All about intuition

Every decision that has profited me has come from me listening to that inner voice first. And every time I’ve gotten into a situation where I was in trouble, it’s because I didn’t listen to it. I overrode that voice, that instinct, with my own head and with my own thinking.”

– Oprah Winfrey

I am a big fan of Oprah. I watched an interview that she did at Standford University and I was just so impressed with how in touch she is with her intuition. She’s not the only successful person to do so. My relationship guru, Matthey Hussey, does the same. He admits that every mistake that he’s made is because he did not follow his own advice.

Intuition, trusting our instincts has always intrigued me. For this article in Together magazine, I try to understand what it means to follow our instincts, and also what they actually are in the first place.

Enjoy!

Going with your gut: Gemma Rose attempts to subject intuition to rational analysis

Every decision that has profited me has come from me listening to that inner voice first. And every time I’ve gotten into a situation where I was in trouble, it’s because I didn’t listen to it. I overrode that voice, that instinct, with my own head and with my own thinking,” counselled Oprah Winfrey in the recent interview ‘Oprah Winfrey on Career, Life and Leadership’.

I have always been fascinated by this counsel embedded within us. Sometimes it’s a voice; other times it can be a sensation or a feeling. It can even be physical pain or discomfort. It prods us, awakes us. It tells us that it’s time for a change; or that something isn’t right; or it is. There are many attempts to label it: intuition, instincts, gut feelings, the subconscious, a hunch, the inner voice. I’m not sure one term ever sufficiently describes this thing that voices its opinion ever so delicately one moment, and then blasts a code red alert the next.

Intuition is defined by the German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer (who’s considered an expert on the study of intuition) as this: “I use the terms gut feeling, intuition, or hunch interchangeably, to refer to a judgment that appears quickly in consciousness, whose underlying reasons we are not fully aware of, and is strong enough to act upon.

‘Go with your gut’ is common self-help advice, and it appears to hold the key to our search for the good life. But how do we know what our intuition is? How can we tell the difference between it and the other voices in our head or sensations in our body? Can we really trust it? I cannot do this topic full justice, but my gut is telling me to write it all the same.

According to Gerd Gigerenzer in his TedX Talk, trusting our gut appears to be useful in a world of uncertainty. It is not so clear what or where this world is, but I can imagine it’s this messy, jumbled-up and confused world we live in. Freud believed that intuition was best reserved for vital or complex matters such as choice of a profession or a mate, whereas a pros and cons list suited the more simple problems. Gigerenzer also argues that more information, more time and more computation are less conducive to good decision-making. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink certainly agrees. He says that too much information over-saturates our brains so that it becomes difficult to see the wood for the trees, hence hampering our good judgment.

Our intuition can also get it wrong. The fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999 – shot at 41 times – by NY police who instinctively thought he was a criminal and that his wallet was a gun is a tragic example. Research from Yale University last year showed that unstructured job interviews and going on a hunch when selecting a candidate is not an accurate predictor of the right person for the job. Our intuition can fail us in relationships: divorce and break-ups can signify that the one who we thought was ‘the one’ actually wasn’t. It can be argued that these decisions may not have been based on intuition, but rather on fear or conditions or beliefs that are familiar to us. How are we really to know what intuition is and what it isn’t?

Perhaps one of the ways to be attuned to our intuition is to listen to ourselves. Easier said than done, I know. Keeping a journal of our thoughts and sensations may help us to distinguish the wisdom from the paranoia. Meditation is also a good way to clean up the mind and to stay present. Sometimes, something just feels right or wrong. Pay attention to it; you don’t have to act on it just yet, especially when you feel you have insufficient information or there is no sense of urgency. Just be aware.

Plato believed that intuition must be subjected to reason. For Malcolm Gladwell, the best way to make a decision lies in the balance between conscious deliberation and instinct. Research from the careers charity 80,000 Hours states that we can trust our intuition when: the environment is sufficiently predictable to make decisions; we have enough experience from making similar decisions in similar environments; and feedback on decision making is quick and accurate, enabling us to learn from it.

Fully understanding our intuition is probably one of the greatest mysteries of life. It takes trust and courage to listen to it and to act upon it. My rule of thumb is Oprah: if she goes with her gut, then I might as well too.

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Finding the highest expression of ourselves

Passion is your greatest love. Passion is the thing that will help you create the highest expression of your talent.

– Larry Smith

Last week, I gave a careers talk to my former secondary school. I had been tracked down via LinkedIn and was contacted because my career path looked interesting.  I decided that I would use this opportunity not just to talk about my professional life but also to provide some tips about what I’ve learnt over the years about careers. I know that when I was 17 and making decisions about University,  I would have liked to have heard similar advice.  For your interest, I’ve provided my top ten career tips at the end of this post.

I chose my University course predominantly according to what was most likely to get me a job. I had seen the long hours, sacrifices and hard work my Dad had put in throughout his working life to provide his children with a comfortable upbringing. Both my parents endured hardship that is unimaginable in our society today. My Dad in particular rose out of poverty by winning scholarships to prestigious schools and Universities. I thought that I would have to do right by my children, in the same way that my parents had done right by me. At 17, the only way I felt I could do this was to choose a job which may not give me particular enjoyment, but paid well and gave me security.

When I was lately confronted with failure, I decided to become honest with who I was. I realised that life is indeed short and I can no longer spend it doing the things I ought to do instead of what I would love to do. I made a list of my personal qualities, what I enjoyed doing, what brought me pleasure and what came natural to me. And guess what? Being a lawyer did not make it on the list! It was then that I turned to the book ‘What Color Is Your Parachute: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers’ by Richard N Bolles.

The section of this book that I found really enlightening was the epilogue at the back, entitled ‘How to Find Your Mission in Life’.  I take two profound insights from it that I can benefit from. First, that my mission/calling/dream job takes time. I have to take things one step at a time, and I have to understand that I won’t necessarily know where each step will take me. This ties in quite nicely with what Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement speech about joining the dots: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” He continues, “Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path.

The second insight is that my mission in life may not be grand or life-altering, and I may never reap the rewards that following it brings. That in fact, my “mission” may just be to deal with the daily trials and tribulations with more kindness, fairness and grace.

So having a purpose in life can be very simple one. Yet, I do believe that one of the sources of my happiness is to do the things that I love. Larry Smith argues that we will fail to have a great career if we do not act on that which we are most passionate about. Steve Jobs agrees that the only great work is to love what we do. But there are costs involved in pursuing our passion. First, we need to know what it is. Secondly, realising what our passion actually is, added on top of the fact that we are not actually realising it, is really scary. Doubts about our ability invade our minds. Then there’s feasibility. Even if we find our passion, can we make a living out of it? If we are already quite experienced in one career field and have a family, can we really just recklessly up sticks and pursue our passion? And what about the hand that life has dealt us – that some of us may not have the luxury of doing what we love because of economic or social circumstances?

Larry Smith and Steve Jobs take no prisoners when they affirm that we must do what we love. But, their message is so powerful because they each use a weapon to stun and shock us into reality: Smith uses regret; Jobs uses death. They are connected. Being on the brink of death and regretting the fact that I didn’t at least try doing something I loved is a terrifying thought.

Four years ago, I went back to my secondary school to help out at a careers evening. That time, I sat in the politics and law section speaking to students eager to know more about these fields. I remember one girl who came to me. She told me that she was worried about her future as she really wanted to study art but felt pressured to do law instead. As if from nowhere, I gave her this piece of advice: “Do what you love and your career will come to you. It will lead you to the right path.”

I know that this may not be easy, but I think we have to at least try.

Here are my top ten tips on career that I recently gave to the sixth form of my secondary school:

Gemma’s top ten tips

1. Please, please, please, please do what you love

Whether this is in your studies, in your working life or in your hobbies, please do not forgo what gives you great enjoyment, pleasure, fulfilment and satisfaction for the sake of what society/parents/teachers expect of you, or, what you think you should be doing. If you forgo what you love or try to suppress it, in the long run you will be unhappy. If you only take away one tip from this list, please let it be this one.

 2. Find outlets to channel your loves and passions

We all have passions and loves, we just find them in different things and express them in different ways. If you are studying a subject (or doing a job) which is suppressing your passion then try to find ways to let it out (like with extra-curricular activities).

3. Be open to trying new things

You can and should have at least a few passions (or many). If you are struggling to find your passion(s) then one way to start is to say yes more and try out new things. Saying yes more does not mean you can’t say no (and there are definitely times when you can and should). If you are in tune with your passions you will start figuring out which ones you can make a living out of and which should just stay as hobbies. Also, by trying new things you never know where they may lead.

4. What you thought you wanted to do at 18 may not necessarily be what you end up doing

I’ve known many people (including myself) that started out doing one thing and ended up doing something completely different. Sometimes your career changes because of circumstances beyond your control or because you realise that what you are doing is not right for you. It’s ok to change your mind and change your direction. So because you don’t know what life brings, it is far better to study what you really enjoy now than choose something because it will give you job security in the future.

5. It takes time to get your dream job

Unless you just happen to be in the right place at the right time (with all the hard work you have put in), it is unlikely that you will get your dream job tomorrow. So in the meantime, enjoy the ride! Try not to force it, go with the flow, create space for things to flourish and for ideas to flower. Also, if you do have a big dream, try breaking it down into little steps, taking it one step at a time – it is known that some of the big shifts in society came about through small victories. Focus on the small victories.

6. You will face failure and uncertainty in your life

There’s no running away from it. You will just fail at something. You will also face uncertainty. I know that times are hard for young people, I know that jobs for life are very few on the ground. But it’s also a time which is ripe for opportunity – to be creative, innovative, think out of the box. If you have to get a stop-gap job to tie things over whilst you think about the next step or to allow yourself to do the things you love then do it! If you can afford to take a break from work or study to really think about where you want to go next, then do it! If you fail, who cares? You gave it a shot and it just means something better is out there for you, just keep going!

 7. Create networks and get creative

If there are people you know of or heard about who are doing the job you would love to do, seek them out either through social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter (or google them – you never know how easy it could be to contact them) or if you know them through friends of friends of friends. Exploit weak ties, looks for gaps or niches in the job market . Use the internet to publicise/showcase your work and skills or create your own job!

 8. There are more jobs out there than being a doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc

At career fairs we only see these type of professions because a lot of the time they sponsor the fairs and they are looking for young blood. According to research, there are at least 12,860 different occupations or careers that you might choose from! Hurrah for diversity!

 9. Your primary reason for choosing a course should not be because it will give you job security

Job security is a factor and it is an important one. But, it should not be the overwhelming reason for choosing a University course. Also, due to the rapid changing nature of the economy, jobs that are considered secure now may not be in ten years time.

 10. Please watch these great TED TALKS

The first is ‘Why you will fail to have a great career’ by Larry Smith – http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_smith_why_you_will_fail_to_have_a_great_career.html

and the second is ‘Why 30 is not the new 20’ by Megan Jay – – http://www.ted.com/talks/meg_jay_why_30_is_not_the_new_20.html

They both give fantastic advice on careers and on life.