The number one question that I get from every person interested in intuitive living is “What is intuition?”. I’ve answered to it in a previous post, you can check it out here if you haven’t read it.
The number two question is “What intuition is Not?” or in other words:
how do I figure out which one is my intuition in the middle of the gazillion other voices that run through my mind.
With intuition, as with any other skill that we want to develop and master, we need to know the basics:
First, what to look for – as in – what is it?
Second, we need to know what to avoid – as in – what this thing is NOT?
What are the other things that might look like or are similar to intuition, so we don’t get mislead, and find ourselves on the wrong path.
In today’s article you will discover what intuition is not, so by the end you’ll have a clear picture of what the “wrong track” looks like.
The idea is that any time you’ll observe yourself heading for or already being on a non-intuitive path, you’ll able to stop and reconfigure your trajectory.
Just like you would do if that happened while driving your car and your GPS would tell you that you’re heading in the wrong direction.
It’s the same with your intuition. It acts as your internal GPS.
So let’s dive right into how you can make the difference between your intuition and your other tools: instinct, insight, creativity and reason.
The main resource for the theoretical part comes from a study from The British Journal of Psychology (1).
Intuition & Tacit Knowledge
“Intuition draws upon experience and expertise and previous ‘analyses frozen into habit’.
Intuition is an aspect of expertise or tacit knowledge which is drawn upon with varying degrees of automaticity depending upon the interaction of the individual and the context.” (2)
This tacit knowledge, in my opinion, is the sum of all our previous experiences that are stored on an unconscious level.
All our experiences are helping us adapt and adjust to our environment, to survive and to thrive.
When we become so good at something – like driving a car for example – we are able to drive while having a conversation with someone next to us, or while listening to a podcast, or talking on the phone (using handsfree, of course!).
That is possible because in time, with experience, we’ve managed to transfer all the complex actions needed to drive, from the conscious and slow level, to the unconscious and fast level.
When we listen to our intuition, we listen to the conclusion that our unconscious mind has reached after analysing in a just a few seconds the huge library of the past experiences we cary inside our brains that are relevant to the present situation.
And because that part of our brain doesn’t have access to language it sends us the message in the form of a “feeling”, what we call “gut feeling”.
Intuition & Instinct
Instinct is a “fast, reflexive responses that enable organisms to react to a threat and enhance its possibilities of survival.
Both instinct and intuition may lead to somatic responses to a stimulus; unlike intuition, instinctive reactions are not guided by deep knowledge structures and prior learning and expertise (they are not ‘analyses frozen into habit’)”. (3)
This one is pretty clear: we are all born with instincts.
They are like inbuilt programs in a computer. They are meant to keep us alive in dangerous situation, so they don’t rely on any previous experience. That’s the main difference in between instinct and intuition.
Intuition & Implicit and Explicit learning and knowledge
“Intuitive knowledge may be the end product of implicit learning experience which is stored below the level of conscious awareness.” (4)
This one is very similar to the tacit knowledge one.
Intuition & Insight
Insights are “sudden realisations (‘a eureka’ experience) usually after a period of immersion in a problem and in which an impasse has been reached in its solution (a period of incubation).”
“Insight is a sudden moment of enhanced awareness in which a problem solver attains a conscious and clear understanding of the solution to a perplexing problem.
Intuiting on the other hand does not involve conscious and deliberative ‘rational processing’, and intuition is accompanied by a somatic awareness which influences decision choices but the subject may be not consciously aware of the source.” (5)
This one too is pretty obvious: whereas “insight” involves a period of conscious immersion in a problem looking for a solution, intuition doesn’t do it. And “insight” doesn’t imply any somatic experience like intuition does.
Intuition & Creativity
“Preconscious activity which guides or alerts an individual to highly novel, creative, and unusual ideas and outcomes.
Intuition may be involved in the early stages of the creative process by providing somatic signals for or against a course of action.” (6)
They go hand and hand, intuition and creativity. From my experience, the more we cultivate our creative juices, the more we open up for our intuitive voice.
Intuition & Reason
“Should I listen to my intuition or should I listen to my mind?”
This is one of the most common questions I get in my workshops.
Ever since I started studying Buddhist texts (about 2 years ago), I’ve gained a more inclusive approach to life. So I am doing my best to stay away from any “it’s either this or that” situation.
From my experience and study, it’s best to take into consideration both “parties”. Because, as you’ll see in more detail in a future post, in most of the cases your intuition is right.
But, it can happen that you had a traumatic experience with someone, a man with ginger hair let’s say, when you were a child.
And your system, in order to help you prevent this situation from happening again, has created a strong link between “a person with ginger hair” and “danger”.
So every time you’ll meet a person that will resemble to the one in your unconscious date base you will get that sensation in your gut feeling to stay away from them.
In this case, your intuition has been affected by the trauma in the past, and its signals will not be accurate.
So that’s why you still need to use your reasoning side of the brain, at least sometimes 🙂
If you’ve skimmed through here then here’s a summary of the main points discussed above:
- intuition is different from tacit or implicit knowledge in the sense that it uses all the previous experiences that are found on an unconscious level to come up with a quick answer to a specific situation
- intuition differs from instinct this way: instinct doesn’t need any previous experience to function, it’s a basic program that ensures our survival. They have in common the somatic awareness.
- insight appears as a result of one immersing in a problem in search of a solution, using their rational brain, whereas intuition doesn’t involve any deliberative rational processing.
- intuition feeds and leads creativity and vice versa, but they are not the same thing.
- intuition is way faster than reasoning and happens on an unconscious level. Its end result comes into our awareness through somatic signals and emotions of which we make sense using our reason.
In conclusion, in order to gain intuitive mastery, it’s good to know about your other gifts that complement and enhance your intuition, and use them wisely.
This way you can balance and correct it when it gives you inaccurate info because it has been affected by a past trauma.
Cooperation and not competition is the key!
All my love,
*as found in (1) British Journal of Psychology, (2008), 99, 1–27
(2)Simon, H. A. (1987). Making management decisions: The role of intuition and emotion. Academy of Management Executive, 12, 57–64.
(3) Dienes, Z., & Berry, D. (1997). Implicit learning: Below the subjective threshold. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 4, 3–23.
(4) Carlson, N. R. (2004). Physiology of behavior (8th ed.). New York: Pearson Education.
(5) Mayer, R. E. (1996). The search for insight: Grappling with gestalt psychology’s unanswered questions. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.), The nature of insight (pp.3–32). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. and Nisbett, R. E., & Wilson, T. D. (1977). Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes. Psychological Review, 84, 231–259.
(6) Finke, R. A., Ward, T. B., & Smith, S. M. (1992). Creative cognition: Theory, research and applications. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.