Intuition: The Art of Fast, Effective Decision-making
by Susan Dunn

Intuition is now an EQ competency; that is, it's considered something necessary to successful living, and something to be respected and valued. In recent years it has emerged from obscurity, even suspicion. What exactly is intuition?

Main Entry: in·tu·i·tion

  1. quick and ready insight;
  2. a : immediate apprehension or cognition; b : knowledge or conviction gained by intuition; c : the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference. (

According to Intuition magazine online, "intuition is increasingly recognized as a natural mental faculty, a key element in the creative process, a means of discovery, problem solving, and decision making. Once considered the province of a gifted few, it is now recognized as an innate capacity available to everyone -- not a rare, accidental talent, but a natural skill anyone can cultivate."

Remember those math problems you got the correct answer for, but you didn't get full credit because you couldn't show your work? Intuition, Intuition magazine says, "is a key ingredient in what we call genius, and it is also an important tool when applied to everyday life."

That having been said, from where does this almost mystical ability come? In their amazing book, A General Theory of Love, authors Lewis, Amini and Lannon, all MDs, agree that all of us acquire wonderfully complicated knowledge that we cannot describe, explain, or recognize.

They cite researchers Knowlton, Mangels and Squire, who devised an interesting experiment - they gave subjects the task of predicting the weather in a simple computer model. They designed the experiment so that as unhelpful as the cues looked, they did relate lawfully to the outcomes, but the relationship between cues and effects was deliberately such a complex and probabilistic function that even the smartest person couldn't figure it out. It was way too difficult for logic to unravel; that is, subjects would have to approach this task without the use of the neocortex. The researchers were right. No one figured it out, but that didn't stop them from getting better at the system they couldn't understand or describe! After just 50 trials, the average subject was right 70% of the time, which means, of course, that some were doing far better than that. What they were doing was gradually developing a feel for the situation and intuitively grasping the essence of what was going on.

We tend to believe that success can only come from understanding (via the neocortex), but in reality our marvelous brains, when presented with repetitive experiences, are able to extract unconsciously the rules that underlie them. "Such knowledge," say Lewis, Amini, and Lannon, "develops with languorous ease and inevitability, stubbornly inexpressibly, never destined for translation into words." Words being a neocortical ability.

Implicit Memory

Things we can't describe, but we "know," come from our implicit memory. Our implicit memory ensures that "camouflaged learning" permeates our lives. Spoken language, for instance, is a confusing assortment of phonological and grammatical rules that we couldn't possibly describe, yet we all learn to speak our native tongue. In fact, children are able to learn it without any formal instruction at all. Similarly, in learning foreign languages, it's generally considered that "immersion" is the best way to attain fluency - spending your days with native speakers and just absorbing it. Consider the extent to which we intuit. In his book, Language Instinct, Steven Pinker observes that we all 'know' that "thole, plast and flitch are not English words but they could be, whereas vlas, ptak, and nyip cannot be English." Why? Well, just because, but wouldn't you agree?

Built for Speed

The advantages of intuition? It's much quicker - and also surer - to use your intuition. You have a greater grasp on reality, as it were, when you don't confuse things by bringing in the neocortex. "Reason," said Pascal, "is the slow and tortuous method by which those who do not know the truth discover it."

"There is guidance available to us at all times," says Penny Peirce, "just below the surface of our logic, just after we stop pushing and striving, just before we jump to conclusions. By cultivating the ability to pause and be comfortable with silence, and then by focusing steadily and listening for the first sounds or feelings, for the first impressions, you can help your intuition wake up suddenly and enthusiastically, as if from a long winter's nap."

How do you develop your intuition? One way is to learn to still your self-talk, what I refer to as "the Talking Head" - that constant yammering that goes on inside your head. Get centered. Quiet your thinking mind. Slow down and focus on one thing at a time. Listen. Practice.

"Although intuition is a natural resource," says Nancy Rosanoff, an intuition trainer, "it functions best when developed and exercised. Like a muscle, intuition becomes strong, reliable, and precise when trained and put to use. But because our culture stresses the importance of analytic thinking, we often forget we have this inner source of wisdom and insight. We're like the hapless hero of the old V-8 Juice ad who mindlessly guzzled a soft drink, then slapped his forehead and said, "Gee, I coulda had a V-8!" How many times have you heard someone ruefully say, "I knew that was going to happen"? They were really saying, "Gee, I could have listened to my intuition!"

Here's an exercise for developing your intuition from Nancy who's been training people in intuition for 15 years. This exercise, she says, is designed to build a bridge from your everyday, normal awareness to your intuitive, introspective mind. Nancy recommends not reading ahead, but completing each step before going on to the next.

  • Step 1: Clarify a particular question, situation, or decision you need more information about. Write it down.

  • Step 2: Give yourself a few moments to sit quietly, undisturbed while you reflect on your question.

  • Step 3: Walk around your home or office and pick up three objects (large or small) that grab your attention. Lay the objects out in a row, starting with the object that feels the most significant.

  • Step 4: Take a moment to breathe deeply, reminding yourself as you breathe that there is wisdom in your toes. With the next breath, remind yourself that there is wisdom in your legs, wisdom in your belly, and so on until you have gone through your whole body.

  • Step 5: Look at the first object and let this object symbolize the overview of your question or situation. This object is familiar; you know how and why it is used. How does this knowledge apply symbolically to your situation? Now pretend this object is something you've never seen before. Look at its shape, color, size, and texture. What could it be used for? How does this relate symbolically to your question? Be sure to record all of your impressions.

  • Step 6: Take a few more deep breaths, reminding yourself again that all parts of you have wisdom, and look at the second object. Let this thing represent what may block you, what fear or resistance may emerge as you begin to follow your intuition. Let the intuitive information emerge from within you as you look at the object, asking the question, "What can you tell me about my fear and resistance?" Intuitive information floats to the top of your consciousness from deep within you. Write down all of your impressions.

  • Step 7: Breathe again, tapping into the wisdom within and look at the third object. This item will represent the possible action you could take. Let the object communicate to you symbolically. Imagine yourself as this object. How would you like to move? What is the most appropriate action to take?

I did this exercise myself [continues Nancy] after I was diagnosed with a minor health problem. I was unsatisfied with my doctor's recommendations, and asked my intuition for guidance.

I gathered my three objects - a sharp X-acto knife, a spring paper clip used to hold a thick pile of paper, and a telephone cable tack - and arranged them in that order.

The X-acto knife immediately said "danger" and "be careful." It also validated my desire for precision, my need to have "exact information" before deciding on a course of action. One is not careless with such a knife, and I saw that I needed to be careful with my health. I needed to pay close attention and gather all of the necessary information.

How do you tell the difference between Intuition and wishful or fearful thinking? When it's your Intuition, you're absolutely sure. Practice developing your Intuition with your personal coach and start with small, inconsequential things until you get the knack of how your Intuition speaks to you.

Susan Dunn, M.A., is an executive coach, speaker, writer, and author of a series of ebooks on emotional intelligence. She is dedicated to bringing EQ into the workplace with seminars and workshops, individual coaching, and adjunctive distance learning courses. Visit her on the web at and for a free ezine about EQ in the workplace. Please put "EQ" in the subject line.

Many more articles on Personal Development in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2002 by Susan Dunn. All rights reserved.

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