Intuition can be a helpful resource. It can offer direction, especially when the way is unclear, or when the path forward and towards healing proves circuitous. However, intuition is often glorified, often to our peril, if we rely on it exclusively and hold it too preciously. Intuition has its place, but — just like our thoughts and feelings — we might consider being more careful about the “truth status” we attribute to our intimations and gut feelings.
Intuition is not an infallible crystal ball of truth. It’s not an island of magical truth-bearing that lives in a precious, untainted domain of our soul. It is a rudder and way forward when we are unclear: a quiet voice, a sense of what is right, or what we need. Often, however, this voice can and should be informed and updated by all our other faculties, especially good reasoning, when possible and appropriate. The times it may not be appropriate to question intuition include when we can’t get reliable information through reason and direct observation, or when we want to take a risk without logical discernment, or when we don’t have time and need to act quickly.
Consider an example: getting together with a romantic partner. You might have the intuition that someone isn’t right for you, yet you convince yourself that it’s okay, using reason and justification. A couple years later, you break up and you might remember your initial gut feeling about him or her — that it was wrong from the get-go. You might conclude that you didn’t follow your intuition and resolve to follow your gut next time. But if you were to look at select days during the relationship when things were clicking, what might your perspective of your intuition have been? Different than your final conclusion that your intuition was wrong, perhaps.
The point being, we stand by our intuition when it works out well for us, yet often casually dismiss situations that indicate our intuition was inaccurate. This leads to the common jading of intuition and holding it unrealistically precious.
Either way, if you spend a couple years together and a lot was learned, how wrong could your intuition have been? We need to go through challenging experiences to grow, even if our intuition initially tells us differently. A more helpful way to frame such experiences could be not to view them as right or wrong — thereby holding intuition and other decision-making hostage to the black-or-white result — but as unconditionally right for growth and learning.
When we get hurt, as in the ending of a relationship, it’s easy to say, “Oh, I should have followed my intuition.” But is this really true? Maybe we are just trying to make some sense of feeling hurt. Perhaps we need to reframe our experience and the pain itself. Being in a relationship that doesn’t work out isn’t a failure, nor are the months and years “wasted.” We did it, we lived, we experienced, and we grew and learned, and we still are. Pain isn’t always, or ever, a bad thing; it helps us grow, deepen, and learn in ways that happiness can’t teach us.
A gut sense
Our gut sense is not always correct. Intuition can lead us dead-astray, because not all our feelings and subtle intimations translate to what’s best for us, or what is true about the world — just as all our thoughts are not accurate. Some propose that because of all the neurons in our gut we actually have a “brain” of sorts down there. But this is not the kind of cognition and truth-sussing that our gut (intestines) can do, as discussed in this Scientific American article.
My intuition might tell me to go get a loaf of bread before heading home. Upon arriving home, my wife might have already gotten some bread. “Oh well, we have doubled our supply,” I might comment, never bothering to notice that what I might otherwise call my intuition was wrong. But if my wife hadn’t gotten bread, then I might think that my intuition was a super-sensory sixth sense that knew something invisible to the rest of me. More likely, it’s that some part of me remembered we needed bread and I took the chance to buy some. My intuition can double our efforts, while other times I’ll bring home what my wife didn’t. My “intuition” can therefore be right and wrong.