Can We Trust Our Intuition?
There is a lot of material to help us plan when it comes to solving problems, but what about that thing we call a hunch? It is something that doesn’t make any rational sense. If we look in the dictionary to find the meaning of “hunch”, the word “to sense” appears. The definition that accompanies it is to “have a feeling”, “guess” or to have the impression that something is going to happen. So, we ask ourselves: can we trust our intuition?
We have the capacity to make decisions in a matter of seconds and not get it wrong. Therefore, it barely seems possible that a mechanism that contributes in such an important way to our survival is governed by chance. And even more so when we take into account the number of times we get it spot on.
“Through intuition we will overcome the seemingly irreducible hostility that separates our human flesh from the metal of the engine.”
Can we trust our intuition?
We know that we can’t always trust our first impressions. It’s easy to recall several occasions where we have relied on them and have got it wrong. On the other hand, we also know that our intuition works using heuristics, or shortcuts, that, because they are very general in nature, are far from being precise.
“We try by logic, but discover through intuition.”
On the other hand, intuition has been a mechanism more associated with women (for a very good reason we use the expression “feminine intuition” in popular language). In addition, it has always been considered something “magical”: a skill or a gift. However, although science has not been able to explain certain situations, we do know that its functioning has a more rational explanation than magic.
The mechanisms of association that we have in our brain, many of them very fast, form the basis of our intuition. They are so fast because they are able to work with a large amount of information at the same time and also because they can do it without us even being aware this process is taking place.
Can you influence quick thoughts?
The story of Abbie Conant that Malcom Gladwell tells us about in his book “Intuitive Intelligence” is not just a story of the fight against male chauvinism in music. It is also a reflection of how we can favour intuition when reason gets in the way. Abbie played the trombone – historically associated only with men – in Italy back in 1980. She sent off many applications to play with European orchestras and only the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra responded.
They did the audition behind a curtain because one of the candidates was the son of someone known to the jury. Abbie Conant played Ferdinand David’s Trombone Concert and messed up on one note. Even though she left the audition quite despondent, the court actually chose her to be part of the orchestra.
“Intellect confuses intuition.”
The musical experts recognized in a matter of seconds the quality of her playing. After listening to her rendition they were very clear about it and didn’t want to listen to anyone else. Of course, when they asked the chosen trombonist to come onto the stage, you can imagine their surprise when they saw a woman there. A woman who, in their minds, could not possibly have the ability to play that instrument. Although they hired her, they made her go through endless tests until she could be recognised by the tribunal.
This is an example of how we can change the situation in order to let intuition flow. The curtain is the key part of this story. By nullifying their thoughts, only pure feelings remained. Without the curtain, Abbie’s courage would have been clouded by another enemy of intuition: prejudice.
How to trust our intuition
Despite what we have said, intuition is usually reliable when we have little time to make a decision. Imagine that at work they offer you the opportunity of changing departments, but they also tell you it is a decision you have to take urgently because they need to fill that position quickly. In cases where we don’t have time to make a decision, trusting our intuition is the most appropriate option.
It is also a good ally in situations and processes where there is a large amount of information. Too much information to be able to put on a scale and gauge just with our human reasoning. In these cases, intuition, working separately from our conscience, is more able to give us a solution using this influx of information, and without swamping our logic circuits.
We have to be careful, because our intuition can easily be influenced or altered by our cultural surroundings, prejudices or uncontrolled emotions. Or, to put it another way, it can play tricks on us. Intuition is, therefore, an asset, but never the only solution. There are certain situations when it is better to conscious reasoning, as long as we have time to do so.
Finally, we’d just like to point out that we can improve our intuitive process by trying to identify those quick associations it works with and putting them to the test. We can see to what extent the voters of a certain political party identify with certain characteristics or to what extent the inhabitants of a certain country follow customs that, from the outside, seem to define them.
Improving and refining these types of associations will make our intuition work more effectively, as the quick associations our brain will rely on will be more precise.
“Live not according to the ideals or goals you have received, but with your aspirations, with your most impassioned intuition”.