What Is Intuition – 3 Practical Definitions According To Psychologists

What is intuition

“Intuition” – It is called in many ways…inner voice, gut feeling, the heart voice…it doesn’t matter how you call  it,  it matters how you use it.

The concept of “intuition” started to become “mainstream” after famous, successful, visionary people like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey have told the world that they’ve relied always on their intuition or “gut feeling”. 

But what is this inner guide that we all have and that is related to the heart or gut area of our physical body?

Is there an official, recognised definition of this invisible compass? 

What Is Intuition? 

From quotes of famous people to researchers in the fields of psychology and psychiatry or intuitive healers and authors, it seems everyone has their unique and different approach on intuition.

What I aim to do with this post is to give you the most relevant and  practical definitions of intuition that I found so you can use them in your own quest to become a better intuitive.

“Historically, psychologists have been reluctant to acknowledge intuition as a viable construct, often consigning it to the ‘fringes’ of the field of psychology, within the realms of parapsychology, telepathy and premonition, and equating it to esoteric and ‘New Age’ thinking.” (1)

Most of the times when I talk with people about intuition the most common associations are made with the grey areas of supernatural, unusual, esoteric realms of psychology.

One of my aims is to demystify this concept and its application in our real, ordinary, normal lives.

I am not denying the existence or the importance of these other areas of human psychology and abilities, but they are not the topic I am interested in right now and on this blog.

From this 30 pages study from the British Journal of Psychology (1) I’ve retained the definitions that I found most clear and helpful not only from a theoretical point of view but also from a practical one.

So, in order to make this easier to grasp, I will give you only 3 definitions as I found them in the study, and I will add my comments and reasons for which I’ve chosen them.


Jung (2)  A psychological function that unconsciously yet meaningfully transmits perceptions, explores the unknown, and senses possibilities which may not be readily apparent.

key words: unconsciously, meaningfully, unknown.


Miller and Ireland (3) Intuition can be conceptualised in two distinct ways: as holistic hunch and as automated expertise. Intuition as holistic hunch corresponds to judgment or choice made through a subconscious synthesis of information drawn from diverse experiences. Here, information stored in memory is subconsciously combined in complex ways to produce judgment or choice that feels right. ‘Gut feeling’ is often used to describe the final choice.

Intuition as automated expertise is less mystical, corresponding to recognition of a familiar situation and the straightforward but partially subconscious application of previous learning related to that situation. This form of intuition develops over time as relevant experience is accumulated in a particular domain.

key words: holistic hunch, subconscious, gut feeling, automated expertise, relevant experience.

From this definition I’ve found very helpful the distinction between the two types of intuition: one that is not specific and that is based on the memory of all our life experiences, and one that I would call the “expert” intuition, that develops in time with the experience in a certain domain.

Because we learn best through practice or practical examples, let me give some practical examples to better understand these two types of intuition.

#Intuition as holistic hunch

In this first category you might experience it as leaving a meeting 5 minutes earlier than planned and on the way you bump into an old friend that you wanted to talk to for a long time.

Or you might experience it as something apparently unpleasant, like a traffic jam or the bus that lives the second you get into the station only to realise later that because of that delay you have avoided being caught in an accident on the highway or being caught up in the elevator at home because of power outage.

This last one happened to me this summer.

And I realised that when you stay open and accepting what is even if it looks like something unpleasant or undesirable, and you stay out of judging and complaining, you understand the hidden gift later on.

And this can happen  minutes, hours, days or even years later, as Steve Jobs told us in his famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford:

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

#Intuition as automated expertise

For this second type of intuition, the one that comes with years of experience in a certain domain, I will tell you the story of an old plumber called to fix a big ship’s heating system.

“On a big cruising ship there is a problem with the heating system. The captain calls in a team of specialists who make tests after tests with the help of modern, computer software tools.

But they can’t figure out what the problem is and how to fix it. Desperate to leave on time for the next cruise, the captain remembers the old engineer who have been taking care of the ship for all his life. and that was now retired. He called him in and asked for his help.

The old man comes in, gets his hammer out and starts pecking and listening to the sounds of the pipes. After 15 minutes of pecking and listening he hits a pipe 3 times in a certain place and the system starts working again. He than leaves and sends them the bill: 10.000 EUR.

Intrigued, the captain asks the old man why is he charging such a high price for only 15 minutes of work. Then the old man send a detailed bill: hammer – 10 EUR; knowing the exact place where to hit with it – 9990 EUR.”


Vaughan (4)  Knowing without being able to explain how we know. Intuitive experiences have four discrete levels of awareness:

1 – physical, which is associated with bodily sensations;

2 – emotional, where intuition enters into consciousness through feelings; that is, a vague sense that one is supposed to do something and instances of immediate liking or disliking with no apparent reason;

3 – mental, which comes into awareness through images or ‘inner vision’. This is an ability to come to accurate conclusions on the basis of insufficient information;

4 – spiritual, which is associated with mystical experience, a holistic understanding of actuality which surpasses rational ways of knowing.

key words: 4 levels, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual

From my experience, this last definition is the most helpful to understand how to actually use intuition in your everyday life.

In my workshops I help the participants to figure out the specific ways in which their intuition talks with them through their bodily sensations, their emotions and their thoughts.

This is the starting point for everyone interested in tuning in with and honing their intuition on a day to day, practical level.

Once you have a clear list of signs on all 3 levels than it’s much easier to develop to the next level, the spiritual one. But, as with any other skill, it takes time and practice.

In a future post, I will give you a practical exercise that you can do to figure out these signs on your own.

Wrapping – Up

In today’s post you’ve received 3 definitions of intuition to help you have a better and clearer understanding of this concept.

In the next one I will walk you through the differences between intuition and insight, revelation, creativity or instinct so you can easily distinguish which is which.

I will leave you with the words of Steve Jobs from the same 2005 speech, that I find truly inspiring:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Let me know in the comments if this post has helped you have a clearer view on intuition and how you have applied it. I would love to hear from you.

With all my love,


P.S. As you’ve come to the end of this post exhale deeply and observe your body for a few moments. Enjoy your being-ness! 🙂


(1) British Journal of Psychology (2008), 99, 1-27, www.bpsjournals.co.uk

(2) Jung, C. G. (1933). Modern man in search of a soul. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, pp. 567–568

(3) Miller, C. C., & Ireland, R. D. (2005). Intuition in strategic decision making: Friend or foe in the fast- paced 21st century. Academy of Management Executive, 19, 19–30, p. 21.

(4) Vaughan, F. E. (1979). Awakening intuition. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, pp. 27-28.