Intuition Blindness: Why your gut feeling is as important as your traditional senses

Today, we’re talking intuition. It’s a difficult area for me, as I can be skeptical. I trust science, and if there’s no research to back something up, I often dismiss it.

Being in isolation during the pandemic has given me a lot of thinking time. I’ve been looking deeper within myself, mainly to get away from our strange current reality. I’ve come to realise that focussing on myself right now lets me see how things are affecting me personally.

Part of me felt that now we have so much research in our faces on a daily basis at the moment, I shouldn’t be heart-centred. However, getting to know ourselves and living in our gut feelings is more important than ever.

In his autobiography, Richard Branson wrote,

“I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.”

This proves that even the most successful people on the planet do not always depend on the data. That’s not to say Branson’s ideas always prospered (Virgin Vodka, and Brides, anyone?), but he kept listening to his gut.

Intuition is not about being right, but about listening to yourself.

My concerns about intuition come up when I start asking, “What could go wrong?” The truth is that things go wrong whether we follow science or a gut feeling. When it turns out we were wrong to follow intuition, we can accuse ourselves of ignoring logic. This means that we are more likely to berate ourselves, than if science was proven wrong.

The Sixth Sense?

I’m learning to regard ‘gut feeling’ as another of our senses. We trust our main senses (sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing), so why distrust intuition? It is, after all, also built on personal sensation.

An argument against seeing intuition as the sixth sense is that the others are the same for everyone. At a basic level, that’s true. If twenty people look at a lawn, all twenty are likely to refer to it as green when asked what colour they see. Similarly, if I set light to something, everyone with a normal sense of smell would say they smelt burning.

Is it true that everyone who says the lawn is green, or everyone who smells burning, think the same as each other? We all sense things differently – you might see the grass as forest, whilst I see it as emerald. It’s also possible you smell more sulphur in the fire than I do. By giving common names to certain things we see or smell, we gain a false sense that they are the same for everyone.

Even if everyone did see exactly the same shade of green, that’s not where the story ends. We all like different colours, sounds, smells – we don’t enjoy the same things. When we see something, we form an opinion about it, which is not so different from having intuitive feelings.

What if we could trust our gut feeling in a similar way to how we trust our eyesight? It would entail that we assume we are being given a truthful representation. We accept that I may look at something and see aqua, while you see turquoise. Along a similar vein, we could acknowledge differing intuition about the same situation. Although we want to predict that we see, taste, smell, feel, hear, and intuit in the same way, we do not.

All things have some degree of unpredictability, even science. We don’t know when the next breakthrough might prove what we previously believed wrong. It is on us to accept we don’t always know what to prioritise: intuition; a traditional sense; or scientific data.

Knowing Without Knowing

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, 

“We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that – sometimes – we’re better off that way.”

This quote resonates a lot with me as a reformed intuition agnostic! I denied my gut feelings, believing I was better off being led by scientific proof and statistics. The more I went against my heart, the more uncomfortable I felt, but I wouldn’t trust anything I didn’t understand.

If I didn’t know the ‘why’ behind what I wanted to do, I simply wouldn’t do it. This made my life so much harder than it needed to be.

If I look within, I might not get the correct answer, but I will be finding the answer that’s right for me in the here and now. If my decision turns out to be wrong, it’s a case of having to go through that to teach me a lesson, so I’ll succeed in the future.

I believe that our intuition knows what’s best for us, whether we understand it or not.

Logic vs Instinct

We need to find ways in which logic and instinct can co-exist to help us make the best decisions.

Have you ever bought a house or rented a property? Did you step inside the door of that place and think, “Wow, this is it, this is the place for me”? That’s exactly what has happened in all the properties that I’ve lived in. That’s not to say I don’t get facts about structural safety, for example, but I do put my instinct front and centre.

Once we tick off any factual points in a decision, we are able to use our instinct to take the next step.

Science can’t answer everything. Sometimes even if science does have answers, we feel compelled to trust our instinct. A trivial example for me is when I’m gardening and I rarely follow the instructions on the seeds packet exactly. I will plant things closer than they should be, or in shallower soil than recommended, and so on.

This is very different from using intuition to buy a house, of course, but actually works in a similar way. I look at the science and use it to tick the box (e.g. ‘no subsidence’), or aid a decision to do something different. Either way, the science is there and I decide to regard it or not.

I firmly believe that intuition is the right course to take more often than not. If we used it in the same way that we use our other senses, we would skyrocket our personal development.

By listening to our gut, we learn to listen to ourselves, paying attention to what we are sensing and feeling.

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