Paying Attention To Intuition

“Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to teach children to draw? If you put paper and crayons in front of them, they draw. And they usually put the sun in an upper corner with the rays coming down.” The artist Skip Hill made this statement to me one day while we were talking about art and art education. We were discussing the experiences he and other artists have had where someone (often a teacher in art school) told them they were doing art wrong. We ended up separating the ability to use the tools of the artist in a technically correct way from the act of making “art.” The skills and rules were cognitive. Art, we decided, was intuitive.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ― Pablo Picasso

The dictionary defines intuition as the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning. Our understanding of intuition begins with understanding the difference between the conscious and nonconscious mind, between reason and instinct.

The conscious mind contains all of the thoughts, memories, feelings, and wishes of which we are aware at any given moment. This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally (reason). This also includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily and brought into awareness.

The nonconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. The nonconscious can contain content that are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict. The nonconscious can also operate more freely in making connections and sensing things (instinct) because it is not subject to critique.

Most of us are very familiar with using reason and our rational, conscious mind to process information and reach conclusions. When it comes to using our intuition, or instinct, we are sometimes less sure of ourselves. We are often embarrassed to say we are acting on a hunch or that we “feel” we should go a particular direction.

We have to add to this confusion the myth that “first impressions (or decisions) are more often correct.” This is false. Research has shown that when taking a test, students who stick with their first choice (on questions they are uncertain about) are wrong as often as those who change their answer. However, students who record how they feel about their initial choice improve their results by changing more wrong first answers and leaving more right ones alone.

The nonconscious mind searches through the past, present, and future and connects with hunches and feelings in a nonlinear way. Its process is cryptic to the logical mind as it defies the conventional laws of time and space. However, it is exactly this ability to “break the rules” that allows the nonconscious mind to utilize information in unique ways and create connections the conscious mind would never make.

If paying attention to our nonconscious mind and the information it sends into our conscious mind improves our use of it, how can we do that? Let me share three things I do that have helped me make more connections to the wealth of information contained in my nonconscious mind:

Keep A Journal

Writing things down is a magical activity. It activates different parts of your brain and causes the information to be stored and processed differently. The best advice I ever got about journaling was from the friend who got me started. He wrote all kinds of things in his journal, notes, dreams, poems, grocery lists, feelings, events and places (along with sketches) and much more. He told me once, “I cannot know today what will be important tomorrow. Maybe my grocery list will be more important in the future than the ‘deep thoughts’ of today.” Remember the students who improved when they kept a record of their feelings about their choices? Make sure to include how you feel about the things you see, think and do.

Fire Your Critic

We all have an internal critic that judges us and tries to get us to rationalize away our inner voice. Fire that critic. Allow yourself to listen to your inner voice without fear or judgement. When your nonconscious mind tells you to wear red to your interview, your critic says, “red what?” Your instinct says, “I don’t know, just something red.” Your critic says, “Red is too aggressive.” Your instinct says, “You’re missing the point.” The point is that you like red and will be more comfortable wearing it, which will make you more confident and at ease during the interview. Your critic might try to talk you out of it for logical reasons, but it could be the best decision for you.

Get Alone

It is really hard to hear our quiet inner voice above the noise of the world around us. Creating solitary time for meditation, practicing mindfulness, or experiencing nature or art can help us acknowledge our feelings and improve the connection between our conscious and nonconscious mind. When we are immersed in external data our rational mind is highly active and loud. Getting away from the onslaught of information and mental demands gives us the needed break to let the conscious mind settle down and allow the nonconscious mind to speak up.

We do not have to reject logic and rationality to benefit from instinct and intuition. In essence, we need both reason (logic) and instinct (intuition) to make the best possible decisions for ourselves, our families, and our businesses. This balance is healthy for ourselves and our community and that is The Kimray Way.