Think about the last time you shared an idea at work. If you suggested taking on a big new project, or changing course, or trying to reach a new market, chances are you didn’t get far before someone asked you about the metrics and measurements supporting your idea. Is it backed by data analysis? Do you have proof?
These questions are all perfectly reasonable. In many cases, it would be foolish not to ask them — maybe even reckless.
But for all its merits, this mode of thinking isn’t everything. Both the latest research and a careful study of history show that many of our most powerful ideas, big and small, emerge not from crunching data but from something harder to pinpoint. True innovators — in business, science, art and beyond — trust and rely on intuition.
If you’ve ever had a hunch, gut feeling, or sixth sense, you know what intuition feels like. And we celebrate intuition in many ways, from great inventors throughout history to today’s entrepreneurs and their “aha moments.” But it’s one thing to applaud innovative thinkers in hindsight and another to learn to act on your own intuition in the moment to get results.
So how can you build your intuition muscle? Research shows you can train yourself to use your intuition to improve your decision-making and get comfortable doing what innovators do: dreaming big, taking risks and going against the grain.
Welcome to the Thrive Guide to Intuition
Thrive Global is a behavior change platform focused on lowering stress and increasing well-being and productivity. The company, founded by Arianna Huffington, creates lasting change in people’s lives by giving them sustainable, science-backed solutions to enhance their performance and overall well-being.
This Thrive Guide will show you exactly how to tap into your intuition in order to improve your decision-making, challenge yourself and get into a more innovative mindset.
If you’re someone who naturally looks to back up your ideas and decisions with hard evidence — or if your job requires you to do so — you should not abandon that, by any means. Intuition is most powerful when you add it to your toolkit, alongside — not instead of — evidence-based approaches. That’s where the Thrive Global Microsteps come in — small, science-backed changes you can immediately incorporate into your daily life that will have a big impact.
Innovators of yesterday and today provide compelling examples of how intuition can fuel success. Thrive Guides feature New Role Models, introducing you to those who swear by intuition’s unique power to take your mind into fresh, uncharted territory. For example, TK TK TK
Along with all of the new science and research around the benefits of intuition, new apps and products have arrived to help us incorporate intuition into our daily lives. In our Tech to Thrive section, we’ve curated the best technology out there to help you make intuition part of your own decision-making progress.
It’s especially important for leaders to champion intuition. The Managerial Take-aways section offers advice to managers on how to create an environment that encourages people to tap into their own intuition and see it as a source of possibilities and innovation.
In the guide that follows, we’ll share research, data and practical advice to help you strengthen and trust your own intuition — and especially to put yourself in a position where you’re able to turn your hunches, gut feelings and aha moments into meaningful action and progress.
The “Open Sesame” of Yourself
For a certain type of individual, intuition doesn’t carry much currency. There are those who dismiss it as hazy, imprecise and amateurish. And to be sure, there are many fields and situations where intuition isn’t appropriate. If you’re buying a new car for your family, for instance, you’re going to want to know that every aspect of the design and construction has been tested, measured and perfected. In such a case, intuition is beside the point.
But if you’ve concluded from experience that intuition can help you be more creative, more innovative, and improve your ability to navigate certain situations, you’re right. Science not only supports this, but offers insights on how you can improve your ability to make intuition work for you.
It’s an insight that some of history’s greatest innovators have mastered.
Steve Jobs, one of the most revered inventors, entrepreneurs and public figures of our time, knew the importance of intuition — and how to position himself to reap the benefits. For him, the gateway was meditation.
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is,” he said. “If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things—that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”
Part of what made Jobs so innovative was his openness to intuition’s power. As Thrive Global Founder and CEO Arianna Huffington writes in Thrive, intuition is a universal human spark: “We’ve all experienced it: a hunch, an inkling, our inner voice telling us to do something or not to do something. We hear the message, and it feels right, even if we can’t explain why.”
This mysterious, inexplicable aspect of intuition is crucial. It’s why, in many cases, what separates the innovators from the non-innovators is a willingness to listen to and trust their intuition. Derived from the Latin intuir, meaning “knowledge from within,” intuition promises that if we look within ourselves, we can access depths that are simply off limits in the concrete, external world of facts and figures.
As Albert Einstein said, “Intuition, not intellect, is the ‘open sesame’ of yourself.”
The Science of Intuition
So, what does this mean for the day-to-day situations and struggles you face in work and life? How can you actually turn your intuition into results?
Let’s start with decision-making.
According to research published in the journal Psychological Science, intuition can not only help you to make faster decisions, but to be more confident in your decision-making. Joel Pearson, an associate professor of psychology at Australia’s University of New South Wales and the study’s lead author, noted that people got better at trusting their intuition over time. Developing that skill, he said, is “all about learning to use unconscious information in your brain.”
The notion of intuition as a muscle we can build becomes even easier to grasp when you think about how much of our minds and memories we’ve outsourced to our devices. Why memorize phone numbers, addresses and directions when programs can do it for you?
As Gary Klein writes in The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions, “We are more than the sum of our software programs and analytical methods, more than the databases we can access, more than the procedures we have been asked to memorize.”
The value of intuition isn’t lost on executives. For example, a study by the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Canada found that the majority of executives said they rely too much on data and not enough on intuition when making decisions. Respondents said that intuition is especially important when time is of the essence, and when they must make nuanced, people-oriented decisions that require something more than data analysis.
And what about those “aha moments” that are so central to the narratives of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship? While we may experience these moments as sudden flashes of insight, what’s happening is deeper and more complex. Psychological research shows that our brains absorb tremendous amounts of information over time, but when we’re in an entrepreneurial mindset, the brain recognizes patterns, yielding a sense of discovery.
That is, the aha moment is just the tip of the iceberg. This is why it’s possible to train yourself to strengthen your intuition — and therefore put yourself in a more innovative mindset. According to cognitive psychologist Robin Hogarth of Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, you can prime your brain for this kind of innovative thinking by exposing yourself to relevant information over time. In other words, by doing the work and being prepared, you vastly increase your chances of an aha moment.
Changes You Can Make Today
Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to start incorporating microsteps into your life.
1. Listen to your intuition.
Next time you’re on the fence or struggling with a decision — however small — ask yourself what “feels right,” and then go with it. You’ll build your intuition muscle and see that trusting your gut can lead to great decisions.
2. Set aside even just five minutes to meditate.
When you calm your mind and shut out outside noises and distractions, you improve your ability to listen to your intuition.
3. In meetings and one-on-ones, ask others to talk about their intuition.
When you encourage people to share what they might otherwise keep to themselves, you’ll surface fresh new ideas and solutions — and foster a culture that sees beyond the latest data set.