“You have to become very still and listen while your inner voice – the very essence of you – tells you who you are. You’ll know you’ve found it when every cell in your body practically vibrates; when you’re filled up by what you’re doing instead of being drained by it.”
– Oprah Winfrey
Many artists, as well as personal development writers and coaches extol the virtues of intuition for realizing our true selves, developing creative talents and making life decisions. How valid is intuition or intuitive thinking?
A research study by University College London indicates you are more likely to perform well on a symbol discrimination task if “you do not think too hard and instead trust your instincts,” according to their press release article, Trusting your instincts leads you to the right answer.
Dr Li Zhaoping, of the UCL Department of Psychology, said: “If our higher-level and lower-level cognitive processes are leading us to the same conclusions, there is no issue.
“Often though, our instincts and higher-level functions are in conflict and in this case our instincts are often silenced by our reasoning conscious mind. Participants would have improved their performance if they had been able to switch off their higher-level cognition by, for example, acting quickly.”
But it can be a challenge for people who are predominantly intellectual to acknowledge and make use of their intuition.
Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD (Director of the Gifted Development Center) notes, “Individuals with higher intelligence are likely to be well educated. Higher education indoctrinates students to think logically and skeptically and to dismiss intuitive information. Scientific evidence and logical argument are considered legitimate, whereas intuitive knowing and higher wisdom are relegated to the realm of superstition.”
Another perspective is provided by Malcolm Gladwell, author of the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. He says what we refer to as intuition may be a matter of “rapid cognition” and thinks intuition strikes him “as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings — thoughts and impressions that don’t’ seem entirely rational.
But he thinks that “what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking — its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with ‘thinking.’”
Gladwell also points out many costly, even deadly, failures of rapid cognition and snap judgment.
In his review of the book “Malcolmn Gladwell’s Blink: Your First Impression Is Usually Correct in Complex Situations,” technical writer Tom Johnson describes how he uses intuition or rapid cognition. “When I write a new post, essay, blurb, or other text, I usually have an immediate gut feeling as to whether it’s good or bad. Sure I could tear apart my judgment by analyzing all the elements: Does it have a thought-provoking idea, evidence for the assertion, transitions between paragraphs, coherence? But really this careful analysis is only an attempt to understand or justify the initial instinct.”
He also mentions how he responded to and judged others’ writing: “When I was a composition teacher, I immediately knew, after reading a student essay, whether it was good or bad. It only took about one or two paragraphs to make this judgment. Of course in my end comment, I had to justify my judgment, writing comments related to qualities I mentioned above. But I never proceeded through a list of characteristics to measure an essay before arriving at a conclusion of its worth.”
This is something I have noticed in evaluating my own writing as well – sometimes it just immediately “feels right” so I try to keep my critical mind at bay so it won’t find something wrong with it. Not that that is easy to do.
[Oprah Winfrey quote from Intuition Newsletter, Aug 2004, by Lynn A. Robinson / LynnRobinson.com]
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Last reviewed: 22 Aug 2011