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Do You Know When to Follow Your Intuition?

Here’s how trusting your gut can add a boost to your decision-making process.

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Chiara Ghigliazza
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When my project manager scheduled an impromptu meeting, I had a hunch this wasn't going to be like our typical powwow. It was 2015, and I was working on contract as a content developer. A month prior, this manager had celebrated me for what she called creative forecasting and innovative vision on a long-term project. So, I anticipated a contract extension for the following year. And since I was in my third trimester of pregnancy, I had no desire to hit the job-search pavement. But something didn’t feel right.

Turns out, my sixth sense was onto something. That weird feeling that I had when the meeting popped up was no coincidence. The project manager, who’d showered me with praise, was the bearer of bad news. “I hate that this is happening right now, but we are unable to offer you a contract extension. For the next critical round of work we have decided to use our full-time staff.”

Talk about putting all my eggs into one basket. Why hadn’t I just listened to my gut? That might have prevented what became a nightmarish scramble to secure assignments during the final days of pregnancy and after my daughter was born.

What is intuition — and how can it play out?
Have you ever thought about a family member, only to later see that same person calling your phone? Perhaps you avoided a particular cashier’s line because you felt an unwelcoming vibe? How about the sudden desire to change careers? Vibes are real. Energy is real. And those tingly feelings we get in the pit of our stomachs are real. The phenomenon of our bodies speaking to us without words is called “intuition.”

These unconscious feelings can inform, and in some cases, improve our ability to make sound decisions, according to the Association for Psychological Science. In a 2016 study in Psychological Science Online, researchers discovered that intuition can even speed up conclusions. “Data suggests that we can use unconscious information in our body or brain to help guide us through life, to enable better decisions, faster decisions and be more confident in the decisions we make,” noted researcher Joel Pearson of the University of New South Wales, in a press release from the association.

Of course, intuition isn’t the only way to solve a problem. Rational decision-making requires defining a problem, researching, brainstorming and, in some cases, testing possible outcomes. People can think making decisions requires using either emotion or logic; however, decisions can be made using both.

LeTea N. Perry, therapist, counselor and motivational speaker with Bridges Wellness Group recommends blending intuition and logical reasoning. “Gut feelings come from the information you get. After you collect the information, you get the gut feeling,” she explains.

A few years ago, Perry was unsure about someone she was courting — so uncertain that she began experiencing intense stomachaches. At first, she ignored these signs, but as she gathered more information, she realized that the physical sickness was warning her that this wasn’t the right guy.

Intuition also can lead to wins, as author and educator Yolande Clark-Jackson recalls of a time in the early 2000s. “I had no intention of going back to school at the time, but an adviser approached me about applying to a low-res MFA program. A busy mom taking care of two children in addition to my father who had just fallen ill, I had no idea how I was going to successfully finish the program, but my gut kept telling me to do it. I sure am glad I listened to my inner voice because I completed the program, even while conquering many obstacles along the way.”

But instincts also can lead us astray.

Clark-Jackson describes having a strange feeling in her bones, a common experience that most of us have likely encountered. “I recently had a gut feeling to remain on a specific road instead of following my phone’s navigation system. The app, which is usually pretty accurate, directed me to take a different exit, but my inner self insisted on staying the course. ‘I’ve always taken this route to get here.’ This time, I listened to my inner voice. But I ended up being an entire hour late for a very important appointment,” she says.

How to tap into the link between intuition and self-care.
If trusting our intuition can be beneficial, how then do we maximize using it to make better decisions? And how can we best combine intuition with logical thinking, which also has a key place in decision-making?

“Intuition starts with the self, so trusting your intuition is one of the highest forms of self-care that we as Black women can practice,” notes Tanisha Hill-Jarrett, neuropsychologist and assistant professor at the University of South Florida.

In order to effectively listen to your inner voice, Perry recommends removing the factors that are not making you well. Anxiety, depression and fear often present major roadblocks to intuition. Therefore, promoting wellness through self-care increases our ability to listen. To support this idea, Perry points to practices like meditation, prayer, yoga and deep breathing as those that can be helpful. Being quiet can serve you well. So, too, can using analytics such as quantitative data and research-backed information.

So, you can trust your intuition, but do not solely depend on it. Instead, combine your inner voice with sound details to make decisions.

As for me, the next time I get a hunch, especially in my professional endeavors, I’ll be sure to trust my gut.