By Joni Sensel, author of Feeling Fate: A Memoir of Love,Intuition, and Spirit
How you think about your intuition might affect how well it serves you
Call it a sixth sense, a message from an angel, a funny feeling, or maybe a hunch. Our intuitions go by many nicknames, but those all boil down to knowing the truth without knowing how. It’s an unexpected insight or that comes more from the body—or somewhere beyond—than from the conscious mind.
I think of my intuition as the voice of my much wiser soul, and it’s responsible for several critical turns in my life. One of the most significant came as I struggled through a painful divorce and had to find somewhere else to live, now. I’d signed a purchase agreement for an adorable cottage, but its owners abruptly sold it to friends instead. When I learned this, I drove into the mountains to weep and consider moving in with my parents.
Passing a warning that said, “Next gas 51 miles,” I decided I’d better head back toward town. A convenient side road appeared. As I slowed to turn around, I spotted a foot-high “For Sale” sign hammered into the gravel.
Most of the houses here—in the outskirts of a ski resort—were fancy vacation homes, which I couldn’t afford, but I might as well take the corner and look. The sight of a big pile of rocks on the shoulder struck me with emotional force. “I’ve lived on this road!” zinged through me. Yet I’d never been there, I was sure.
I passed the rocks, scolding myself, “I can’t think like that!” I couldn’t get my hopes up, only to be disappointed again. This woodsy road probably felt familiar because my family camped a lot when I was a kid.
Half a block later I arrived at a cul-de-sac ringed by several rustic cabins… and an empty lot, where a matching For Sale sign announced: “Build to Suit.”
I didn’t have time to build, regardless of price. But as I turned my car, something white caught my eye—a 3 x 5 index card tacked to the porch of the neighboring cabin. Did that faded handwriting say, “For sale”?
More than 20 years later, I still live around the corner from that rock pile. My intuition that day was no “still, small voice”—it shouted. If it hadn’t, I’d have turned around before I got to my new house. Even more dramatic and life-changing insights have come to me since, but that emotional alert by the rock pile taught me not to question.
I’m sure that’s one of the reasons my intuition keeps speaking. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right.” There’s plenty of evidence that positive self-talk correlates with better performance. Intuition is no different. Telling yourself you can do it, that you have an intuition that can help you, is likely to become self-fulfilling prophecy. Here’s why, with four suggestions for encouraging your inner voice.
- Believe that it’s real. Intuition is not unscientific. Whether you think of intuition as the voice of your heart, a flash of extrasensory perception (ESP) insight, or a message from spiritual or religious powers, there’s little dispute that it’s frequently valid. Research has shown that our brains perceive a lot of information that never reaches conscious awareness. Our subconscious minds can use such information—known as tacit or implicit knowledge—to prompt us to act.
- Give it conscious attention. You can’t force it, but you may be able to alert your brain to consider information that it might otherwise filter out. We’ve all had experiences such as not noticing a particular car model until you’ve bought one; then they’re everywhere. More don’t exist; the model simply became relevant to a part of the brain called the thalamus that performs this filtering work. Intuitive information may work similarly, and this may be true of the subconscious in general. Studies show that the more we record dreams, for instance, the easier it becomes to recall them, thus we seem to have more. We’ve made them more relevant. Similarly, becoming more aware of the power of your subconscious mind can help remove the lid from that deep well of knowledge and let useful guidance bubble up. Asking others about experiences of intuition can also assure your inner voice you’re willing to hear it.
- Apply mindful curiosity. Notice and interrogate the impolite impulses and peanut-gallery observations in the back of your mind. What prompted them? What might they imply? You don’t need to act on them, but as with many mindfulness practices, the more you notice, the clearer, calmer, and more frequent inner knowing becomes. You also might try keeping an intuition journal to further encourage truths that might be hiding inside.
- Take control. If you think of intuition as fickle, foolish, or fake—a mistake I made when spotting that significant rock pile—you’re setting yourself up for a block. This is a good reason to attribute it to your soul or your subconscious mind, rather than an external source. (On the other hand, if angels whisper to us, they’re probably doing it often and we simply need to improve our hearing.) Affirmations can help. Try, “Everyone has an intuition, mine works for me, and I’m listening for it more and more.”
One note: There’s evidence trauma survivors struggle to accurately hear routine signals from their bodies, let alone intuition’s more subtle voice. If you have unresolved trauma, nothing is likely to help more than professional therapy.
The internal voice can be wrong, of course, just like our senses and rational minds. Use it as a guide, not a substitute for research or rational decisions. Just don’t ignore it, or it’s likely to stop offering help. Our brains are hard-wired to repeat what gets rewarded, from behaviors to habits of thought. Whether you call them gut instinct or bolts from the blue, those mysterious nudges from inside are no different—whether quiet or as loud as mine that day by the rock pile.
Dörfler, Viktor, and Fran Ackermann. “Understanding Intuition: The Case for Two Forms of Intuition.” Management Learning. 43:5 (Nov. 2012). 545–564. doi:10.1177/1350507611434686
Hogarth, Robin M. Educating Intuition. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2001.
Shirley, Debbie A., and Janice Langan-Fox. “Intuition: A Review of the Literature.” Psychological Reports, 79:2 (Oct. 1996). 563–584. doi:10.2466/pr0.1918.104.22.1683.
Van der Kolk, Bessel, M.D. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Viking, 2014
About the author:
Joni Sensel is a certified grief educator and the author of more than a dozen books. Her interests in intuition, creativity, and spirituality are explored at more length in her forthcoming memoir, Feeling Fate: A Memoir of Love,Intuition, and Spirit (April 2022).