“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.” – attributed to Albert Einstein
We never have perfect information. Yet, we still act. We always take a leap across the chasm of uncertainty, moving from the known to the unknown. We are always guided by some degree of intuition, even if we don’t acknowledge it.
This is true for most mundane tasks and complex choices. From deciding what to eat for lunch to making crucial business decisions, there is always an element of intuition guiding our movements in the world.
Most people think that cognitive power is our greatest gift as humans. We can plan, plot, scheme, and out-think other creatures. We trust that analysis and sound decision making, based on facts and data, will lead us to success in our careers and lives.
If you think this, however, you would be putting your faith in something that is all too failure prone. You are also ignoring your greatest form of intelligence, intuition.
Intuition keeps us safe
“Intuition is always right in at least two important ways; It is always in response to something. it always has your best interest at heart” – Gavin de Becker
Intuition is defined as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” It’s a vital element of personal safety.
Gavin de Becker, a foremost expert on violent behavior, is a staunch advocate of relying on gut feelings and intuition.
According to de Becker, when we try to collect facts and proof in potentially violent situations, we can end up being the victim. Instead, you should understand that “you have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.”
This guardian? Our intuition.
In potentially violent situations, where being a victim is required for proof that the situation really is dangerous, it makes sense that our intuition is a vital form of intelligence. Have you ever been walking down a street, and got a feeling that it wasn’t safe? I sure have. According to de Becker, you’d best heed those feelings. They are there for a reason, honed through thousands of years of evolution.
You are probably thinking, “yeah, OK, intuition makes sense when it comes to being safe….but how about the rest of my life?”
Let’s take a look at how intuition can help with other choices.
Intuition helps us decide
“The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” ― Gerd Gigerenzer
Gerd Gigerenzer is a director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and author of “Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious”. His work was popularized through Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”.
According to Gigerenzer, “the trick is not to amass information, but to discard it: to know intuitively what one doesn’t need to know.” Intuition might not instantly give you the right answer, but it will more swiftly steer you clear of danger and towards better options.
While pro/con lists, and elaborate, rational decision making strategies can be helpful, some of the most complex and significant decisions in our lives are not made this way.
Let me share a few examples from my life:
Example: Choosing a career
When I made the decision to choose a career in high-tech over investment banking or management consulting, I ignored the higher-pay and prestige of a Wall Street job (this was the year 2000 when I made this choice, when banking was in full glory!). Instead, I opted for the uncertainty of joining a tech company seemingly past its prime, far away from my friends and family.
I made a choice because it felt right, even though my salary would be much lower. Lucky for me, in making this decision I avoided the financial collapse that ensued in 2001. I also ended up working for incredible people during my nearly 14-year career at the company. Through ongoing promotions, any compensation gap was more than made up for over the years.
Example: Choosing a life partner
Getting married was another case where no rational decision-making process went into asking my current wife to marry me.
It felt right, so I did it.
No regrets there!
Example: Redesigning a life
Lastly, my decision to leave my corporate career was seemingly a very irrational thing to do. I had a great job, a new home (and a hefty mortgage to pay for) and had just gotten married. I didn’t know what my new career would be, or where I wanted to live. All I knew was that I needed to experience life differently. I trusted that I would eventually land on my feet and figure things out.
As hard as the decision was to make, intuitively it felt right.
Here I am three years later, and while the life I have now is very different than my old lifestyle, it’s better in many important ways.
My gut feelings were spot on.
Intuition is a built-in power that we all have.
It allows us to respond quickly when confronted with challenges that require decisive action. It also helps us handle situations that are exceedingly complex, where reasoning falls short.
When we feel unsafe walking down a lonely street, we know it’s time to grab an Uber or take the longer, but well-lit, alternative route.
When we believe that a career has run its course, and it’s time to try something new, we find the courage to make it happen even when logic tells us otherwise.
Intuition is indeed our hidden superpower. When all the rational analysis and reasoning gets us nowhere but stuck, we can rest easy and know that a deeper part of our intelligence is waiting to give us an answer.
This isn’t to say that logic has no place in our lives. It does!
What I’m saying is that we all should heed to something Einstein knew many years ago: that the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind should be its faithful servant.
Unfortunately, too many people have forgotten about their innate gift. It’s time to reclaim it.