When asked about the source of his genius, Albert Einstein had no doubts. ‘I believe in intuitions and inspirations. Sometimes I feel like I’m right. I don’t know that I am,” he told The Saturday Evening Post in 1929. As an entrepreneur, much of what you are dealing with is unknown. You have to make hundreds of small decisions every day and big decisions every now and then. Sometimes the research data, although insightful, does not give the exact answer to the decision to be made. So how do you decide? Well, you have to rely on your ‘gut feeling’ or intuition. So, what is that and can you develop your intuition?
The scientific understanding of intuition begins with a lab game known as the Iowa gambling task. Participants were shown four piles of cards on a computer screen. Each time they flipped a card, they would receive a monetary reward or a fine. Two of the decks usually offered relatively big rewards, but even bigger punishments – meaning they will lead to a loss over many turns. The other two decks yielded relatively small rewards, but even smaller punishments, meaning they are the safer option. The participants are not told which decks will be profitable, but after about 40 tries, many people start to get an idea of which ones will lead to bigger winnings. This ‘feeling’ actually happens on a subconscious level. How?
Researchers at University of Leeds analyzed quite a few studies and research papers on intuition. They concluded that intuition is a very real psychological process in which the brain uses past experiences and cues from the self and environment to make a decision. The decision happens so quickly that it is not registered on a conscious level. The human brain has two ‘operating systems when it comes to making decisions’. The first is fast, instinctive and effortless. Here lies our intuition. Intuition works by drawing on patterns gathered through our experience and when we need to quickly decide if something is real, fake, feels good, feels bad, right or wrong, we draw from these patterns. It all happens ‘offline’, outside of our awareness. The second operating system responds more slowly. 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 everyone chooses to develop it or even listen to it. Here are some insights to better develop your intuition as an entrepreneur.
Listen quietly. It sounds simple enough and it is. No tricks here. Your intuition can’t talk to you if you don’t listen. When you start noticing, good things will happen. Just try it and calmly listen to your own instincts about a possible decision.
Trust your gut. When a word like “gut” goes together with a word like “feeling,” you know there must be a good reason for it. And there is. Research suggests that emotion and intuition are physically present in our gut. The gut is lined with a network of neurons and is often referred to as the “second brain.” Known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), 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” when we have to make a tough decision or know we’ve made a bad decision.
Train your intuition. It’s hard to make big decisions without getting into the habit of making small decisions to sharpen your gut feeling. So trust yourself with small decisions, try to predict small things like the car in front of you going left, the person next to you ordering dessert, and so on. If you start making small decisions based on your gut feeling in your business, it will help you make the bigger decisions with confidence.
Trust the feeling. You will know that your intuition is there because you can feel it. You will feel it in your stomach and it will send goosebumps on your skin, send a shiver down your spine, make your heart race and your breath quicken. Sometimes it is even more subtle and the only way to describe it is as a ‘knowing’. You feel when something is right and you feel when something isn’t right. Start trusting the feeling.
Quickly lose negative thoughts. Negative emotions cloud your intuition, which is why bad decisions can be made so easily when you’re angry or depressed. Research has backed this up and found that people made better intuitive choices when they were in a positive mood compared to when they were in a negative mood.
Surround yourself with great people. If you have people around you who are just draining your energy, they will add to the noise and make it harder to hear what your intuition wants you to hear. Chances are you already know who they are. Keep those who enrich and empower you and walk away from those who wear you down.
NB. Begin to become more aware of your surroundings. Go for a walk without a headset or Air Pods. Really talk to people. Open interesting conversations. Read more. Be more curious. The more information you can collect from the world around you, the more the intuitive, subconscious part of your brain has to work, the more accurately it will inform your decisions.
Get in touch with experts. You will never know everything. A better approach to learning is to gain the knowledge and experience that experts can provide. Experts have also had to make many decisions and can share their failures and victories. They can tell you the little things they’ve learned about trusting their gut. All that information can be synthesized into your “intuition” to refine your future decision-making.
Good night. We should all dream. Dreams are the brain’s way of processing information left over from the day or even our aspirations. They are rich in valuable data, experiences, memories and lessons so they can work hard if we allow them to. Paying attention to dreams can provide information that we may not have access to while awake. Before falling asleep, turn your mind to any unresolved issues or problems, but in a positive way. Think about possible options or solutions as you fall asleep. You may be surprised what you remember when you wake up.