Intuition is a primarily unconscious process; we are not aware of it happening as it is taking place. We have accumulated a great body of knowledge from our past experiences; this knowledge is stored in our long term memory. When faced with a given situation, we subconsciously evaluate it to identify its most important elements. We compare these elements with any similar or related pieces of information stored in our long term memory reserves. Again, all of this takes place outside of our conscious awareness. What we are consciously aware of is the outcome of the intuitive process: a "gut feeling."
It is difficult, if not impossible, to rationally analyze intuition. In fact, when a person has made a choice based on intuition, he is usually not able to explain why he made that choice. Just because it is not amenable to rational analysis, however, does not mean that intuition is an irrational process. In fact, research has shown that how reliable your intuition is in a given subject area depends upon the degree of your past knowledge and experience in that area. Reliable intuition, then, is gained from experience. The more experience you have in a given area, the more you can use your intuition in related situations to guide decision making.
When I decided to write about intuition, what I really wanted to know was how a person can go about improving his or her intuition. It seems the most obvious way is through experience, which takes time. Outside of this, I was not able to find very much information about how to improve intuition. I therefore decided that I should try to generate my own suggestions for doing this.
Everyone has intuition. We differ in how readily we recognize it, how comfortable we are with it, and how confident we are of its reliability. There are definitely people who rely too heavily on their intuition; there are also people who completely ignore their "gut feelings."
It seems logical to me that the first step in developing one's intuition is to start to recognize the product of the intuitive process (i.e., a "gut feeling") whenever it occurs. Pay attention to the times when you "have a feeling" about something but can't really say why. Take notice when you have a strong negative or positive reaction to someone or something without understanding why. Make a conscious effort to attend to your initial impressions of people and places. Notice your hunches, especially those that ultimately prove to be accurate. Become familiar with the physical sensations that accompany your "gut feelings."
The next step in improving intuition would be to begin to use it as information when you are making decisions. This doesn't necessarily mean to start "following your gut" in everything you do. Rather, you should simply be aware of what your "gut" is telling you about a given situation.
When considering your "gut feeling" as information when you make decisions, it is important to be aware of your weaknesses. You need to be aware of your weaknesses so you can determine exactly how to use the information provided by you "gut feeling." Know what your weaknesses are. If you have a tendency to consistently over-react to a certain type of situation then your "gut feeling" about this type of situation is probably an over-reaction. This is important information. Recognize that your intuition is probably skewing your judgment. Either adjust your actions accordingly or seek feedback from someone you trust before deciding what to do. If you have a history of being attracted to the wrong types of friends or romantic partners then be aware of this; you might consider doing the exact opposite of what your intuition suggests in this type of situation. In short, recognize the areas in which your intuition is not likely to be reliable. That doesn't mean to ignore your "gut feeling" in these areas; you can still use it as information, even if that information is, "I should probably do the opposite of what I feel in this situation."
Also be aware of your strengths. Do not, however, be over-confident. People who are right 9 times out of 10 are still wrong 10% of the time. The more strongly you believe in the "rightness" of your decision the more resistant you will be to feedback that suggests your decision was, in fact, wrong. This makes it more difficult to identify and correct your mistakes.
What are your suggestions for improving intuition?