I’ve studied the research behind intuition a bit, and there’s one main idea abut having intuition HELP you and be on your side – get to it early!

Step 0) Be open to intuition.
Step 1) Prepare for events early.

You’re open to intuition when you listen to the thoughts in your head – very simple. This has to do with D-level thinking, but we’ll get to specifics another day. Assume now – as a metaphor – that there is a constant musical drone inside your head. That musical base continues no matter whether you listen to classical music, sing along with Ella Fitzgerald, or bounce around to 80’s Madonna tunes. That musical base continues no matter whether you’re eating dinner with a friend, writing a blog post, or reading a non-fiction book.

What is this musical base? That’s a thought at the level of subconsciousness. That’s a thought that you may have accessed before and may access again. This isn’t a scientific description – it’s just an image.

Like the underlying current below the waves.

That’s your intuition.

One way that many researchers say that intuition works is by continuing to work even while you’re not consciously accessing it.

For example, I need to prepare for a coaching session tomorrow. What’s the best way to do that to put my intuition into the game?

Simple. I prepare early and often. I can do step #0 – being open to intuition – just by paying attention to new ideas that may seem to come out of the blue.

Much more importantly, I can do step #1 – prepare for events early – in order to give that subcurrent, that musical base TIME after I do my conscious preparations, and it’s in that time that new subconscious ideas can most grow.

So how do I prepare for tomorrow’s coaching session?
* Write up notes today
* Print out relevant assessments and techniques today
* Prepare all the materials that I may need today

And then tonight I can look everything over again. And tomorrow morning, I can look everything over again.

Happy preparing. And happy enjoying of the underlying currents working FOR you.

I enjoyed two posts recently about “WHAT IS YOUR GENIUS?” – Evelyn’s and Dwayne’s.

The way my friend H asks this “What is your genius?” question is
What is the one thing that you do that ONLY YOU can do?

Evelyn Rodriguez writes a couple of weeks ago in “What is Your Genius?” that she was at a party and was asked to write down the answer to the your-genuis question in fifteen minutes. Evelyn writes that this is a question that she would think it takes years and much insight to answer, and so was initially resistant to trying to do the same thing with minutes and a pencil? She writes that the way she jumped into it is through her curiosity and by thinking:

(Write what Allen Ginsberg calls “first thought”, first impulse, go for the raw unpolished unedited uncensored spew your guts forth wear your heart on the page just write as if no one is watching and no one needs to see it. Forget grammar, forget sentences that make sense, quickly before any “but” can sneak in.)

That’s the way to get to your subconscious is by asking details, and not giving yourself time to find a “but.”

And if you want to think about your wonder and genius in a more logical way, Dwayne Melancon of Genuine Curiosity writes how he does it. He writes the post “When are you at your best?” Dwayne says:

“At the recommendation of a mentor of mine I’ve been interviewing people I work with and asking them four simple questions, developed with help from my office mate Gene. The questions are simple and humbling […]:

  • In your opinion, what am I good at? […]
  • What am I not good at? […]
  • What is the highest value I provide to you or the organization? […]
  • How could I double or triple my value to you or the organization? […]

Obviously, I picked people I trust (to be honest, to keep my best interest in mind, etc.) but it’s still difficult to have these conversations with people you admire or respect. Trust me – it’s worth it to power through the anxiety.”

So, whether you want to PLAY (i.e. Evelyn’s style above) or DISCOVER (i.e. Dwayne’s style), it would be fun to try yourself out on this one! In both cases, though, just keep going. You know the little child who asks his Mom, “why is the sky blue?” and she answers that it is the only color that is reflected to our eyes, and then he says, “well, why is that the only color?” and she tells him about how the eye works, and he asks “why is the eye like that?” – be like that little child…. in both the intuitive PLAY and the logical DISCOVER cases, go deeper. Don’t stop at the outer level. Find out what your genius really is.

As Dwayne says:

One thing that can be challenging is to simply listen during these sessions. Fight your impulse to dispute what you hear, or play it down, or even lead your interviewee down a different path. Try to limit your commentary responses to, “Thank you,” or, “I didn’t realize that,” and make liberal use of phrases like, “Tell me more…,” and, “What do you mean by that?”


I have a suggestion.
Make this year the year that you say “Yes” to everything that you want.

Choose the “Yes” important items first (like we talked about here). Choose the items that energize and excite you.

Once you do that – once you decide that you are going to say “Yes” to the most important items – then providence moves too. Once you are in the market for a red Beetle, you start to see more red Beetles on the road. Alvin frequently writes that once a person focuses on his goals, then everything else falls into place (see here and here). David Pollay writes on the newly launched Positive Psychology News Daily about starting the New Year off right: he suggests writing down your goals and focusing on them two minutes a day. Simple and effective.

There’s this concept of Intuition that I strongly believe in – “You Turn to Face the Unknown Corner.” That’s just true – that happens to all of us. That happens to everyone. When people walk into an unfamiliar room, they turn to face the unknown corner. People want to get their bearings and get a sense of the space around them. People intuitively turn to face the unknown corner.

Similarly, people turn to face that which is familiar and desirable. You can make your most important “Yes”s desirable – by thinking about them, by seeing them in your head before you go to bed, by writing emails to your friends about them. So when a choice comes up…

Should you go see a movie or go home and work on your business plan?

…you’ll know what’s right for you to do at that point. Which of those two choices you should say “Yes” to. You know because you are the person who knows yourself best. Even when it may sometimes seem that you don’t know what’s best for you, usually if you talk it out or write it down, you can see that you do know, that the words you use to describe both options are different, and that one option clearly is better. (Both can be the best option – whether you choose the movie or the business plan.)

As my friend D says, “It’s all good in the end, and if it’s not good, then it’s not the end.”

Plus you DO already know as Alvin describes here because you are a great judge of your senses and your inner self-talk. You know best the nuances you feel and think when faced with a choice. Lean in the New Year toward those things you most want for yourself.

Say “Yes” in the New Year to those things that matter to you.

When a person stops thinking about one thing and starts thinking about something else, often the switch in thoughts is triggered by an emotion. Specifically, moving from one thought to another can be described as removing one thought from conscious thinking, and replacing it with another thought into conscious thinking.

Why do you start thinking a new thought? Why does a new thought move into your conscious thinking? It might be that you start thinking a new thought because you touch, see, and hear something (Damasio (1999)), because you have a feeling and that triggers this thought (Damasio), because you have a thought that triggers this thought (Damasio & LeDoux (1996)), or because you become for an instant more self-awareness (LeDoux). And there are probably even more other stimuli that may trigger a new thought.

I’m interested in looking at emotions as triggering a thought moving into conscious thinking. Part of Merriam-Webster’s definition of emotion is that it is “subjectively experienced as a strong feeling . . . typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.” An emotion is a set of sensations.

How can emotions trigger thoughts? Not every emotion has to trigger a change in thought. For example, a person can have three different emotions while thinking about the same topic, but on the fourth emotion, the person may switch to thinking about a different topic.

What is the basis for the assumption that emotions can trigger thoughts?

  1. First of all, it appears that on a biological level, feelings come before thoughts. Myers describes that researchers have identified pathways in the brain that allow feeling to precede thinking. Myers describes that brain research by Joseph LeDoux and Jorge Armony shows that there is an emotional pathway that goes from the eye to the amygdala (feeling) and this bypasses the intellectual cortex (thinking). Myers concludes, “This makes it easier for our feelings to hijack our thinking than for our thinking to rule our feelings” (p. 37).
  2. Additionally, Ekman (2003) says that emotions arise when something that matters to a person happens or is about to happen. Why would emotions be able to trigger a change in thoughts? Ekman says, “The desire to experience or not experience an emotion motivates much of our behavior” (p. 19). Thus, an emotion of boredom at work may trigger a desire to be in the emotion of joy, and that may trigger the behavior of taking a break from work in order to get ice cream.
  3. Another reason for this assumption of feeling triggering thought is that Haidt postulates that people have an initial reaction to most events in their lives (and he refers to this reaction as the like-o-meter: “do I like this thing?”). Haidt describes a model of moral judgment and his studies around that model. According to his experiments, feelings come first, and then people attempt to rationalize the conclusion of those feelings.

In summary, various research points to the assumption that feelings often trigger thoughts – the biological explanation, the Ekman explanation of emotions motivating behavior, and the Haidt research pointing to initial reactions being motivated by feelings ahead of thoughts.

More to come later this week and next!

Damasio, A. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc.
Ekman, P. (2003). Emotions Revealed. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Goldberg, E. (2005). The Wisdom Paradox. New York: Gotham Books.
Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis. New York: Basic Books.
LeDoux, J. (1996). The Emotional Brain. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Myers, D. (2002). Intuition: Its Power and Perils. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Have you had this happen to you? You’re writing a document and you get too caught up in the words when you go back to edit and revise. You start to think, “Well, maybe I should keep those words in there because that’s what my brain came up with so maybe there’s something to those things?”

Have you ever written an email with sensitive content, and gone back and forth to look over the words? And have you ever thought, “Hey, I put those words in initially – there must be some reason I did that. Maybe I shouldn’t change them.”

It’s a little bit as if the ego (the part of yourself that has an opinion and a viewpoint and a sense of pride) gets caught on a string of words, and doesn’t necessarily want to let that string go.

It might just be a first thought. It might not be intuition.
It might not be something you need to attach your thoughts to.

More on this topic later.
Have a great Wed,

What did Willa Cather do when she wanted to become a great writer? She took Henry James’ books and she copied entire sections, entire sentences from them. She felt the music of each sentence, and its richness, and the fall of the words. Then, Willa Cather wrote many stories in Henry James’ literary style. And then she wrote her own stories and novels.

First, you copy.

Alex Ross describes Mozart’s early work in music in this issue of the New Yorker in an article called “The Storm of Style.” Between the ages of eight and ten, Ross writes, “Young Mozart shows an uncanny ability to mimic the styles and forms of the day: Baroque sacred music, opera buffa, and opera seria, Gluckian reform opera, Haydn’s classicism, the Mannhein symphonic school, Strum und Drang agitation, and so on.”

This is the 10,000 hours of practice, practice, practice (some of which is copy, copy, copy) that I mentioned here.

Ross continues, “Hearing so many premonitions of future masterpieces, I got the feeling that Mozart’s brain contained an array of musical archetypes that were connected to particular dramatic situations or emotional states—figures connoting vengeance, reconciliation, longing, and so on. One example appears in “La Finta Semplice,” the merry little opera buffa that Mozart wrote when he was twelve. In the finale, when all misunderstandings are resolved, there is a passage marked “un poco Adagio,” in which Giacinta and her maid Ninetta ask forgiveness for an elaborate ruse that they have pulled on Giacinta’s brothers. “Perdono,” they sing—“Forgive.” Not just the words but the music prefigures the tremendous final scene of “The Marriage of Figaro,” in which the wayward Count asks the Countess’s forgiveness—“Contessa, perdono!”—and she grants it, in a half-hopeful, half-heartbroken phrase. I looked at the New Mozart Edition scores side by side, and noticed that the two passages not only waver between the same happy-sad chords (G major and E minor) but pivot on the same rising bass line (B-C-D-E). It is unlikely that Mozart thought back to “La Finta Semplice” when he composed “Figaro,” but the idea of forgiveness apparently triggered certain sounds in his mind.”

Programmer and writer Paul Graham says, don’t copy things mindlessly: copy what you like. He points out that it’s very important to copy those things that you like and not those in fashion to copy or those that it may be useful or good for you to copy. Plus, he says, when you copy, copy the good things about the item, not the bad things (such as when artists used to draw with a brownish haze to copy Rembrant’s colorings that just made paintings look a little muddier).

I’ve been thinking about how I would define intuition. And in thinking about this, I’ve been looking into the commonly-held beliefs about intuition. This post is about the components of intuition. A post later in the week will be about the definition. Enjoy!

1) Lack of rationalization.
If you look up “rational” in the dictionary, you’ll find it means having reason, and if you then look up “reason,” you’ll find that it means thinking in an orderly way. Many researchers and writers on the topic of intuition define intuition as not being orderly, as having no rationalization. Here are some excerpts from intuition definitions: “without observation or reason” (Myers), “little or no conscious deliberation” (Hogarth), and “independently of any reasoning process” (Schultz).

2) Non-sequential.
Furthermore, many researchers many intuition researchers also confirm that intuition is not sequential. As described by Hayashi (2001), economics Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon says, “All the time, we are reaching conclusions on the basis of things that go on in our perceptual system, where we’re aware of the result of the perception but we’re not aware of the steps.” Economics Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman describes the reasoning processes as serial, i.e. in reasoning processes, there is one process that follows another. I would add to Kahneman’s description that each such process is a series of rational processes: giving someone directions is a series of step-by-step explanations. Therefore, rational processes are step-by-step and sequential in nature whereas intuition-based processes are not. Additionally, Day (1996), an intuition practitioner and trainer, includes the terms “nonlinear, nonempirical process” in her definition of intuition.

3) Includes insight.
Dijksterhuis et al., who write many articles about unconscious thought like intuition, describe the manner in which an intuitive thought “pop[s] into consciousness” as deliberation-without-attention, i.e. that the mind is deliberating without any attention to that process, and at the end of that deliberating in the unconscious thought process, there is an insight from the unconscious to the conscious. A sudden transition to a conscious preference characterizes intuition’s shortcut qualities. Many intuition researchers use a definition of intuition that includes the concept of directness and speed inherent in shortcuts; for example, intuition definitions include the following: “direct knowledge [and] immediate insight” (Myers), “sudden appearance” (Welling), and “directly perceive” (Schultz).

Intuition is a shortcut in that it bypasses the step-by-step process, just like finding a shortcut through the woods rather than taking the trail. To view this from the literary angle, Myers describes that the poet Amy Lowell was asked, “How are poems made?” She replied, “I don’t know … I meet them where they touch consciousness and that is already a considerable distance along the road of evolution.”

There can be a sense of revelation when the conscious mind realizes something that was already obvious to the unconscious mind, writes Hayashi, in describing Henry Mintzberg, who studies intuitive decision-making. Hayashi writes about Mintzberg’s conclusions, “This helps explain the “aha” sensation you experience when you learn something that you actually already knew.” In this sense, intuition is a shortcut through the process of rationalization.

Keywords: Psychology. Intuition. Rational. Reason.
* Day, L. (1996). Practical Intuition. New York: Broadway Books.
* Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M., Nordgren, L. and van Baaren, R. (2006) On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect. Science, 311(17), 1005-1007.
* Hayashi, A. (2001). When to Trust Your Gut. In Harvard Business Review on Decision Making (pp. 169-187). Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
* Hogarth, R. (2001). Educating Intuition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

* Kahneman, D. (2002) Maps of bounded rationality: A perspective on intuitive judgment and choice. Nobel Prize Lecture.
* Myers, D. (2002). Intuition: Its Power and Perils. New Haven: Yale University Press.
* Schultz, M.L. (1998). Awakening Intuition: Using Your Mind-Body Network for Insight and Healing. New York: Random House Press.
* Welling, H. (2006). The Intuitive Process: The Case of Psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 15(1), 19–47.

“None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Trust your hunches. They’re usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.”
– Joyce Brothers

The poet Amy Lowell was asked, “How are poems made?”
“I don’t know … I meet them where they touch consciousness and that is already a considerable distance along the road of evolution.”
Amy Lowell

“Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own instead of someone else’s.”
– Billy Wilder, director of movies, including Some Like It Hot and Sabrina