We use the words instinct and intuition interchangeably.
And while they do exist on the same spectrum, there’s still a crucial difference between the two ideas.
Instinct comes from the word instinctus, or, “impulse,” meaning it’s a biological tendency. It’s the transient reaction that happens in our bodies, apropos of right now.
Intuition comes from the word intuitio, or, “consideration,” meaning it’s an accumulated belief. It’s the ongoing collection of experiences, apropos of everything up until now.
Here’s an example to illustrate the difference.
I’ve worn a nametag every day for the past fourteen years. Just for fun. It’s my constant social experiment and unique way of interacting with the world. And it’s never failed to add a layer of social interestingness to my daily life.
But it’s also shaped me, both physiologically and psychologically, both instinctively and intuitively.
Remember the kid from The Sixth Sense who saw dead people?
Well, I see friendly people. And they’re everywhere. And I always know exactly when I’m about to meet another one. That’s the spooky thing. Wearing a nametag has become my sixth sense.
Every day, a millisecond before somebody responds to my nametag, I can literally feel it in my body. Whether it’s a flight attendant greeting me as I board, a waitress using my name at the table or a yoga instructor calling me out during class, I can biologically predict when a “nametag moment” is about to happen.
It’s the strangest thing.
Then again, it helps me anticipate interactions. Which allows me respond to people’s comments quickly. Which allows me to be a more engaging communicator.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s intuition.
With my nametag, I’ve been running the same social experiment, tens of thousands of times, for well over a decade. And at this point, I can learn everything I need to know about somebody, solely based on the way they respond to my nametag.
It’s my instant inkblot test. A small, repeatable, portable filter that helps me make sense of the people I meet.
If someone points to my nametag asks me if I have a memory problem, I suspect they’re playful. If someone yells hello out of the window of a passing car, I suspect they’re extroverted. If someone rolls their eyes and looks at me like I’m an alien, I suspect they’re closed minded. And if someone walks up to me and rips my nametag off in the middle of a crowded room, I suspect they’re insecure. Or drunk. Or both.
The thing is, I’m usually right. My accumulation of experiences from the past fourteen years makes for an insanely accurate filter.
Same spectrum as instinct, but the manifestation is different. It’s a psychological construct, not physiological one.
The question is, how do you sense, refine and express your instinct and intuition?
Here’s a collection of strategies that have helped me:
You are what you expect. When you trust people, they become what you tell them you expect. Likewise, when you trust yourself, you tend to prove yourself right. And when you believe in the availability of your own answers, they tend to show up at the right time. That’s how expectation works. It’s not magic, it’s a psychological primer for future performance. And it’s been scientifically proven that there’s a positive correlation between expectation and performance.
Proclaim yourself as a seeker, practitioner and believer in the power of instinct and intuition, and you’re already ahead of the game.
Take the training you already have and apply it. Think about where you’ve logged tens of thousands of hours. Think about what activity you’ve practiced more than anyone you know. Think about the experiment you’ve been running day in and day out for decades. That’s your filter. That’s your nametag. That’s the fertile soil where your instinct and intuition will flourish. Hard core formative time—wherever you spend it—fosters dreams, informs what you do and lays groundwork for the years to follow. It’s accidental preparation at its finest. And everyone has their version of it.
Treat your instinct and intuition as the appendix to a lifetime of training and foundational development.
Establish a daily internal dialogue with yourself. Journaling has proven to be a therapeutic tool for lowering stress and improving health, but it’s also a fast, free and effective practice for getting current with yourself. Writing is a gateway to your inner and higher truth. By collecting, confronting and co-mingling your instincts and intuitions on paper, you start to notice personal patterns and motivations and choices. And as you make reflection a daily ritual, you begin to establish healthier pathways to pinpoint precisely what you’re feeling and thinking.
Develop your relationship with your words on the page, and you’ll experience greater sense of stability and intimacy with your instincts and intuitions off the page.
Create a stillness practice. It’s hard to hear yourself with so many synapses firing. And without a personalized arsenal of tools for lowering your cognitive decibel level, you’ll never tap into the deeper currents of yourself. So whether your practice involves meditation, yoga, prayer, breathing exercises, hypnosis or blazing up, the point is, doesn’t matter how you do it, only that you do it.
From stillness comes lucidity. And from lucidity comes a direct line to your instincts and intuition.
Listen to your body’s wisdom. It will never lie to you. For example, think about where you manifest stress. Back pain? Stomach acid? Migranes? Skin rashes? Also, notice patterns in how you feel when doing certain activities. Anticipatory waves of anxiety? Immediate biofeedback? Emotional hangovers? Tune into these clues like an existential radio station. Think about what’s within you that’s trying to come through right now.
Direct communication with your body—the one thing that will always tell you the truth—is the gateway to instinctive and intuitive understanding.
Sound like a lot of work?
But nobody ever said the truth came cheap.
Use these strategies and resources to help you sense, refine and express your instinct and intuition.
Blaze a trail within.