Embracing Intuition

Intuition has been on my mind a lot lately. I have spent most of my life brushing off intuition in favor of logic, facts, and data. Only through coaching have I begun recognizing the powerful gifts available when listening to intuition.

What Is Intuition?

Oxford Languages defines intuition as “The ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” This is anything we know that arises below our conscious processing. We use phrases like “I have a gut feeling about this” or “I can’t explain it. I have this felt sense of knowing.”

In a culture of modernity, where science reigns supreme, intuition often gets cast aside. If conscious reasoning didn’t produce it, it must be wrong. Many of us are uncomfortable embracing intuition until science can explain it. If you fall into this school of thought, I’m happy to share that science is catching up. I, for one, could not be happier about this. As my journey unfolds, I yearn to lasso science with my left hand and spirituality and mysticism with my right and pull them closer together.

Here is one of the most compelling studies I am aware of (thanks to ChatGPT for the summary):

A study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports found that stock traders’ success on a London trading floor was significantly correlated with their interoceptive ability, measured by their accuracy in detecting their own heartbeats. Traders with higher interoceptive accuracy demonstrated better profitability and longer survival in the financial markets. This suggests that a trader’s ability to sense physiological signals from their body can be a critical factor in their financial decision-making and overall success in trading​​.

Eschewing Intuition

In my time leading engineering, one of my strongest leaders had an incredible gift for intuition. For most of his career, he had run engineering at another organization, and everyone knew to trust his intuition. While he often couldn’t explain the rationale behind his decisions, his track record for success was so strong that no one pressed him to explain the rationale – not unlike the London stock traders.

I drove this leader crazy regularly. When we worked together, I was anti-intuition. He would come to me with proposals and recommendations based on his intuition. I would send him away and ask him to bring me the data and facts that supported his intuition. This was not just my resistance to intuition. This was also our corporate culture. I knew I could not come to the executive team and pitch a multi-million dollar effort without bringing data and logic to support the proposal. Many of his brilliant ideas never got off the ground. In hindsight, I believe those ideas would have generated significant revenue for the company.

My Intuition Journey

My comfort with intuition began to change as I went through formal coaching training. At the Newfield Network USA, we were encouraged to be open to our intuition and embrace it. Gradually, I began to be more receptive to intuitive signals.

For example, sometimes, when someone is speaking, I get a surge of energy in my torso. I used to dismiss this as just getting chills. Now, I reflect upon what they just said and why my body responded. At other times, I experience a felt sense of knowing. A thought arises, and I have that “gut feeling” that it’s right. I might say, “I feel it in my bones.” This is where the neuroscience comes in. When we think of neurons, we think of the brain. You may not be aware that we have neurons in our gut and our heart sending signals to the brain. Often, our intuition arises from those neurons even if the brain can’t organize them into a conscious thought.

The science behind this is fascinating, and I cannot do it justice in a blog post. Thankfully, I don’t need to. Ann Betz has a free masterclass on The Neuroscience of Intuition, which is well worth your time if you’d like to dive deeper into the science behind intuition.

One of the most important things Ann says is, “Your intuition is always right. Your interpretation may not be.” As you become more receptive to intuitive insights, there’s a risk that you assume your interpretation of the insight is correct. In coaching, I’ve learned to offer those insights to the client without attachment.

For example, I was exploring purpose with a client. As she spoke about different possibilities, she shared an interest in being some form of a teacher. The moment she said this, my torso was flooded with energy. So, I shared with her that I had a sense that there was something significant about teaching and asked for her reaction. She shared that several people have told her the same thing. There seems to be something there with her and being a teacher. They see her light up. The insight resonated with her and has opened up an entirely new area of exploration.

Embracing Your Intuition

If this is new territory for you, here are some thoughts about embracing your intuition and strengthening your skills.

Pay attention to your body. There is tremendous wisdom arising from our gut, heart, and other organs when we tap into it. I’ve noticed surges of energy in my torso. Even when I was anti-intuition, I had learned that if my cheeks flushed, it meant I was stressed, anxious, or angry, and I needed to regulate my emotions. I was tapping into intuition without giving it credit. Build a list of sensations you experience in your body, and start to watch for when they arise.

Be open to whatever arises. When we are fully present with someone, deeply listening to them, we open ourselves to more intuitive signals. Watch for what arises.

You may get an image that flashes into your mind with no apparent explanation. If appropriate, share the image and ask the person if it is relevant. I recently spoke with a coach about a persona, and she said, “I don’t know why, but I’m getting an image of tie-dye.” I was stunned, as this persona had been modeled after a tie-dyed wrestling character named Dude Love.

You may find a felt sense of knowing. This is most common for me. I can’t point to a sensation in my body; I don’t get any image, but I suddenly “know” something to be true. “Knowing” is a dangerous term, so I’m careful to test my interpretation. One fascinating example of this was a webinar I attended last year. As I watched the speaker, I had this nagging sense that something was off with her. It was a felt sense of knowing. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and afterward, I decided it was because she was a bit too focused on sales for my taste. But in my heart, I knew that didn’t explain it. Recently, I learned that the speaker had falsified data on a research study and was now discredited. Suddenly, that felt sense of knowing had an explanation.

Be a Scientist. If some of these stories feel a bit mystical, remember my lassos around science and mysticism as we pull them closer together. I’ve started an intuition log in Wonderland. My Partner in Wonder and I capture intuitive insights and log the results when we have an interpretation. The more data I collect, the more I trust my intuition and the more I can fine-tune my approach.

My Intuitive Leader Revisited

I wrote earlier about my intuitive leader when I led engineering. Eventually, I found myself in a product management role, partnering with this leader and pitching another idea. This time, the intuitive leader had the insight, and I partnered with him to flesh out the business case behind it. The result was a compelling proposal that validated his intuition. It was a beautiful marriage of the intuitive and the scientific.

Alas, we could not secure funding for the project, and we have both moved on from that organization. However, this story may have a happy ending. Recently, we have seen this project rise from the ashes and take flight. We are both watching that flight with anticipation.

Putting It Into Practice

I hope my anecdotes inspire you to explore your intuition more deeply. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Observe the signals from your body.
  • Be open to whatever arises.
  • Be a scientist and keep an intuition log.
  • Dive deeper into The Neuroscience of Intuition.

If this exploration energizes you, and you want an intuition partner, schedule time with me.

I am an executive coach and life coach with software executive roots in higher education and EdTech. I coach because I love to help others accelerate their growth as leaders and humans. I frequently write about #management, #leadership, #coaching, #neuroscience, and #arete.

If you would like to learn more, schedule time with me.

Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to Arete Pursuits