More Than a Gut Feeling: The Truth About Intuition

Picture this: You’re driving home from work one night and the road ahead is barely visible. Rain is crashing against the windshield and the wipers are hardly clearing the glass so you can see. 


Usually at this point in your route you’d turn left, but you can’t shake the feeling that you should take the next turn further ahead. You don’t know why but you decide to trust your gut and don’t turn left, even though this is the same path you take every night. You feel weirdly relieved to have trusted that feeling and eventually arrive home, despite being a little later due to the detour. 


The next morning you’re sitting at the table, enjoying your morning routine of scanning through Instagram. You’ve just taken a bite of your granola  when an image catches your eye. It’s a fallen tree blocking one of the roads you usually take home – the very turn that you decided not to take the night before. Turns out that gut feeling had some purpose to it after all, huh?    

We’ve all experienced moments like these at one time or another; a moment of intuitive feeling that urges us to do something and we just know we need to listen to it.  


But what is this feeling – this phenomenon of just knowing?  


The Simple Answer: Our Intuition


Intuition is our uncanny ability to just know something, without really thinking about it logically. It’s that little voice in the back of your head, telling you that you should do this or consider that without really being clear as to why.  


But wait… Isn’t that what instinct is? 


Not exactly, but it’s easy to see where the confusion is. See, there’s an important distinction to be made when you want to define intuitive and something instinctive. 


Instinct urges you to take action, but it’s usually caused by something in your environment. It’s your body’s natural response to certain elements around you, telling you to do something for the sake of self-preservation. 


For example, it’s raining, just like our example before, only this time you’re standing outside and have no protection from the downpour. You know that it’s wet and cold; so you think you need to get out of the rain unless you’d like to risk hypothermia by being soaked. This is your instinct, your need to act based on natural urges to keep you safe.  

Then how does intuition come into play? 

Intuition is similar but not quite the same. Remember, with instinct we have a known reason for why we’re acting as we are but with intuition, we don’t see what’s causing the sensation. It’s usually more of a phantom feeling, giving warning of something that might come and often, we don’t know what that something is until much later. That’s the main difference. 


Anxiety vs. Intuition: How Do I Know Which is Which?


Instinct isn’t the only thing that can cause some confusion. A question that is often asked is how to tell the difference been an intuitive feeling and one of anxiety. This, too, can be quite confusing but what we’ve covered so far can help clarify this as well. 


Just as with instinct, anxiety often follows an event that sets it off; there is usually something that has resulted in the anxious response. 


Another important distinction is that anxiety carries with it an uncomfortable feeling. You may get a weird, heavy feeling on your back, your heart may be pounding, you may feel sick… The list goes on and on. These feelings often keep a tight hold on you, even if you acknowledge the thoughts that are causing them.


When we’re dealing with intuition, it’s usually the opposite. When we listen to that gut feeling, we are overtaken by an immediate release of stress. That is to say, the strange feeling doesn’t hang on like anxiety does. Listening to that voice seems to put that odd feeling at ease. 


Okay, that makes sense but… What if I don’t have intuition? 


I have great news for you: everyone has it! It’s just a matter of how loud our intuition speaks to us and how well we listen to it.  


As we go through life, we gain a lot of experiences and some of them are... not so great. We all have our struggles and sometimes, those struggles can set us off the path of inner-knowing. We are creatures of habit and have a tendency to fall into the trap of negative reinforcement. When something bad happens, we often lose sight of our direction and purpose which in turn, leads us to ignore those intuitive feelings. 


But all is not lost! 


Just as you can fall off the path, you can gain the right directions to get you back on track. 


The Heart of the Matter


So, why am I telling you all of this? Easy. Intuition is one of the strongest tools we can keep in our mental inventory, to help us fight against negative thoughts – caused by a variety of issues  ranging from slight anxieties to feelings of depression. When we learn to listen to our inner voice, we can tune in to our feelings and make changes that align with our needs. 


We all want to live our best life and that’s why I’m here. My purpose is to help you realize your potential and help you learn to listen to the knowing sense inside of you, to fight back against the voice of trauma you’ve faced.


So, here’s a challenge: Grab a journal, carry it with you, and make note of any time you feel that nagging feeling deep inside, influencing you to do something.  You may just be surprised with what your intuition is trying to tell you. 

-Olivia Clear, Journey Inward Psychotherapy

Image: Lizzie Rare of Rare Press