Have you ever made a snap judgment based on a lot of information without having the time to process it, and yet it just felt right? Have you walked into a meeting and instantly sensed trouble looming even when you couldn’t explain why? In both cases, your intuitive mind was at play.
Intuition is the knowledge that comes from outside the thinking brain when you aren’t sure how or why you know. In contrast, the rational mind refers to deliberate processing and conscious reasoning. In my executive coaching practice, I help leaders cultivate their intuition muscle to thrive in the complex work environment today. I use mindfulness practices and heart-focused breathing techniques to help clients draw their attention to their physical senses and tune in to their gut feelings and heartfelt senses where I believe intuition is rooted. It is a key skill set that can help leaders adapt to uncertainty and ambiguity.
Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow draws a similar distinction between two modes of thinking. System 1 is a fast mode of thinking that is intuitive, instinctive and emotional. System 2 is slow and deliberate; it represents reason and logic. Kahneman contends there is a place for both systems. Similarly, Malcolm Gladwell in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking argues that sometimes we do our best thinking in a snap judgment.
Some people believe we have three brains — the head, heart and gut — with an intricate communication network among them. Intuition is thought to be rooted in the heart and gut, and it develops from the signals the heart and gut send to the head.
In my experience, despite the potential value of intuition, we have given more power to the rational mind and tend to disregard intuition. Why is that the case? I believe deliberate information processing might give the illusion that one’s reasoning is always accurate, while intuition is perceived as devoid of logic and as such is often downplayed as something we cannot prove. The limitations of this view are illustrated in a quote famously attributed to Albert Einstein: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
As our world becomes more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, we need to reevaluate if we should rely primarily on rational thinking. At face value, one might think that the more complex a situation is, the more we need to rely on analysis to bring some clarity. I believe, however, that this is not always true. So when is it particularly important to tune in to our intuition? The following are specific suggestions I offer my clients:
1. When you feel overwhelmed by too much information:
You might react by overthinking or gathering even more data to help bring you clarity, which might, ironically, lead to you becoming even more overwhelmed. When you sense falling into what I like to call “analysis paralysis,” stop and listen to your heart and gut wisdom. By doing so, I believe you can then instinctively understand which information is unimportant and can be ignored so you can filter out the noise and zero in on what matters.
2. When you are an expert in your field and you need to make a quick judgment under pressure about a complex topic:
You don’t have the luxury of time to engage in deliberate thinking. But as an expert, I believe you can safely tune in to your intuition to process a massive amount of information, connect the dots and make instant, correct holistic judgments.
3. When you don’t have any data on which to base your decision:
Analysis is then not an option, but decisions still must be made. In my experience, this often creates a stress response that can be detrimental to sound decision making. Tuning in to your intuition can help enable calm decision making during uncertainty.
4. When you feel ambivalent about what to do and there are no clear decision rules:
For example, let’s say you think you should hire Candidate A based on hard data, but your gut is telling you to hire Candidate B. This is the kind of situation where relying on reason alone might not be enough. I believe intuition can play an important role in decisions that should be guided by soft data, deep values and feelings. It can help you detect red flags and vague hunches, as well as sort out inconsistencies to help you make decisions that feel right.
5. When you want to discover new possibilities or generate new ideas.
In my experience, intuition can allow you to view information through new lenses, process holistically a web of associations and connect the dots. As such, it can be instrumental in promoting creativity and innovation.
I believe intuition will become increasingly more valuable in our world and grow for the following reasons: First, we need new approaches to manage information overload, adjust to living with ambiguity and adapt to the speed of change. Second, as more people adopt contemplative practices that allow them to slow down, look inward, quiet their mental clutter and attune to their bodies to pick up signals, I believe a natural intuitive connection occurs.
Granted, intuition has its limitations, and it does not always serve us best. Unconscious biases can cause bad snap decisions. Yet, intuition is an amazing gift that can sometimes help us make better judgments, find creative solutions and act swiftly. The question is how fast we can learn to cultivate our intuitive minds before becoming overwhelmed by the stress that volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity can create.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com [link to original article click here].