When my siblings and I were growing up, our health-conscious mom would vigilantly moderate our family diet according to the latest health findings reported in the newspaper. When a research study reported that egg yolks led to high cholesterol levels, my dad’s two sunny-side up habit was dramatically affected.
Then, lo and behold, a few years later, a different study found that egg yolks were healthy after all in moderation, and they reappeared at our breakfast table.
Fast forward to today and an article by Jonah Lehrer in New Yorker magazine about a disheartening trend in research: scientists are finding that, no matter how definite the original result, they are often not able to replicate it in subsequent trials. “It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable.”
My first thought when I read that? We could have been eating egg yolks all along!
My point, however, is not about the validity of research studies. It’s about how too often, we reflexively follow the latest study or trend instead of turning to our inner guidance to determine what’s best.
The fact is, we live in a world where logic and statistics rule. (Try telling the board of directors that you just have a “bad feeling” about going through with the merger, and see what they say.) Stating facts and figures when explaining why you made a particular decision automatically gives it more weight and credence.
And yet, how many times have we had an inexplicable sense about a decision we’re about to make: whether it’s hiring a particular employee, selling a failing stock or sitting next to that person on the bus? We all have a source of inner guidance that goes beyond specific facts or conscious memory.
The Speed of Intuition
Unlike left-brained rationality and logic, which follow a linear path in reaching a conclusion, intuition processes information — subliminal and universal — in an instant. And it often goes beyond the short-term solution to provide a more holistic approach, one that fits the larger context of our lives.
The thing is, the increasing noisiness of modern life makes it hard to pay attention to that inner voice, or drowns it out altogether. Seems like we’re afraid to trust ourselves unless we have the reassurance of proof and statistics, or see a critical mass of other people doing the same.
Facts and figures are important, of course – I’m not saying go out and buy a new home without the usual inspections and financial inquisitions. Adding intuition to the mix, however, can alert us to a situation that logic won’t, and bring clarity to which decision will ultimately bring the result you want.
But It’s So Abstract
The question is: how do we learn to recognize and trust this ephemeral, intangible intuition of ours?
– It takes practice. First, understand that it’s an ongoing process, kind of like learning a new dialect. And you may confuse it, at first, with the internalized voice of a parent or your own inner critic. The best way to practice?
– Spend time alone. A recent article in the Boston Globe (yes, I’m quoting a research study) touts the benefits of solitude. When we’re with others, we are likely to absorb or mimic their opinions and body language in all sorts of situations. It’s only when we spend time alone, away from external stimuli, that we’re able to create the internal quiet and space to know what we really think.
(Katherine Woodward Thomas, author of Calling In the One, suggests: One way to access your intuition is to write a letter to God (whoever God is for you) writing out all your feelings and then asking specific questions about the situations you’re in – the work you’re doing, the relationships you’re in, even the food you’re eating. When you’re done you, take a moment and then write a letter back to yourself. As Katherine says: “A whole new outlook, often one I’d never considered before, began flowing effortlessly through my pen.”)
– Do a gut check. Throughout the day, we’re bombarded by external forces – advertising, peer pressure — urging us to take certain actions. Practice going within and asking yourself: What is the best choice I can make in this moment for myself and all involved? As you come to trust your inner wisdom, you’ll start to see synchronistic occurrences – e.g. you’ll come across an article that has the information you were looking for, get a call from just the person who can help, or hear the lyrics of a song that provides a sudden flash of clarity.
– Summon the courage. Once you’ve tuned into your intuition, it takes some guts to follow it – especially if there is highly publicized data to the contrary or millions of people doing the opposite. In a recent interview I did with veteran trader Michael Bigger, he tells the story of how he invested heavily in Crocs at a time when reports of its impending bankruptcy were rampant in the market and the media. By following his intuition (and then rounding up evidence for his hypothesis), he made millions of dollars.