Do You Trust Your Gut? With 5 Practices to Grow Your Intuition | by Sarah Evans MCC

Intuition in Coaching - Coach pondering with notebook

"I just know…"

I have always been intrigued by people who seem to "just know" without being able to logically explain how they know.

For example, an innovative entrepreneur recently shared that they're doing a piece of work that's way outside of anything they've ever done before. Yet they had every confidence that they could coherently bring the disparate pieces together. When I asked how they knew that, the response was, "I just know—I intuitively know what needs to happen."

And I've noticed this both in myself—I have often been called "intuitive"—as well as in many of my clients.

This innate "inner knowing" is a profound gift if used with wise discernment.

What is intuition?

The term "intuition" stems from the Latin word in-tuir, which can be translated as "looking, regarding or knowing from within."

A more formal definition came out of the work of researchers from Leeds University in England, who described intuition as "affectively-charged judgments that arise through rapid, non-conscious, and holistic associations." These can be experienced as "an holistic 'hunch' or 'gut feel', a sense of calling or overpowering certainty, and an awareness of a knowledge that is on the threshold of conscious perception." 1

Our brains appear to draw on the patterns of our past experiences, as well as cues from our self and our environment so quickly that it doesn't register on a conscious level.

Intuition, then, is neither irrational nor the opposite of logic. Rather, as researcher Kamila Malewska writes in a Scientific American article, "it is a quicker and more automatic process that plumbs the many deep resources of experience and knowledge that people have gathered over the course of their lives." 2

And, as Daniel Kahneman3 explains in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, we all have two systems that drive the way we think and make choices. The first system is fast, intuitive and emotional. The second is slower, more deliberative and logical.

Most of us have been taught to develop skills and mindsets around the second logical system. But we can also develop the first system (our intuition) more intentionally to expand all of our intelligences.

A "gut feel"

There's something significant about intuition connected to a "gut feel." The research suggests that emotion and intuition have a physical presence in our gut, and thus our body has the capacity for intuitive response.

The gut is lined with a network of neurons, often referred to as the "second brain." This network of neurons is known as the enteric nervous system and contains approximately 100 million neurons—more than the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system yet less than the brain, which has about 100 billion neurons.

In other words, the "gut brain" significantly supports the brain in our head. In addition, 95% of the body's serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer, is also found in the gut.

An exercise in learning to trust your gut

To learn more, I participated in Amanda Blake's4 session titled "Can You Really Trust Your Gut?"

In this session, we were asked to consider two scenarios:

  • Scenario A: Reflect on a time when you followed your intuition and it worked out. Recall this experience as vividly as possible—put yourself there.
  • Scenario B: Using the same process, reflect on a time when you followed your intuition and it did not work out. Again, recall this experience as vividly as possible.

Key questions

For each scenario in turn, we were invited to consider a series of questions:

  • Where was I?
  • Who was I with?
  • What was happening?
  • What was happening in my body at the time?
  • What was the most prominent sensation?
  • What is happening in my body as I am remembering this experience?

Capturing the bodily experience of intuition

We were then asked to capture the experience of what happened in our body in two (or three) words, naming both a sensation and a location (i.e. where in the body). For example, furrowed brow, gut churn, tight jaw, dry mouth, racing heart, quickening breath, tight muscle, goosebumps on skin, shiver down spine.

Finally, we were asked to notice whether the sensation and location in each scenario were the same or different.

Lessons learned

What I learned from this activity was that each of us has a job to do to understand how our intuition speaks to us, as well as where and when it shows up. We can then develop our intuition as well as learn to trust it.

Overall, I took away three key lessons from the session:

  1. Like our intellect, intuition is a natural part of our intelligence.
  2. Intuition is not 100% accurate—yet nor is our intellect 100% accurate. Our embodied responses are as much learned as they are innate.
  3. The skillful use of our intuition requires wise discernment of our own internal signals.

5 Practices to Grow Your Intuition

  1. Understand your unique intuition, how it speaks to you, and where and when it shows up. 5
  2. Learn to listen to your body and your physical (somatic) experience.
  3. Practice "head, heart, gut" checks to use your intelligence, wisdom and intuition to make better decisions and be more connected to what truly matters.
  4. Use solitude, silence and mindfulness practices to quiet the chatter, engage in deeper thought, connect to your inner wisdom and also support creative thinking.
  5. Engage in reflective learning practices to deepen your understanding and connection to your experiences, meaning making and building self-awareness.

Wrap-up

As we learn to wisely attune and discern, we can draw on our intuitive intelligence and wisdom not only to support decision making, but more importantly to be aligned and connected to what truly matters.

References

1 G. P. Hodgkinson, J. Langan-Fox, & E. Sadler Smith (2008, Vol 99). Intuition: A Fundamental Bridging Construct in the Behavioural Sciences. British Journal of Psychology, p. 4.

2 L. Kutsch (August 15, 2019). Can we rely on our intuition? Scientific American.

3 D. Kahneman (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Doubleday Canada.

4 Amanda Blake teaches and leads about the art and science of embodiment and is the author of the bestselling book Your Body Is Your Brain: Leverage Your Somatic Intelligence to Find Purpose, Build Resilience, Deepen Relationships and Lead More Powerfully. (2019). Embright.

5 You may like to use Amanda Blake's "trust your gut" tool.

Sarah Evans MCC headshotContributing Author: Sarah Evans, MCC, PhD (cand.), Dip. CS, is passionate about working with visionary decision-makers and influencers inspired by the transformative potential of coaching. She is an executive leadership & team coach, facilitator, Organizational Development consultant, coaching supervisor, and mentor coach dedicated to supporting individuals, teams, and organizations lead and thrive in complexity. Her goal is to maximize human capacity, organizational capabilities, and contributions to societal well-being. Her key working themes are relationships, resilience, results! Visit her website here  and connect with her on Linkedin. Sarah is a member of the International Coach Federation, where she holds a Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential.

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Image of Coach pondering and using intuition by Syda Productions via Shutterstock

2 Comments

  1. Jenny Pan

    This is a great resouce for me as a coach, thank you very much for your wonderful and meaningful work , such a powerful support to all the coaches gloablely.

    Reply
    • Sarah Evans

      Thank you Jenny for your kind and generous feedback. I appreciate your words. Coaching is indeed meaningful work! How great that we are part of a global community in support and service of others.
      Sarah

      Reply

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