Intuition: When to Trust It & When to Ignore It
Sunday September 23, 2018

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“Intuitions are only trustworthy when people build up experience making judgments in a predictable environment.” —Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and decision expert Gary Klein

In the past here on the blog, we’ve discussed the difference between having fear and having doubts. In a similar vein, the difference between trusting your intuition and questioning falls along the same lines as knowledge versus ignorance lands on either side of – to trust or not to trust. 

As the quote above suggests, intuition is a skill. And it is a skill to be used with a rational mind about the subject matter. 

No matter how much experience you have in a situation, if the circumstances don’t involve a predictable environment (Khaneman and Klein list stockbrokers, intelligence analysts, psychiatrists, political forecasters and judges as professions in unpredictable environments), then your intuition is less likely to be accurate. Similarly, if you have very little experience in any environement, but especially a predictable scenario, you are more likely to be inaccurate as well. 

Having discovered this research in Adam Grant’s Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World this past week while reading, I was reminded why I cannot let my intuition get the better of me regarding issues I am not an expert nor have significant experience. I was equally reminded to look to experts in predictable fields such as medicine, accountants, insurance analysts and firefighters should I need help in any of these areas. (A point to always keep in mind – look beyond just their label/degree/etc., and consider their time in the profession, experience, etc. It is always a good idea to seek additional experts in the field to gather multiple opinions.) Now this is worth remembering when it comes to work or when we are seeking out help, support or guidance in these arenas. It is just as important to remember it when we errantly seek out guidance from friends or family members who do not have experience, specifically so, in the areas of which we are seeking guidance.

While those we love can support us, to trust someone’s guidance simply because we love them and/or they us, while it doesn’t mean they would steer us wrong intentionally, it may not be the wisest of decisions. The best advice in such scenarios is to not ask for the advice from them in the first place, but perhaps instead to ask, Do you know someone you trust in this field of expertise? or to state, Your support while I try to figure out what to do would mean a lot. However, on the flip side, when it comes to those who have spent a immense amount of time with us, it doesn’t hurt to consider their observations, but do remember their vantage point may be narrow based on time, growth and change, etc.

Intuition can come in handy when we are trying to figure out who we are most compatible with either for friendships, romantic partnership and even collegial partnerships. However, intuition is only helpful in these decisions when we’ve done our homework ahead of time. What is that homework, you might be asking?

The homework of getting to know ourselves, understanding our emotions and why we feel them.

In other words, we don’t want to assume someone will be less compatible with us based on superficial similiarities that merely trigger a particular emotion due to a past experience. Rather it should be their behavior, not their looks, their sex, their ethnicity, the job they hold, their age, etc. Because when we go down the road of making assumptions based on superficial similarities, we run the risk of stereotyping or profiling.

Intuition is most definitely a skill, and because it is a skill, we can strengthen it or let it atrophy. 

While there are many conversations and posts online about how to strengthen your intuition, one exercise I do find that works is reflection. As we can become an expert in many ways as well, an expert of ourselves and why we feel, respond or are able to observe minute details that others may miss. 

Reflection, while not something that will help us in the moment that we are reflecting upon, will help us in new moments as we move forward.

Take a moment to remember when a particular “gut feeling” turned out to be correct, even though it seemed at the time nothing concretely was made available to you. Then, channel your inner Nancy Drew and examine what it was that piqued your intuition. In this moment, it is vital for you to be as rational and objective (this will not be entirely possible, but do your best) as you can. Were you responding to concrete details that would later reveal themselves or simply being swayed by what others said? Sometimes, we need a great distance to reflect objectively, but not always. Take your time and examine all of the details you may have thought were trivial. While some may still be, others, in hindsight, may not have been.

When you take the time to reflect, you begin to become more aware of your strengths as an observer, as well as your weaknesses and short-sightedness which can also be helpful as well as it may reveal/encourage you to broaden your perspective and be more open-minded.

Your observational strengths are not only what is outside of you, but also what you feel, what is going on internally within your own body and mind and why. 

To understand both sides of intuition, using it as a tool or using it as a crutch, is an important conversation to have with ourselves as sometimes we get in our own way. But on the flipside, sometimes it can save us a multitude of heartache, suffering and pain. 


~Find the Courage to Make the New Year Amazing

~Your Unique Journey: How to Navigate It Successfully, episode #178

~Why Not . . . Be Brave?

~How to Let Go of Self-Imposed Limitations, episode #186 | The Simply Luxurious Life

6 thoughts on “Intuition: When to Trust It & When to Ignore It

  1. I actually strongly disagree with some of this – I have an extremely strong intuitive sense, honed from a childhood with a bipolar mother and an alcoholic father: one learns to be hyper-intuitive regarding changes in mood as a child.

    I also believe strongly that one should listen to intuition when dealing with medical professionals. A decade ago I had a doctor try to bully me into a procedure that I knew intuitively was not necessary. A decade later I have been proven correct: I did not need the procedure. Just because someone has an “OMG-MDeeeeee” after their name does not make them an expert – especially these days, when so many unnecessary drugs and medical interventions are routinely prescribed.

    I believe in always trusting my intuition: it’s never led me wrong.

    1. Laurie, I thank you for sharing this as you have proven my second point exquisitely – we must know ourselves – we can be the expert of ourselves, and yes, doctors are people and therefore flawed. Second opinions (and sometimes third opinions) are always a good idea. I couldn’t agree with you more that based on our life experiences, we can become very in tune with our intuition and that is an expert opinion in and of itself in many ways. Thank you again.

  2. I have to agree with the comment above. Perhaps it is more of my personal beliefs, but I feel “intuition” is there to be trusted, but not always understood….faith if you will. I don’t believe it is more or less applicable from situation to situation nor that you can train your intuition. Rather you can work to release yourself from your ego, which speaks to always discredit your intuition. It is my belief that intuition and soul are one in the same and the soul is the part of you that knows we are so much greater than our mere existence at this moment. To me, the article appeared to be confusing intuition for impluses/habits in the context of familiar situations. Quieting our ego (perhaps by living simply luxuriously?) allows us to hear our intuition easier and my take on knowing yourself better. And my intuition has never steered me wrong, but ignoring it sure has. Thanks for this thought provoking article Shannon…always good to give your beliefs a good one over every once and awhile. Cheers!!

      1. Amelia Thank you for your comment, and I believe as you do. Your ego is your inner child that can never be satisfied until you learn how to quiet it. Live within the now. Once a person lives in the present moment all types of clarity come to you if you allow it. Back away from fear based thinking, and allow your soul to flow through you. Life becomes a joy to live, and your life’s path becomes clear.

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