Our conventional approach to acquiring skill is to do more. More study. More reading. More training. That can play a part in educating your intuition, but it’s not the whole story.
Your intuition is, after all, an emotional reaction to stimulus that you haven’t consciously processed – something you haven’t thought about in your rational mind, but that some part of your brain has noticed. The more practised you are at recognising patterns in your field, the more readily your intuition will flag them for you.
If you know patterns of criminal behaviour at a molecular level, you’ll recognise the shifty movements of the stranger at the end of the parking lot as you go to buy your $2 latte at 7-11. The same could be said for knowledge of the stock market, or emotional intelligence, or even just how to anticipate what mood your spouse is in based upon the way they take off their shoes. If you miss it consciously, your intuition may pick up the slack for you. That’s where more study can be useful.
However, the true gains to be had in maximising your intuition actually come from doing less. Less thinking. Less panicking. Less analysing. Less hurrying.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing world renowned self-defence expert and author, Rory Miller, on my Managing Violence Podcast. We were discussing his most recently published book, Living in the Deep Brain: Connecting with your Intuition. In this work, Miller argues that the most important aspect of utilising intuitive powers is not in addition, but in pruning the non-essential. Much like a beautiful sculpture is often finished not by adding more clay, but by carving away the excess that is not contributing to the desired aesthetic.
This might sound very Zen, like the musings of a 100-year-old monk in a low-budget Hong Kong action flick, but let’s see what that might mean in our day to day life.
When do you think you’ll notice your colleague’s emotional state best; when you’re stressed about your own life and your own job security, or when you’re comfortable and relaxed? When will you notice an interesting stock fluctuation; when you’re running from meeting to meeting and answering phone calls while simultaneously flicking through your stock app? Or when you can calmly take your time and digest what you’re looking at?
Let’s say you’re negotiating a deal with significant financial ramifications. If you can approach that meeting with a clear mind having shut out any other thoughts, your intuition will be able to focus intently. It will pick up on the subtle nuances of the conversation; facial expressions, pauses or body language tells that might give you a hunch that leads to a better outcome.
So how do we clear our mind? Practise.