Out of the Box Coaching and
Breakthroughs with the Enneagram, Mary R. Bast, Ph.D. 
Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved. Revised: August 27, 2014
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Developing Intuition
From my Out of the Box Coaching Field Guide

You may have heard the Taoist tale of an old farmer whose horse ran away one day: 

“Such bad luck,” his neighbors said sympathetically. “We’ll see,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “We’ll see,” replied the old man. The following day his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy. “We’ll see,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army and passed his son by because his leg was broken. The neighbors once more congratulated the farmer. “We’ll see,” he said. 

The farmer’s equanimity came to mind when I heard from a client who was frustrated because his business wasn’t growing. “I might have to get a job (horrible)!” he wrote. People of all personalities may be disappointed about their careers, especially those who've sought logical solutions. (I tested an online version of the John Holland Occupational Themes and found I’m admirably suited to be a dental technician!)

The failure of logic is a cue to use some right-brain approaches, to help you get in touch with your intuition. Maybe you’ll get only a nudge: Something feels right about this, though I’m not sure why. Perhaps you’ll experience what seems to be a failure, at least in the short-term. Keep your vision intact, no matter what apparent obstacles appear.  

I recommend you read The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals, a brilliant success story by Gavin de Becker.  After a childhood where his ability to sniff out his mother’s moods quite literally meant survival, de Becker parlayed his keenly developed intuition into a world-renowned business – serving victims of domestic abuse and stalking, evaluating threats to political and media figures, and proposing new laws to help manage violence. His book could be a manual for healthy intuition: 

“I have gotten great benefits from taking the voice of skepticism I used to apply to my intuition and applying it instead to the dreaded outcomes I imagined were coming. Worry will almost always buckle under a vigorous interrogation. If you can bring yourself to apply your imagination to finding the possible favorable outcomes of undesired developments, even if only as an exercise, you’ll see that it fosters creativity... Worry is a choice, and the creative genius we apply to it can be used differently, also by choice.” 

I’d been thinking about how to teach clients to heighten intuition but when I sat down to write about it, struggled for hours reviewing books and articles, choosing quotes, feeling blocked – until my back hurt so much I couldn’t sit at the computer anymore and I decided to take a walk. While walking I let my mind wander and suddenly thought, You’re trying to explain it rationally. Use your intuition. Duh!  

We’re all trained to be analytical, and consequently to doubt intuition that isn’t tied to direct knowing or experience. In her introduction to Inner Knowing, Helen Palmer admits her “anchor in intellectualism made it difficult to accept even profoundly convincing intuition as being meaningful and real.” Palmer is referring to several incidents of her own inner knowing, the first of which occurred when she was deeply involved in the East Coast movement of resistance to the Vietnam War: “My imagination became as believable and solid as the furniture in my room.” She knew, for example, that a friend must take a route across the Canadian border different from the one planned and later learned that others who took the original route were stopped and arrested. 

Many people describe intuition as a hunch based on experience. In a New York Times review (1/16/05), David Brooks summarized the opening story of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The Getty Museum in California planned to purchase a supposedly ancient Greek statue for almost $10 million. A team of experts with state-of-the-art measurement tools had taken more than a year to assure its authenticity. Then several art experts looked at the statue and knew instantly it was a fake. When asked to explain how they knew, one said he “heard” the word fresh, which seemed odd to him – on further examination he realized the statue was too “fresh” to be that ancient. Another felt a wave of intuitive repulsion. The outcome? “The teams of analysts who did 14 months of research turned out to be wrong. The historians who relied on their initial hunches were right.”  

Certainly I encourage you to develop trust in your experience-based hunches. But the intuition that has served me so well is the kind Palmer experienced, the kind that led her to found the Center for the Investigation and Training of Intuition. There are many ways to put yourself in a state of readiness and to trust that you'll know what you need to know. You’ll find good suggestions in two articles by Lynn Robinson. In the first, “Intuition in Business,” she writes: 

“Intuitive messages come in numbers of ways. They can come through the brain's limbic system or neo-cortex when you experience a hunch, visualize a symbolic image, have a relevant dream, have a wholistic ‘aha’ moment, or gradually become aware of a correct path among previously divergent ideas. They can be expressed through the body when you experience a tightness in one or more definitive body areas, when you notice a distinct change in energy, when you hear a helpful directive or have specific awareness of changed feelings in a situation. They can originate in the outside world such as happens with a (Jungian) synchronicity, an unavoidable experience that leads to a new and right fit opportunity, or a convergence of options into a single specific one.”  

Robinson cites five truths about intuition from Dr. Michael Ray, author of Creativity in Business and The New Paradigm in Business, who teaches Personal Creativity in Business at Stanford's MBA program:  

1.   Intuition can be developed. You have intuition within you. Accept responsibility to develop your individual style of intuition.  

2.   Intuition and reason are complements. Combining reason, experience, information and intuition is powerful.  

3.   Intuition is unemotional. It involves paying clear attention to the most appropriate alternative that comes from your creative Essence.  

4.   Intuition thrives on action. Follow-through is important to make use of your creative ideas, and intuition is strengthened by seeing its manifest effects.  

5.   Intuition is mistake-free. Sometimes your intuitions will be on target and sometimes not. The more you develop it, the more often it will be on target. Your intuition will grow when you have faith that it doesn’t make mistakes – it just offers new possibilities.  

There are also many good books on logical processes to fine-tune hunches, such as Gary Klein’s Intuition at Work (he describes his method as “cognitive task-analysis”). But tying your hunches to rational explanations often isn’t enough and may, in fact, be limiting. How can I explain rationally that sometimes when talking with clients I'll mention a name or a book or an idea they say they were just about to mention? This is the knowing I encourage you to develop. 

In her second article, “Developing Intuition,” Robinson offers suggestions to go beyond your current level of intuition. This begins by suspending your disbelief and opening yourself to what’s possible I’ve adapted some of her ideas in the practice section that follows.    

Practice 

1.   You’ll receive intuitive messages in various ways – dreams, hunches, symbols, visions, sounds, tastes, a noted change in emotions, smells, shifts of energy, muscular reactions, and other physical sensations. This week, heighten your awareness of the forms your own intuitive messages take:    

2.   Ask your body to respond to “yes” or “no” questions you pose. You can make up your own cues or use these: yes is often experienced as a gentle release or subtle feeling of expansion, no by a tightening or sense of holding back. Practice this whenever you have a decision to make. What have you learned about your own body’s messages?    

3.   Test thoughts or feelings that unexpectedly appear. For example, if thinking about someone, call to see if that person has been thinking of you. The more you act on hunches, the more you’ll reinforce your insights. Write down your intuitive “hits:”   

4.   Have a situation in mind you’d like to resolve, then let go of “working” on it. Focus on your breathing, take a shower, or turn on the sound of waves or chimes. Relax and allow your mind to wander. Resist the temptation to concentrate. Be attentive but not intense. Write down what comes to you: