How to Start Understanding and Listening to Your Intuition
Is there anything more annoying than asking someone you trust for an answer to an important question, only to get the response, "You know the answer."?
If you were asking your calculus teacher how to find a vertical asymptote and they came back to you with THAT bullshit, you'd be like, "Uh, no, actually I really don't know, which is WHY I ASKED YOU." And in a relationship, replying to the question, "What's wrong?" with "You know what's wrong," is practically begging for someone to slam a bedroom door in your face.
We're on the same page, right? We agree this is a frustrating back-and-forth dynamic and we'd rather poke our eyes out with freshly sharpened pencils than continue down that track (just me or???).
Here's the thing: This is how we talk about intuition, and how to use it. How vexing.
The querent asks, "How do I know how to use my intuition to tap into my own needs and trust my inner guidance?" and we say, "Ah, brah, no worries, you just ~*know*~." But to someone who's having a hard time understanding, listening, and trusting their intuition, to begin with, this is like telling a person born blind that they'll know the color blue when they see it.
Using our intuition to make choices — big and small — makes life a lot easier. Instead of grappling and going back and forth between every decision, we can use intuition to determine a clear answer that feels right for us. But to get to that place, we need to understand how intuition works, and how we can apply it to our everyday lives.
You're in the right place if you're asking yourself:
How do I listen to my intuition?
How do I tune into my inner guidance?
How do I find the answers inside of myself instead of seeking external validation?
Arguably, the best first step to understanding yourself and your place in the world is unpacking your intuition. Intuition acts as our internal compass, and recognizing how it works (and when it's going haywire because our external elements) gives us a deep sense of trust in our choices. How nice would it be not to second-guess everything you do? And more importantly, imagine how divine it would feel to know that you never need to rely on someone else to find the answers for you.
If you're reading this, you're in the right place. And the cool thing? Your intuition led you here, whether you trust it or not. Maybe you clicked through an article on Instagram, or follow our weekly digital magazine, or perhaps you fell down an internet rabbit hole and you're not quite sure how you landed on this page. Regardless, you're eight paragraphs in. And either you'll walk away with valuable information that'll help you become more intimate with your intuition, or you won't. In any case, you're here for a reason, so keep that in mind as we go through this together.
First things first — what is intuition?
What Is Intuition
Intuition is the instant understanding of something without needing the conscious mind to rationalize it.
We naturally want to use our intuition alongside our conscious decision making, but spending a lifetime conforming to societal expectations instead of listening to our own hearts can cause intuition to atrophy. When I first started exploring my intuition, I felt so stressed about trying to discern if my intuition was guiding me, or if it was actually my anxiety in the driver's seat. If this is the case for you, too, then it's crucial to start strengthening our intuitive muscle again to be able to hear it, trust it, and act on it. Let's do a brief exercise to point out where you might be relying on external factors (like other people's expectations, societal norms, or fear) to make decisions.
Ask yourself these questions, and journal as needed.
When I was 10 years old, what did I think I would be doing now? Who taught me to think that way about my future? How did that make me feel? What made me feel nervous or anxious about that future?
When I was 20 years old, what did I think I would be doing now? Who taught me to think that way, and how did it make me feel back then? What made me feel nervous or anxious about that future?
Look at the current expectation of your life. What makes you feel nervous or anxious about your trajectory? What part do you think external societal influences (like family, media, social norms) play into that? Do you find value in those societal structures? Why or why not?
Why Is Using Intuition A Good Thing?
Intuition can help us make microdecisions by communicating that we should avoid walking down a sketchy alley, buy a particular herb from the farmers' market, or trust a stranger we've only just met.
On the macro level, intuition can help steer us toward big life choices by keeping us in constant alignment with our soul's purpose. Using our intuition is second nature — eventually, you'll utilize it without even thinking about it.
Most importantly, when we feel comfortable using our intuition, we stop looking to external forces for guidance. Instead of turning to the prettiest wellness expert to tell us what's right for our health or asking a mentor to tell us how to make meaningful career choices, we check in with ourselves to get the most correct answer *for us*. Then, outside opinions carry less weight, and can simply support what you already know by maybe providing more clarity or information.
How To Start Listening
Here's the thing: You always have the correct* answer inside of you. Sometimes it comes through as an inaudible whisper, and sometimes the answer comes through like a blaring alarm bell. But your intuition is always there.
*Correct, not right. Life isn't a black-and-white duality. Get comfy-cozy with shades of grey.
Rejoice — your intuition is definitely alive and well! Huzzah! And even if you've beaten it down for 30 years, you can still rehab it. There's hope for you yet, baby.
Intuition is often compared to a muscle because it's something you're born with that sometimes requires a little extra exercise. Dude, this is such a good analogy. Because some people are born with powerful intuition, and don't need to do much to keep it working well. They're like those assholes who can eat everything and still somehow have a six-pack. Other people are lifelong amateur athletes who subtly use intuition regularly — kind of like your friend who's casual about working out (always down to go hike!) and remains in decent shape.
And then there are those to whom working out does not come easily, who really have to put the extra effort into practice and get strong — and sometimes those people end up being the greatest athletes of all.
Here's your intuition workout plan.
1. Parse out what you really believe in versus what society tells you to think.
For every time you find yourself saying that you "should" do something, ask yourself why. Double-click on where that belief came from, and if it's really yours. For example, do you think you should be making $100,000 at 30 because that's something you genuinely want, or because someone else told you that was a sign of success?
2. Get to know yourself.
Become a self-anthropologist. Study your actions and responses without judgement; rigorously gather data about yourself, and start to notice patterns. Once you've disentangled your personal belief system from assumed societal norms, ask yourself hard questions about your personal philosophies and world view.
3. Watch your mind.
Mindfulness and meditation are like the squats and planks of intuition workout. NECESSARY, EFFECTIVE, SIMPLE! Start meditating by sitting quietly for one minute a day, and notice how your mind wanders. The brain produces thoughts like the mouth produces saliva; don't judge the thoughts. Try to acknowledge them and allow them to float past you. Notice the patterns your mind likes to make.
4. Track your choices.
You're essentially retraining yourself to trust your gut, so it's a good idea to monitor and track how you make decisions and what the final outcome looks like. It's kind of like keeping a food journal for your intuition.
When you get an idea to do something — let's say it's something as simple as wanting to call a friend you haven't spoken to in a really long time — write it down. You can even keep a running list of your choices in your Notes App on your phone, you little millennial.
Notice how that impulse feels in your body as you roll the idea around in your mind: Are your shoulders tight, or open? Are you breathing deeply? Are you smiling?
Then do the thing, and write down what happens. Maybe you call, and they don't answer; perhaps they pick up the phone, and you have an amazing three-hour conversation; or you reach them, but you have a very awkward 15-minute chit chat. Notice the immediate outcome and how you feel about it. Do you think you were correct and following your intuition, or do you think you were acting on some other impulse (fear, loneliness, boredom, etc.)?
5. Memorize the feeling of knowing.
When you nail it, and you're like, "FUCK YES, that was totally my intuition telling me what to do because it felt so good," celebrate! And try memorizing how using your intuition feels in your body. It'll make it so much easier to recognize in the future.
If you're worried that you'll never be able to hear your intuition and trust yourself, don't stress. This is a process that takes time, patience, and a little A/B testing. You won't be exactly right every single time, and that's OK! Just know that the more you focus on honing in your intuition, the more fun it becomes. Seriously, you start to just *know* things, and it kind of feels like magic. It's so worth the annoying growing pains in the beginning.
Tuning into your own inner guidance is a constant practice. Sure, it definitely gets easier as you get intuitively stronger. But your connection to your intuition will grow and evolve as you do.
I'm curious — how do you tap into your intuition every day? Tell me more in the comments below!