There always seems to be a lot of confusion around the concept of intuition and even though we use our intuition on a daily basis, people often tend to think of it as being something airy-fairy, mystical or even paranormal. However, people will say without any hesitation ... “I knew it, I should have listened to my intuition!” 

Intuition is a sense or perception, a faculty, just like your senses of smell, taste, hearing, sight and touch. It helps you obtain information in a way that differs from your logical and rational thinking. 

The word intuition comes from the Latin verb intueri, meaning ‘to look inside’. It can be experienced in different ways and at different times. Sometimes it expresses itself in pictures or symbols. Other times it is something more internal – often described as a ‘gut feeling’, a sense or a hunch.

I have no doubt that in the years to come, as experts from the field of neuro-gastroenterology continue to study the role of the neurons that exist in the gut – new insights into how ‘gut feelings’ really work will help to clarify our understanding of intuition as a human ability.

So far we know that intuition provides us with information, insights and views perceived outside the realm of conscious cognition. It’s important to point out that although women seem to be better at intuition, men also have this ability.

Men seem to be more comfortable using the term ‘gut feeling’ or ‘hunch’ when referring to it. All functional human beings have intuitive ability and use it daily, sometimes without being consciously aware that this is taking place.

It is likely that some people are more intuitive than others and use intuition more often in their decision making process. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was one of the first, in the Western world, to suggest that some personality types are more intuitive than others.

Practical Intuition

Intuitives such as American author Laura Day, explain that a wide variety of professional people use intuition very often in their daily lives and for very practical reasons.

These professionals include: business managers, entrepreneurs, leaders, stock-market traders, artists, academics, athletes, psychologists, doctors, scientists and even those in the legal profession.

One of my friends, who works as an accident and emergency physician, will say that he relies significantly on his intuition at work because there is very limited time to gather all the hard data you need to make a quick decision when everything around occurs in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

Of course, his intuition is based on very solid knowledge and experience; whereas you and I, unless we are trained, would be rather useless in a situation like that, regardless of how intuitive we are.

So it would be fair to say that this type of practical intuition is skill-dependent and based on a memory bank of knowledge, information and experiences, stored in the long-term memory part of the brain.

Can You Point At It?

We know that practical intuition is a sensation stemming from sensory awareness, which provides a kind of knowing that relies upon the capacity to read signals, cues and patterns, and as previously explained, it is often based on the total sum of our accumulated experiences.

While we can enhance this ability through deliberate observation, recent research has identified the brain regions involved in the process of what Dr. Matthew Lieberman, from the University of California, calls ‘intuitive social cognition’.

The picture starting to emerge is that intuitive processing is located in a network of structures inside the brain and that these structures exist in both hemispheres, instead of being located in a specific hemisphere.

Is It Reliable?

The information we gain through this way of knowing – this inner knowing – could be unreliable if we mistakenly interpret wishful thinking as intuition.

Gamblers are renowned for betting on their gut instinct, often with disastrous results because wishful thinking is disguising itself as intuition. At the same time, our intuition can be very useful and valuable, as intuition in itself isn’t confusing or ambivalent. It is what we do with that information that counts.

So how can you know when to trust your intuition and when not to trust it? The bad news is that you can never be 100% sure as intuition is not something to merely reject or fully trust. The good news is that you can make your intuition work for you more reliably and effectively, and many people do!

If you trust this basic inner knowing as another source of information, you can make it part of the process of conscious deliberation and discernment.

You need to treat intuition as another aspect, a valuable ingredient, that can be taken into account. Using intuition in this way can certainly speed up your decision making process and make you more agile.

Excerpt from book ‘Leadership is Upside Down’ by Silvia Damiano in collaboration with Tao de Haas.
Originally posted on: 26 June 2014
Last updated on: 18 February 2024

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Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.

Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.

Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership

In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.

Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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