our capacity to tune into our intuition, it limits our ability to accurately assess risk, develop our business acumen and judgment, tune into our physical well-being (or lack thereof), seize opportunities, help those around us, and perform at our peak. Needless to say, it takes courage to listen to your intuition, but the more often you do, the better you get at it. Don’t put it off any longer because, as Gary Klein wrote, “The longer we wait to defend our intuitions, the less we will have to defend.”
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To help you on your way, here are five gut instincts to pay particular attention to.
1. I can do it.
If I had a dime for every time an incredibly capable person balked at the moment they needed to take a bold leap forward for fear of not having what it takes, I’d have a lot of dimes! So if you know deep down you have what it takes to do something, be careful you don’t let head (and fear) hijack your heart. If you’ve prepared yourself for it, park the doubt, trust your gut and go for it.
2. Something’s amiss in my body.
Your body is a powerful intuitive communicator. Most gut instincts are accompanied by some kind of physical sensation—from goose bumps to a tightness in our chest. Sometimes it gives you early warning signs that something is amiss in our body that you need to attend to. Never ignore it. EVER.
3. I’m in danger.
We have unconscious radars that can alert us to people and places that could put our safety in danger. Other times we can find ourselves getting an “off” feeling in the company of someone who is just not good for us, whether they’ve got bad intentions or otherwise. Either way, if you have a sense you should steer clear, do so.
4. It just feels right!
It’s counterintuitive, but the less you analyze the pros and cons when it comes to the big decisions in life, the more likely you will make a decision you are happy with in the long term. Studies have found that the longer people mull over big decisions, the less satisfied they are afterward than had they spent less time deciding and simply “gone with their gut.”
“The longer we wait to defend our intuitions, the less we will have to defend.”
When it comes to big and often complex decisions—buying property, changing careers, getting married—our cautious rational mind can lead us to overthink, overanalyze and make poorer decisions than if we just follow our intuition and do what “feels right.” Indeed, fear of making a wrong decision can keep you from making a right one!
While gut instincts have evolved to help us avoid danger, we human beings have an equally powerful capacity to sense when others need our help. Compassion, like fear, is one of our most primal emotions, giving us the ability to read faces and pick up unspoken emotional cues. So if you sense someone needs your help in some way, don’t hold back for fear of looking foolish. Too often people do.
I invite you to take two minutes right now to close your eyes, follow your breath and just sit with the question: What does my intuition want me to know right now? Perhaps it’s a decision you’ve been struggling with. Perhaps it’s how best to approach a person you sense may need something from you, or you from them. Perhaps it’s just a prod to do something you’ve been wavering about. Just stop what you’re doing and tune in. If you don’t get any clear cue right away, that’s just fine. By tuning into your intuition, you will find that you’re more open to a cue it may send you later today, or tomorrow. All that matters is you’re open to hearing it and have the courage to act on it.