We all know the merits of being data-driven. It's smart, or at least makes you sound smart. But relying only on data means you miss out on leveraging the supercomputer-like system we're all born with: intuition.
So what is intuition, anyway?
Intuition are insights your receive through your subconscious mind.
For context, think of your subconscious like a computer. And your conscious mind like a basic calculator. Your subconscious can process millions of bits of raw data at a time. Whereas your conscious mind can only take in a few inputs.
When you tap your intuition for information, an advanced process ensues.
Your subconscious takes data available in the present moment, and data stored from past experiences. It synthesizes all this information to connect abstract concepts, recognize patterns, and solve problems. Then delivers you a well-formulated insight.
Why should we care about intuition?
Well, intuitive insights can be profound. In fact, some of the most renowned entrepreneurs have credited intuition for their success.
Steve Jobs said “Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect.” In a commencement speech, he told Stanford grads, "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition."
Oprah Winfrey said, “I've trusted the still, small voice of intuition my entire life.” She believes “life whispers to us all the time, and it’s up to us to listen."
Likewise, Richard Branson built his fortune on the philosophy of "screw it, just do it." He believes in taking action on his intuition, and relies "far more on gut instinct over researching huge amounts of stats."
Intuition isn’t just available to the Jobs, Winfreys and Bransons of the world, it's available to all of us. But, it's up to us to use it.
If intuition is so beneficial, why don’t we use it more?
Only 26% of the population relies on intuition. The remaining 74% of the population prefers rational thinking (source). Included this stat for all the rational people reading this who need facts and figures. :)
As a society, why are we obsessed with rational thinking?
Well, for one, we get how it works. Rational thinking takes place in our conscious mind, which means we are active participants in creating these thoughts. That’s why thoughts seem valid and factual.
Whereas, intuition takes place in our subconscious. We are not part of this process. So when we get an insight, it seems to appear out of nowhere. That’s why our rational minds often doubt the validity of our intuition.
Secondly, because intuition is not widely accepted by society, we tend to suppress our intuitive side because we don’t want to be the oddballs.
Albert Einstein was often ridiculed for taking speculative leaps. In response, he said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
Fortunately, we’re reaching an inflection point.
Today, intuition is entering the mainstream out of necessity.
Each of us is taking in 34 GB of data every day. That's equal to the entire storage capacity of an iPhone.
For context, 25 years ago we consumed 20,000 words a day. Today, we're consuming 100,000 words a day. That’s 5x more than before (source).
Not surprisingly, our cognitive processing systems haven’t evolved to meet the demands of the information age we’re living in.
For example, let's say you're launching a brand, and you want to figure out how to get traffic to your website.
You'll probably start with an innocent Google search. But then quickly find yourself going down a rabbit hole reading endless articles on 'best practices' and 'hacks.'
Then, you'll listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, take a course, and on and on it goes.
Before you know it, you're inundated with marketing advice on Facebook ads, Instagram, SEO, PR, influencer marketing, you name it.
At this point, you’re overwhelmed. You’ve reached 'cognitive overload'. You know if you try to execute every idea, you'll burn out. And if you don't try anything, you’ll stagnate.
So, it's time to make a decision. What next step will you take to launch your brand?
Rational vs Intuitive Decision Making
You could make that decision with your rational mind, your intuition, or both.
If you were to use your rational mind, the decision-making process would look something like this...
You could start by analyzing brands that are similar to yours. In the process, you might find out that most brands are getting the highest volume of traffic from Facebook ads. So you decide to leverage Facebook for your launch. Next, you learn how to run ads, and manage to create a cost-effective ad that happens to convert. This rational process could work but it’s unlikely.
The reality is, marketing, and any business outcome for that matter is unpredictable. There are no guarantees. Intuition is particularly helpful in these complex scenarios.
If you were to use your intuition, the decision-making process would look something like this...
You would start by asking your intuition a question, like, "What marketing strategy is best for me?". You could ask the question internally, say it out loud to yourself, or write it down on paper.
Your intuition will go to work in the background. It will process a wide swath of information. It’ll weigh in your recent marketing research. Your previous experiences. Your personal preferences. Your core values, and so on.
Next, allow the answer to come to you.
Sometimes you’ll receive an immediate intuitive insight. Other times, you’ll need to reduce your mental clutter a bit. That might mean going for a walk. Taking a shower. Meditating. Or, doing routine tasks like washing the dishes.
The goal is to activate what’s called your ‘default mode network,’ and slip into ‘wakeful rest'. Doing so allows your mind to wander and make neural connections.
In some instances, you'll need to sleep on it. Thomas Edison’s mantra was “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” Sleep gives your subconscious time to formulate creative insights.
While this process will look different for everyone, there is evidence that we're all capable of receiving intuitive insights.
Trust that you will inevitably receive a creative breakthrough or an aha moment. The insight you receive will feel fully aligned.
A clever PR pitch idea might come to you on a walk. Or, you might wake up with a brilliant influencer campaign idea. You’ll feel a sense of bliss and ease knowing this is the best next step for you personally.
Though, the tricky thing about intuition is it can be very subtle. When you're getting started, it's easy to confuse it with your thoughts.
What’s the difference between intuition and thoughts?
Fortunately, there are four ways you can tell the difference between your intuition and your thoughts.
No 1: Identify the Difference
Intuition feels like an immediate sense of knowing. It is often accompanied with a visceral sensation. You might feel an inner certainty, a sudden understanding of what you need to do. It is calm, confident, and present moment focused.
Thoughts, on the other hand, are frequent, repetitive, and often nagging. We have 12-60k thoughts a day. Of those thoughts, 80% are negative and self-critical. And 95% of them are the same ones you had yesterday, and the day before that (source). Thoughts are essentially patterns of reactions. That's why most of your thoughts are ruminations of the past or worries about the future.
No 2: Feel the Difference
Because thoughts are nonstop, it's very easy to mistake intuition as a thought. To be sure you're hearing your intuition and not a thought, feel the difference.
Ask yourself, is the information you're receiving expansive or constrictive? Expansive feelings come from your intuition, your body will feel open, and light. Constrictive feelings come from thoughts, your body will feel closed-off, and tense.
Sometimes, your intuition may give you an answer that makes you feel nervous or afraid. Fear created by intuition feels like butterflies. Fear created by thoughts feels like dread.
No 3: Ask a Friend to Spot the Difference
Without being consciously aware of it, we all communicate with more than our words. It can be helpful to talk to a particularly perceptive friend.
When you share ideas that are aligned with your intuition, your face might brighten up. Your shoulders might drop down. There might be a subtle release in your body or ease in your voice. On the flip side, if it’s not aligned, your body might appear tense, or your voice might sound tentative or annoyed.
Your perceptive friend is likely to subconsciously pick up on these subtle clues.
No 4: Experience the Difference
Sometimes no amount of analyzing or talking will help you determine the difference, you may need to embody the experience.
Start by taking the first steps. It could be preparing that PR pitch, or coming up with a list of influencers you want to partner with.
In order to start taking action, you might find it’s helpful to get into alignment first. That means boosting your mood through gratitude, a few deep breaths, playing your favorite song etc. This can prevent thoughts that trigger perfectionism or procrastination from taking over.
Once you manage to immerse yourself in the project, do you find yourself in flow? If so, the idea is likely coming from your intuition.
If you find your excitement wearing off quickly, the idea might have been rooted in shiny object syndrome. If you’re dreading the project, the idea might have been rooted in a thought about what you 'should' do.
And again, if nerves come up again, do the fear test I mentioned earlier. If something is truly aligned, you’ll genuinely want to take action on it despite the nerves.
Remember, intuition isn’t magic.
While your intuition is immensely valuable and is often right, it isn’t always right. Likewise, intuition is not a replacement for rational thinking. In fact, intuition is best used alongside rational thinking.
Bill Gates uses both concrete data and intuitive insights to make decisions. When he doesn’t have enough data, that’s when he relies on intuition. He said, “I'm often wrong, but my batting record is good enough that I keep swinging every time the ball is thrown.”
Like Gates, our intuition will not have a perfect batting average.
Though, we can intentionally train our intuition.
In his research, Professor Robin Hogarth found that we can deliberately improve our intuition. Specifically, he said that “Entrepreneurs should constantly be exposing themselves to wide-ranging and relevant data, brain food for their subconscious processes."
What that means is we can create more lightbulb moments by being curious. Intuition draws upon months, even years, of information gathered from play and exploration. While intuition seems to appear in a flash, it's a complex subconscious process that improves over time.
Suzy Bátiz, founder of Poo-Pourri, built a $300 million business by inadvertently training her intuition. Curious about aromatherapy, she began experimenting with oils as a fun hobby.
And when her husband left a particularly foul bowel movement, she got an intuitive hit. At that moment, she came up with the idea to use essential oils to trap bathroom odors. Despite two previous business bankruptcies, her intuition knew "this was an idea that needed to be born.”
When asked to impart entrepreneurial advice, Bátiz shared, “You have an internal guidance system, and you know more about your idea than anybody else will ever know, and you can get all the advice in the world, but you have to take that advice, gauge it inside based on your intuition and your feelings, because it's your baby”.
Intuition teaches us to trust ourselves.
Instead of constantly looking externally for answers, intuition gives us access to the answers that are already within us. And that alone is a gift.
So go forth, and ask your intuition those questions you’ve been pondering. Allow the answers to come to you. Have the courage to follow your intuition for it may lead you somewhere brilliant.
And in the wise words of the poet, Rumi, “What you seek is seeking you.”