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   By: Peter Cartmill

In today's age of significant technological advances, cable news networks, the internet, and an abundance of information, society places high value on making decisions based on the cold, hard facts of a situation and ignores our ability to make decisions which are less clearly defined by the information that we have and that cannot be clearly and accurately explained. We place less value on the remarkable ability that we have to just know. This remarkable ability is what we call our intuition. But what is it really and how can we use it to our benefit?

Intuition is often confused with instinct. Instinct is a more primal knowledge that does not rely on what we have learned, but rather what our ancestors have learned and with which we are born. Instinct is created through evolutionary forces that have helped ensure our survival as a species. It gives us the ability to just know how to act in certain situations, threatening or otherwise. For example, when our safety is threatened by a fear provoking event, our brain immediately sets into motion a series of events that allow us to quickly evaluate the threat and then take action. This is called the "fight or flight" response and is primarily unconscious. By the time we have realized that we have made a decision, we are already on the run! We do have the cognitive capacity, however, to override these instincts so while they are largely automatic, they are somewhat controllable. This is how we overcome our instinctual fears to such things as snakes, heights, and small, enclosed spaces.

Intuition is similar to instinct in that it is primarily unconscious, however, it is established on a much broader base of knowledge and relies more heavily on what we have learned rather than the instinctual knowledge with which we are born. As well, while instinct is automatic, intuition is a process that relies on the cognitive abilities that we develop as we learn and grow. In other words, intuition, while unconscious, is a process that is similar to the conscious process that we go through when making a conscious decision and it uses information that we have both consciously and unconsciously gathered through our experiences. I would argue that intuition is a more thorough process in decision-making as it has access to more of the knowledge that is available in the vast network that is your brain. As a result, conclusions that are made intuitively could be argued to be of a higher quality than those made consciously. The challenge is to discover how to access the conclusions of the intuitive self and separate these from other intruding thoughts that can easily be mistaken as intuition.

Intuitive thoughts are presented to us primarily in two ways. The first is as an "aha" moment. This is a sudden realization or thought that is accompanied by the feeling that "this is the answer". They come when you are not even thinking about your problem or concern and are the most obvious form of intuition. The second form of intuition is more subtle. It appears as a feeling in your stomach ("gut-feeling" not butterflies) or a tingling in the back of your neck. This form seems to be more common, so in addition to being aware of the ways in which intuition manifests itself, it is important to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations (being "present") in order to get in touch with your intuition. Through awareness you can begin to identify the moments where your intuition is presenting its conclusions. When those moments arise, "hear" what they are telling you and watch what happens when you do or do not listen.

A word of caution. As you develop your intuition, it is important not to make important decisions until you have practiced using it at less critical moments. As with any other skill, you must practice it in order to become proficient in its use. Once you have become more skilled at accessing and identifying your intuitive moments, you should find that it provides a valuable guide on the road to achieving your goals.

Copyright © 2005 by Peter Cartmill, All rights reserved.

Peter Cartmill is a Personal and Career Coach and the founder of To learn more about how Coaching can benefit you, visit

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