How many times have you looked at a situation and sensed that there was something wrong? How about making a decision based on an idea or feeling that you just couldn’t shake? Well, that is your intuition at work, and it can be your best friend.

Intuition is different from insight, in that it is not tangible or proven, but rather, felt. In general terms, intuitions are  “learned responses that are not the outcomes of deliberate processes” (Hogarth, 2010).

That said, there are times those intuitive thoughts make sense and we need to follow them. Many of us use them as our guide in making most of our decisions. Using your intuition makes more sense in some situations than others.

When you need to make a quick decision

We’ve all been there. An unexpected situation interrupts the normal flow of things and something needs to be handled quickly. Your intuition is likely going to guide you to your decision. Since it is based on your deep seated, personal knowledge, it feels like you are following a process, when it actually is your mind using your past experiences to push your instincts in a specific direction. If you’re being chased by a bear, you’ll be using your intuition to decide what to do, not referring to all the facts you have learned about bears.

When you need to brainstorm ideas

Creativity and intuition are closely connected in that they both rely on intangibles. It can be useful to channel that intuition when brainstorming new ideas or processes. An open mind, free of bias or learned information can be very helpful in coming up with a new creative idea, since focusing on too much past data can create a block when exploring possibilities. If you’re trying to come up with new ways to raise money for a charity, of course you’ll want some comparisons, but in general, you will want to unleash your creativity and intuition to inspire some different thinking.

When that nagging feeling consumes you

It’s that new friend that is convincing you to do something you don’t really want to do. The business partner that is becoming less aligned with who you are and it’s starting to affect your mood. That sick to your stomach feeling is in there for a reason, and it’s you, trying to listen to your intuition. Sometimes, we stick to things, deal with people, or remain in situations where we are uncomfortable because we think we have to. We need the job, the customer, the friendship. And while that may be true, we simply won’t be able to allow those situations to trap us forever. Why? Because eventually, our intuition will guide us to do something to get rid of them. We can’t carry the weight any longer. So while there are logical reasons, the gut-wrenching emotions won’t let up, and we will only feel at peace when we part ways with whatever is causing them.

Intuition is indeed a powerful and useful feeling. But before you go thinking it’s the best way to make decisions, think again. There are plenty of situations where you will need to rely on clear rules and factual data. For example, when deciding on the best time to travel to a particular destination for the first time, you will want to resort to actual travel data regarding climate, crowds, cost differences, etc. 

Most decisions will actually require us to use both intuition and analysis. We are wise to gather any data available and assess that, but once that is evaluated, intuition may be what ultimately finalizes it for us. Likewise, we may follow our intuition to a point and then use data to confirm our decision. 

Tapping into our intuition is actually a skill that can be improved. The best way to do that is to listen to those feelings and then find a way to be quiet with your thoughts. Journaling is a useful tool to tap into those depths. By getting away from distractions, using past outcomes, letting your mind run free, and journaling your revelations, you can become more aware of what is guiding your feelings and why. It’s a powerful way to ground your thinking and be true to yourself at the same time, so don’t just write it off as “fluff”. 

All in all, you would be wise to listen to your gut. That bad feeling you get when you first meet someone is often just as accurate as what weeks of interaction could lead you to discover. As one of my favorite thought leaders, Malcolm Gladwell notes in his book, BlinkThe Power of Thinking Without Thinking, “There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis”.  

That can be a real time saver.