Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Intuition


I was driving home late from work yesterday feeling really defeated, overwhelmed, and discouraged. I’ve been coping with some really difficult situations at work and lately it feels like the hits just keep coming. I had spent over 90 minutes seeking counsel from a wise and trusted mentor and still felt like I just couldn’t see a way to make things better. And then, while I was driving, it hit me. A solution just clicked into place and I had it. I ran it over in my mind a couple times, trying to check all the angles, and it seemed good. More, it felt right. It felt right in a deep, solid way that I trust, a feeling like two pieces locking into place somewhere behind my heart. So I called my mentor back that evening and checked it with her, and she thought it might be workable too. So then I pitched it to my immediate supervisor today and she is also tentatively in favor. It’s a really different approach but I think I might actually be able to make this happen, which would be a really, really good thing. Not just from my personal perspective, but I actually think this would be a much better solution for my entire department to accomplish a couple tasks in a more efficient, effective way.

What I’ve learned over time is that my intuition shows up in those deep body feelings. For me, intuition is a solid sense of rightness and surety that is actually a physical sensation in my chest when something is right, or, sometimes, a deep sense of “yucky” that feels a little sick to my stomach when something is really wrong. I don’t get those feelings very often, maybe 4-5 times total over my life, but when I have them I’ve learned to pay attention because they’ve always been right. I wonder what feelings other people have; I suspect it’s probably different. One of the best explanations of intuition I’ve read is that intuition is your mind coming up with an answer outside the system of logical processing we rely on so heavily in American culture. Which I think is really interesting when I put it together with some of the reading I’ve done on mindfulness and brain function. There is some research that shows that cognition (thinking) is actually a whole body function, not just a brain function. Our sense of interoception (our perception of the internal state of our bodies) plays a huge role in how we perceive external events and thus in how we assess our surroundings and make choices. And it is well established in psychiatric circles that our implicit memory (the memories that don’t feel like memories, like memories of how you do things or deeply internalized experiences) profoundly influences our current perceptions and experiences.

Which is not to say that you should prioritize either intuition or logic over the other. You notice in my flash of insight about my work situation I ran the intuitive solution through a more logical analysis to check it, and then checked it against a couple other people I trusted who were also familiar with the problem. Because intuition is happening at a biological level that underlies our rational logical cognition, and because it is influenced so strongly by implicit memory, it can lead us astray. It is particularly likely to lead us astray when current circumstances resemble an old and painful situation that we haven’t managed to resolve. But logic can also lead you astray, particularly if you ignore the deep body sensations that can be the way the less verbal part of your mind communicates. If there is a conflict between intuition and logic, that’s a signal to go searching for more data. Something is causing the mismatch and seeking that missing piece of information can save you a mistake. When intuition and logic line up though, when you have both your logical mind and your deep unconscious body memory telling you the same thing, then you have an answer worth pursuing.