When asked about the source of his genius, Albert Einstein had no doubts. ‘I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am,’ he told The Saturday Evening Post in 1929. As entrepreneurs, a lot of what you deal with is unknown. You need to make hundreds of small decisions every day and every now and then, big decisions. Sometimes, the research data, although insightful, does not provide the exact answer on which decision to make. So, how do you decide? Well, you need to trust your ‘gut feeling’ or intuition. So, what is that and can you develop your intuition?
The scientific understanding of intuition begins with a laboratory game known as the Iowa Gambling Task. Participants were presented with four stacks of cards on a computer screen. Each time they turned a card, they would receive either a monetary reward or a penalty. Two of the decks tended to offer relatively large rewards, but even bigger penalties – meaning that, over many turns, they will lead to a loss. The other two decks provided relatively small rewards but even smaller penalties, meaning that they are the safer option. The participants aren’t told which decks are going to be profitable, but after about 40 attempts, many people start to form a hunch of which ones will lead to bigger wins. This ‘hunch’ is actually happening on a subconscious level. How?
Researchers at Leeds University analyzed a quite a few studies and research papers on intuition. They concluded that intuition is a very real psychological process where the brain uses past experiences and cues from the self and the environment to make a decision. The decision happens so quickly that it doesn’t register on a conscious level. The human brain has two ‘operating systems when it comes to making decisions.’ The first is quick, instinctual and effortless. This is where our intuition lies. Intuition works by drawing on patterns collected by our experience and when we have to make a quick decision about whether something is real, fake, feels good, feels bad, right or wrong, we draw on these patterns. It all happens ‘offline’, outside our conscious awareness. The second operating system is slower to respond. It’s more analytical and deliberate and it’s conscious.
So, the good news is that every person on the planet has intuition but not every person chooses to develop or even listen to it. Here are some insights to better develop your intuition as an entrepreneur.
Listen quietly. It’s sounds simple enough and it is. No tricks here. Your intuition can’t talk to you if you’re not listening. When you start to take notice, good things will happen. Just try it and listen quietly to your own instinct about a potential decision.
Trust your gut. When a word like ‘gut’ teams up with a word like ‘feeling’, you know there has to be a good reason. And there is. Research suggests that emotion and intuition have a physical presence in our gut. The gut is lined with a network of neurons and is often referred to as the ‘second brain.’ It’s known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) and it contains about 100 million neurons, which is more than the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system but less than the brain. This is why we get ‘sick’ about having to make a tough decision or knowing we’ve made a bad one.
Train your intuition. It’s hard to make big decisions without the practice of making little ones to hone your gut instinct. So, trust yourself on little decisions, try and predict little things, like the car ahead is going to turn left, the person next to will order dessert and so on. As you start making small decisions in your company based on your gut instinct, it will help you make the bigger decisions with confidence.
Trust the Feeling. You’ll know your intuition is there because you’ll be able to feel it. You’ll feel it in your belly and it will goosebump your skin, send a shiver down your spine, race your heart and quicken your breath. Sometimes it’s even more subtle and the only way to describe it is as a ‘knowing’. You’ll feel when something is right and you’ll feel when something is off. Start trusting the feeling.
Lose negative thoughts quickly. Negative emotions will cloud your intuition, which is why when you’re angry or depressed, bad decisions can happen so easily. Research has backed this, finding that people made better intuitive choices when they were in a positive mood as compared to when they were in a negative mood.
Surround yourself with great people. If you have people around you that just drain your energy, they will add to the noise and make it more difficult to hear what your intuition wants you to hear. Chances are that you already know who they are. Keep people who enrich and empower you and walk away from those who drain you.
Pay attention. Start being more aware of your surroundings. Go for walks with no headset or Air Pods. Really talk to people. Have open interesting conversations. Read more. Be more curious. The more information you are able to gather from the world around you, the more the intuitive, subconscious part of your brain has to work with, the more accurately it will inform your decisions.
Connect with experts. You will never know everything. A better approach to learning is to acquire the knowledge and experience that experts can provide. Experts have also had to make lots of decisions and can share their failures and wins. They can tell you the little things they learned to trust their gut. All of that information can be synthesized into your ‘intuition’ to help fine tune your future decision making.
Sleep well. We all need to dream. Dreams are the brain’s way of processing information that’s left over from the day or even our aspirations. They are rich with valuable data, experiences, memories, and learnings so they can work hard if we let them. Paying attention to dreams can provide information that we may not have access to when we are awake. Before you fall asleep, turn your thoughts to any unresolved issues or problems but in a positive way. Think about possible options or resolutions as you’re falling asleep. You might be surprised what you remember when you wake up.