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Why It's Important to Follow Your Intuition


We've all experienced it: That feeling in your stomach compelling you to do--or not do--something for no logical reason. It's what drives
you to take the long way to work and miss the
traffic accident or to accept the date with the guy
who turns out to be the one. And while it may seem
like a mysterious force, scientists are discovering
that intuition is actually a highly specialized way
of thinking. "It's learned expertise--something we
might not even be aware we had—that is instantly
accessible," says David Myers, Ph.D., a social
psychologist and the author of Intuition: Its
Powers and Perils
. The good news is you can find
out how to tap into your gut, take control of
your destiny, and start living a more rewarding
life simply by answering these six questions.

1. Are you in tune with your environment?

Ever wonder how
firefighters seem to know
when to get out of a burning
building--almost like they
have a sixth sense? Gary
Klein, Ph.D., a cognitive
psychologist and the author
of The Power of Intuition,
has spent years studying this
phenomenon. His conclusion?
"Firefighters have learned,
over time, to notice subtle
cues that are invisible
to the rest of us," he says.
"Their subconscious spots anomalies." In other
words, they're constantly
going through an internal
checklist. As soon as
something doesn't match
up, they know to get out.

Gut check

To fine-tune
this ability yourself,
identify a few places
you know very well, like
your home, office, or
neighborhood, and try to
find three things in each
that you've never noticed
before. This simple act
will help train you to be
attuned to changes or
irregularities. Once you've
picked up on a message
from your environment,
use it to make a decision.
For example, if you look
around your home and
notice that an electrical
cord has become frayed,
replace it. Even if you
don't have a child, you
may prevent a guest's
toddler from having a
serious accident.

2. Are you a good listener?

"In order to be
intuitive, you need to
actively pay attention
to what others and your
environment are telling
you," says Joan Marie
Whelan, the author of
Soul Discovery. The more
information you take in,
the more your mind has
to draw from when it
comes time to make a
pivotal decision.

To prove the point, in
2008 scientists from the
Max Planck Institute for
Human Development in
Berlin interviewed ordinary
people who had invested
in the stock market simply
by choosing stocks or
companies they'd heard
of before. The scientists
made portfolios of these
stocks and compared
their success to similarly
sized ones compiled by
industry experts. After six
months, the portfolios put
together by the seemingly
uninformed group had
earned more money than
the ones designed by the
pros. Why? Researchers
theorize that the rookies
probably chose stocks
they'd inadvertently heard
good things about. Tutors
actually advocate this type
of strategy when you're
stumped on a test or work
problem: Go with the
solution that resonates
most with you, even if
you can't pinpoint why
it seems right.

Gut check

To become a
better listener, start by
asking yourself, "How
often do I cut people off?
Am I frequently trying to
get my point across rather
than listening?" If so, try
maintaining eye contact
with the person speaking
to you. "You're less likely
to interrupt someone
you're staring at," says
Whelan. This will help you
really hear everything he
or she has to say. Over
time it will help you pick
up on things others don't.

3. Do you pay attention to body language?

Highly intuitive people
may seem like mind
readers, but the truth is,
they're just better at
guessing what people
around them are
thinking--largely because
they're adept at sussing
out nonverbal signals.

Gut check

believe that the ability to
read faces is a skill
we've acquired through
evolution. "Historically,
living in groups has been
extremely important to
survival," says Michael
Bernstein, a researcher at
Miami University in Oxford,
Ohio. "Being kicked out
of the group could mean
death, so people became
very good at evaluating
facial expressions and
social cues," he says. Now
a similar phenomenon
occurs with people who
have faced rejection (e.g.,
they've been booted out
of a clique at school or
gotten dumped), says
Bernstein, who published
his findings in a recent
issue of Psychological
. "They are
generally able to recognize
who is and isn't being
genuine simply by
scrutinizing their smiles."
To become a better body
language reader, says
Bernstein, stare someone
in the eyes when they
smile: "If the muscles
around their eyes crinkle,
it's the real deal. A faux
smile only requires you to
move your mouth." Rapid swallowing or blinking
and restricted arm
movements can indicate
dishonesty, notes Joe
Navarro, an ex-FBI agent
and the author of What
Every Body Is Saying

4. Are you a risk taker?

A Stanford
Business School
study of 170 Silicon Valley
start-ups found that the
most successful were
not those with the most
experienced employees.
Rather, they were the
ones whose workers
had the most diverse
and unconventional
backgrounds--in other
words, the companies that
made risky hires instead
of just seeking out the
strongest résumés. "Going
out on a limb is another
bedrock of intuition. When
you take risks, you're being
proactive, which helps you
control events better than
when you're reactive," says
Whelan. In essence, you're
upping the odds that good
things will come your way.

Gut check

Get in the
habit of actively seeking
out opportunities to do
things that are outside the
norm for you. Take an
unexpected route on your
evening walk just because
it feels right, or pick up the
phone and call someone
who inexplicably pops into
your mind. Not only will
this get you in the habit
of listening to your gut, it
will also help you get
accustomed to making
proactive choices. Chances
are, some of them will
eventually make a
difference. Reconnecting
with an old friend, for
example, could result in a
lead on a great new job.

5. Do you second-guess yourself?

In a Michigan State
University study,
experienced chess players
did as well playing a
sped-up version of the
game as they did playing
it the traditional way.
In other words, they
didn't need to mull over
decisions to ace the game.
"Although some of what
we call intuition is actually
knowledge we didn't know
we had, another part of it
is conscious expertise,"
says Klein. "Getting back
to the firefighters, they've
been in so many burning
buildings, they know
to check for things we'd
never think of without even
realizing they're doing
it." If they stopped to
second-guess themselves,
the results could be
devastating. In fact,
research shows that when
it comes to things you
do all the time, stopping
and thinking can actually
increase your error
rate by up to 30 percent.

Gut check

Identify the
things you probably know
more about than most--
your health, family, and job.
If you have a strong feeling
about any of these, pay
attention to it—and ask
yourself as many questions
about it as possible
("How long have I felt this
way?" "What exactly am
I reacting to?"). Then write
down the answers and
determine whether
you're onto something
that could warrant further
action and ultimately
lead you to a wise (aka
intuitive) decision.

6. Can you let go and relax?

Scientists are
discovering that when
you’re looking for insight,
taking a break from what
you're doing is often the
best approach.

"Consciously or not, your
mind is always working.
Giving yourself permission
to let go of your focus and
ignore all the maybes and
what ifs can make room
for you to follow more
intuitive ideas," says Mark
Jung-Beeman, Ph.D., a
cognitive neuroscientist at
Northwestern University.

Gut check

something fun can give
your brain space for insight,
according to Jung-Beeman.
So try to find 30 minutes
a day for exercise, reading
for pleasure, enjoying
nature, or even squeezing
in a catch-up session with a
friend--anything that
steers your thoughts away
from daily stresses and
patterns will help clear your
head of clutter. During
those times, force yourself
to not think of anything in
particular. Instead let your
mind free-associate--and
don't be surprised if the
insight you gain leads
to an outcome you never
dreamed possible.


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