The Only Real Way to Acquire Wisdom

School of Athens by Raphael


It’s often been said that wisdom is the art of knowing that you are not wise.

The great philosopher Socrates famously denied being wise more than two thousand years ago, and since then, we have taken him at his word.

There is a truth there, but that definition isn’t very helpful. I mean, I’m all for respecting uncertainty, doubting oneself, and realizing the limitations of my mind, but I think we can do better. Maybe even take a few steps forward.

More importantly, I think we can create our own definition that separates it from just mere intelligence and then use that definition to illustrate why the distinction matters and how we can practically engage it in everyday life.

Intelligence is commonly associated with knowing something. Often, it also means that we can confidently apply what we know in a particular context.

Wisdom, to me, is different. It’s different because it has more dimensions. Wisdom not only knows, but it also understands. And the distinction between knowing and understanding is what makes things interesting.

Knowing is generally factual. You have learned a particular kind of knowledge and you know its truth as it applies to a particular problem.

Understanding, however, is more fluid. You have learned a particular kind of knowledge, but you don’t see it as a fact or a truth applied rigidly to one thing. Rather, you understand that knowledge’s essence and you can see how it relates to everything else, with nuances and contradictions included.

The difference is subtle but potent. While intelligence gives you specific utility, wisdom inspires flexible versatility. It provides a more textured lens for interacting with reality, very much changing how you think.

Building Relational Knowledge

Every time you have a perspective shift, big or small, you gain knowledge.

You learn something new that you maybe didn’t know before, and as a result, your mind then changes itself regarding whatever that knowledge pertains to in the future. Next time, there is an added clarity.

If the acquired knowledge is understood, rather than just known, however, there is another step that occurs every time your mind shifts.

If you’re a student, for example, and you’re writing an exam, and it’s a difficult one, let’s say you decide to cheat. Now, unfortunately, when you cheat, you get caught. It leads to a failing grade in the course.

The thing to learn from this experience that would add to your intelligence would be the fact that cheating on an exam has consequences, and those consequences, while improbable, have a disproportionately negative impact on your life. It’s simply not worth it in the future.

The extra step that would translate the intelligence in that particular scenario into broadly applicable wisdom would be to realize that not only is not worth cheating on an exam due to the harsh consequences, but that most things in the world that carry disproportionately costly risks should be approached cautiously, whether they be financial decisions or personal life choices.

This is, of course, a very simplified scenario, but the point is that knowledge is relational and the understanding of wisdom recognizes that rather than treating it simply as an isolated information point.

Instead of the lesson being that cheating is bad, you combine the essence of the knowledge learned from that experience with your existing latticework of previous knowledge to really hammer home the underlying principle.

This way, you understand how taking shortcuts may harm your personal relationships, how your new understanding of risk may inform your business practices, and how what you say matters beyond why you say it.

Knowledge is always best leveraged when it’s connected to other knowledge.

Creating an Information Network

In network science, there is a now-famous effect called Metcalfe’s law.

It was first used to describe the growth of telecommunication networks, but over time, the application has been extended beyond that. It essentially states that the value of a network rises with the number of connected users.

In any network, each thing of interest is a node and the connection between such things is a link. The number of nodes themselves don’t necessarily reflect the value of a network, but the number of links between those nodes do.

For example, ten independent phones by themselves aren’t really all that useful. What makes them useful is the connection that they have to other phones. And the more they are connected to other phones, the more useful they are because the more access they have to each other.

Metcalfe’s Law

Well, the relationship between different kinds of knowledge in our mind works the same way. The more connected they are to each other, the more valuable the information network that we have in our brain is.

Every time you gain knowledge, you are either isolating it within a narrow context where it’s addressing a particular problem, or you are breaking it down a litter further so that you can connect that knowledge to the already existing information you’ve accumulated so far.

In this scenario, intelligence is found within a pocket of information by itself. Wisdom, however, is accumulated in the process of creating new links.

Each node of knowledge in your mind is a mental model of some aspect of reality, but that mental model isn’t fully complete until it’s been stripped down and re-contextualized in light of the information contained in the other mental models of knowledge around it.

The only way to acquire wisdom is to think in terms of the whole information network rather than the individual nodes that it contains.

That’s where nuance is considered; that’s where the respect for complexity comes in; and that’s how specialized information finds it flexibility.

The strength of your mind depends on the value of your information network.

The Takeaway

The quest for wisdom is an age-old effort. It’s one many have recommended.

It’s been said to be as useful for finding inner contentment as it for fueling external successes. It’s a more prudent way of interacting with reality.

While not everyone’s definition of wisdom is the same, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to distinguish it by a mode of deeper understanding. One that goes beyond just the knowing we commonly associate with intelligence.

When we think of the acquisition of intelligence, we think of new information inspired by a perspective-shift that tells us a truth about one aspect of reality.

Wisdom goes further than that. It strips that same information down to its essence so that it can relate the underlying principle of that knowledge to the existing information network that exists in the mind.

It’s the connectedness of this network that separates it from mere intelligence.

The more links between each pocket of information, the more valuable the whole network will be when tackling any other problem. It adds an extra dimension to each mental model contained in the mind.

Simply knowing this doesn’t make a person more equipped to soak in wisdom, but with awareness and practice, new thinking patterns can be created.

The way you do this shapes everything else. It’s worth working on.

What You Truly Believe About Yourself Determines Who You Become

What You Truly Believe About Yourself Determines Who You Become

“As a man , so he is. As he continues to think, so he remains.” -James Allen

Do you believe you’ll soon become 100% financially independent?

Do you believe you’ll never get divorced?

Are you positive you’ll ever travel the world?

What you believe determines what you become. You see what you look for; you attract what you are.

Most people don’t realize their beliefs determine the rest of their life; what you believe today has real effects on tomorrow. Your income, success, health, and who you ultimately become are based entirely on what you believe will happen.

As Michael Jordan once said:

“You have to expect things of yourself before you cando them.”

If you believe you can can, odds are you probably will.

But the opposite is also true — if you know you can’t, you’re probably right.

Bruce Lee put it this way: “One will never get any more than he thinks he can get.” What you truly, deeply believe is true about yourself and your future is most likely what will happen.

What do you believe?

The problem is, most people don’t have powerful self-belief in themselves. Most people think this is about as good as it gets. For the most part, most people believe the best they can be is merely “good.”

Why? Because it’s easier to stay in mediocrity than undertake the difficult process of upgrading your belief system. It’s easier to relax in “good” instead of busting your ass towards greatness.

If you want to have an incredible, successful life, you need to begin believing success is the only possible option.

“One of the greatest turning points in my life occurred when I stopped casually waiting for success and started to approach it as a duty, obligation, and responsibility.” -Grant Cardone

It’s Easier to Stay Mediocre Than Evolve

“It is easier to be mediocre than it is to confront reality and quit.” -Seth Godin

It’s not that most people wake up every day and declare, “Today is going to suck!

Most people have tried to evolve in some way. The problem is, once they fail, they quickly give up and settle into their mediocrity. They tried improving, it didn’t go as planned, so they gave up.

It’s easier to stay mediocre than face the pain of attempting and failing.

Said motivational speaker Les Brown:

“Most people knock on the door of their dreams once, then run away before anyone has a chance to the open the door. But if you keep knocking, persistently and endlessly, eventually the door will open.”

It’s easier to quit. It’s what most people do.

But here’s a secret most people stewing in mediocrity don’t realize:

It’s actually harder to live in mediocrity than work towards greatness.

Waking up every day knowing today is going to be average-at-best is exhausting. It’s depressing. It sucks all your energy out before you even get out the door.

It might seem easier to simply stay where you are; it’s not great, but why rock the boat, right?

Wrong. Remaining in mediocrity is more exhausting than working towards success. It takes energy either way — why not get what you want in the process?

“If you keep on living like the way you are now, you will continue to produce the same life you already have.” -Jim Rohn

Warren Wong on Unsplash

If You Want to Upgrade Your Life, Upgrade Your Mindset First

“If you want to have more success, you need to become more.” -Jim Rohn

If you want to upgrade every area of your life — your income, your health, your relationships, your potential — you must become more.

How do you become more?

By upgrading your mindset first.

Prolific author Napoleon Hill once wrote:

Success comes to those who are success-conscious.”

If you have a mindset that is always looking for success and improvement, you’ll find it.

I blogged for 4 years, and after 4 years I had accomplished…nothing. I had no followers, no views, and no income. Frankly, I eventually began believing I couldn’t succeed. I didn’t think my writing was good enough for the big leagues…and it wasn’t.

But last year, I finally got serious. I believed I was going to be one of the best writers on the Internet. As a result, I invested heavily in myself. My confidence grew. I built momentum, reinforcing my belief. After years of failed pitches, suddenly CNBC and Business Insider came to me. I’ve gained 20,000+ new email subscribers. I just signed a book deal!

“Your level of success will rarely exceed your level of personal development, because success is something you attract by the person you become.” -Hal Elrod

Strong belief attracts success.

But no belief guarantees failure.

Richard Wiseman, a former street magician turned researcher and author, conducted a study with two groups — one group of people who thought of themselves as lucky, the other self-proclaimed they were “unlucky.”

For one study, Wiseman placed a $20 dollar bill on the street. The group that believed they were lucky spotted the bill almost every time; the “unlucky” group almost always ignored it and walked right past!

Success, in all its forms, isn’t something you seize so much as it is something that is attracted to you. The most effective, productive method of becoming a more successful person is believing you already are one.

Wrote best-selling motivational author Dr. David Schwartz:

“Belief, strong belief, triggers the mind to figure out ways and means how to.”

Most people don’t truly believe they can achieve greatness. They don’t believe they can actually live an extraordinary life.

As a result, this becomes true; they aren’t successful. They don’t attract opportunities. In fact, they actively miss them — even if it’s right at their feet!

But if you believe — truly believe — in your ability to succeed, you will. Your mind will figure out the means how.

“Whatever the conscious, reasoning mind of man believes’ the subconscious mind will accept and act upon.”

-Joseph Murphy, The Power of the Subconscious Mind

If You Always Let Others Think For You, You’ll Never Become Who You Want to Be

“Do not let others do your thinking for you.” -Joseph Murphy

The fact is, it’s easier to let others think for you.

It’s so convenient. If others are calling the shots, you bear none of the responsibility! If you try and fail, it’s not your fault — it’s theirs.

Grammy-award winning artist Kendrick Lamar once wrote, “I want the credit if I’m losing or I’m winning.” This is an uncommon mindset, one always found with highly successful people, and almost never found with unsuccessful individuals.

Most people aren’t willing to take full responsibility of their life; they might want the credit for the successes, but hate having to own up to the failures.

The result? Most people let others do their thinking for them.

This may save you from experiencing unpleasant responsibilities — admitting you haven’t made any progress after all this time while you could have, but didn’t — but you suffer far more in the long run.

When you are not your true self, that part of you begins acting out. As best-selling author David Kadavy wrote:

“When our true self doesn’t get a chance to follow its desires, it acts out in strange ways.”

The more you let others do your thinking for you, the farther you drift away from what you want.

Don’t let others do your thinking for you. It’s easier, more convenient, and hassle-free, but every day your future grows more boring and mediocre.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

-Steve Jobs

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Acting “As If” Becomes Acting As Is

“What you think, feel, and do is what you see, hear, and attract.” -James Altucher

There are powerful mental, physiological, and emotional shifts that happen when you begin believing you’re the best.

The only way you become a leading man is by treating yourself like a leading man and working your ass off,” wrote Arnold Schwarzenegger is his autobiography.

Author Darren Hardy put it this way: “Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon… must inevitably come to pass!

Tony Robbins once made the point that you get what you tolerate. If you tolerate mediocre, that’s exactly what you’ll get. If you act as if mediocrity is OK, then you’ll begin molding your beliefs to fit this reality.

But the opposite is true, too. If you act like the best, you’ll begin making choices and behaving in ways to make that a reality.

  • Why do you keep tolerating mediocrity?
  • Why do you keep believing you’re second-class?
  • When are you going to finally get serious?

The world’s top performers don’t tolerate anything below extraordinary. They are tireless in their quest for progression, learning, focusing, and growth. They become addicted to becoming better every day.

In the words of Darren Hardy:

“The key to becoming world-class in your endeavors is to build your performance around world-class routines.”

If you begin acting like the best, that’s what you’ll become.

Every day, your conscious mind takes orders from your belief system. Every choice you make, every word you say is based on these beliefs.

In his book, The Power of the Subconscious Mind, Joseph Murphy explained, “As you sow in your subconscious mind, so shall you reap in your body and environment.” What this means is simple: what you tell yourself is what you become.

If you act “as if” you are what you want to be — a professional athlete, a CEO of a $10M startup, a loving husband and father — you’ll eventually begin acting as these individuals actually act.

But if you continue to act in the ways you always have, you’ll never have anything more than what you already have.

“If you want to get to the next level of whatever you’re doing, you must think and act in a wildly different way than you previously have been.” -Grant Cardone

In Conclusion

“You cannot see what you don’t look for, and you cannot look for what you don’t believe in.” -Darren Hardy

If you have more than 2 close friends, you’re part of the minority.

Over half of Americans are on track to retire with less than $10,000.

There are actually more Americans that are obese than simply overweight!

Why are so many people living in mediocrity? Why don’t people have the lives they want?

A fundamental reason is because they simply don’t believe their ideal life is even possible.

You cannot gain what you don’t look for. Whatever you believe about yourself becomes true. Your belief system is incredibly powerful — it determines how successful (or unsuccessful) you’ll ultimately become.

Your thoughts are the reason you are where you are right now. If you’re not where you want to be, ask yourself: how are my thoughts limiting me? What beliefs are holding me back?

If you want more, then start with upgrading your mindset. Because what you believe about yourself determines who you become.

20 Things Nobody Tells You About Growing Up

Life.

It’s a journey of twists and turns, peaks and valleys, mountains to climb and oceans to explore. Good times and bad times. Happy times and sad times. But always, life is a movement forward.

No matter where you are on the journey, in some way, you are continuing on — and that’s what makes it so magnificent.

What nobody ever tells you, though, when you are a wide-eyed child, are all the little things that come along with “growing up.” The things pull you down from your dreaming cloud and force you to plant your feet on the ground.

1. Most people are scared of imagination.

They’ve disconnected with their inner child. They don’t feel they are “creative.” They like things “just the way they are.”

2. Your dream doesn’t really matter to anyone else.

Some people might take interest. Some may support you in your quest. But at the end of the day, nobody cares, or will ever care about your dream as much as you.

3. Friends are relative to where you are in your life.

Most friends only stay for a period of time — usually in reference to your current interest. But when you move on, or your priorities change, so too do the majority of your friends.

4. Your potential increases with age.

As people get older, they tend to think that they can do less and less — when in reality, they should be able to do more and more, because they have had time to soak up more knowledge. Being great at something is a daily habit. You aren’t just “born” that way.

5. Spontaneity is the sister of creativity.

If all you do is follow the exact same routine every day, you will never leave yourself open to moments of sudden discovery. Do you remember how spontaneous you were as a child? Anything could happen, at any moment!

6. You forget the value of “touch” later on.

When was the last time you played in the rain?

When was the last time you sat on a sidewalk and looked closely at the cracks, the rocks, the dirt, the one weed growing between the concrete and the grass nearby.

Do that again.

You will feel so connected to the playfulness of life.

7. Most people don’t do what they love.

It’s true.

The “masses” are not the ones who live the lives they dreamed of living. And the reason is because they didn’t fight hard enough. They didn’t make it happen for themselves. And the older you get, and the more you look around, the easier it becomes to believe that you’ll end up the same.

Don’t fall for the trap.

8. Many stop reading after college.

Ask anyone you know the last good book they read, and I’ll bet most of them respond with, “Wow, I haven’t read a book in a long time.”

9. People talk more than they listen.

There is nothing more ridiculous to me than hearing two people talk “at” each other, neither one listening, but waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can start up again.

10. Creativity takes practice.

It’s funny how much we as a society praise and value creativity, and yet seem to do as much as we can to prohibit and control creative expression unless it is in some way profitable.

If you want to keep your creative muscle pumped and active, you have to practice it on your own.

11. “Success” is a relative term.

As kids, we’re taught to “reach for success.”

What does that really mean? Success to one person could mean the opposite for someone else.

Define your own Success.

12. You can’t change your parents.

A sad and difficult truth to face as you get older: You can’t change your parents.

They are who they are.

Whether they approve of what you do or not, at some point, no longer matters. Love them for bringing you into this world, and leave the rest at the door.

13. The only person you have to face in the morning is yourself.

When you’re younger, it feels like you have to please the entire world.

You don’t.

Do what makes you happy, and create the life you want to live for yourself. You’ll see someone you truly love staring back at you every morning if you can do that.

14. Nothing feels as good as something you do from the heart.

No amount of money or achievement or external validation will ever take the place of what you do out of pure love.

Follow your heart, and the rest will follow.

15. Your potential is directly correlated to how well you know yourself.

Those who know themselves and maximize their strengths are the ones who go where they want to go.

Those who don’t know themselves, and avoid the hard work of looking inward, live life by default. They lack the ability to create for themselves their own future.

16. Everyone who doubts you will always come back around.

That kid who used to bully you will come asking for a job.

The girl who didn’t want to date you will call you back once she sees where you’re headed. It always happens that way.

Just focus on you, stay true to what you believe in, and all the doubters will eventually come asking for help.

17. You are a reflection of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

Nobody creates themselves, by themselves.

We are all mirror images, sculpted through the reflections we see in other people. This isn’t a game you play by yourself. Work to be surrounded by those you wish to be like, and in time, you too will carry the very things you admire in them.

18. Beliefs are relative to what you pursue.

Wherever you are in life, and based on who is around you, and based on your current aspirations, those are the things that shape your beliefs.

Nobody explains, though, that “beliefs” then are not “fixed.” There is no “right and wrong.” It is all relative.

Find what works for you.

19. Anything can be a vice.

Be wary.

Again, there is no “right” and “wrong” as you get older. A coping mechanism to one could be a way to relax on a Sunday to another. Just remain aware of your habits and how you spend your time, and what habits start to increase in frequency — and then question where they are coming from in you and why you feel compelled to repeat them.

Never mistakes, always lessons.

As I said, know yourself.

20. Your purpose is to be YOU.

What is the meaning of life?

To be you, all of you, always, in everything you do — whatever that means to you. You are your own creator. You are your own evolving masterpiece.

Growing up is the realization that you are both the sculpture and the sculptor, the painter and the portrait. Paint yourself however you wish.

This article originally appeared on Inc Magazine.

Success In Six Words

Photo by Bobby Burch on Unsplash

Wisdom from an unlikely source.


Aside from the hell of overthinking and the dark art of questioning everything, being, or at least feeling, “enlightened” — and we define that term by basically being smart enough to know that things like faith and love are just internal chemical reactions seasoned with a bit of random chaotic luck, and that much of life is just math and science, and that its the arts and humanities’ imperfections that make them perfect — is a sinkhole of melancholia. You’re bound to eventually come to the conclusions that your life is an endless parade of suffering, and that the one who yells the loudest still loses their voice, and the one who dies with the most friends still dies. And you start to curse your own intellect and weigh the pros and cons of an eternity spent having never fully existed in human form at all.

Life is a shockwave of emotion, a tide of adversity. It’ll blow you to pieces while you analyze events and inexplicable insecurities that cause you to overthink and underact. You’ll find yourself sitting there, deciding discretely if this love is the one that should last, or if this job is the right job for you, or you want to stay, or move, or circumvent planet Earth altogether.

There are those who meander through their lives the way bees or sharks or bears do, or at least the way these creatures would, if they were savvy enough to operate Instagram — raising families, accumulating experiences, contributing to a community’s greater good with little fuss. It’s truly a blissful thing: to be cognizant of only the moment, to not question one’s purpose, to take your surroundings and seamlessly integrate them into your own survival. I’ve often envied these people. I don’t think I am alone in that. Perhaps you’ve felt it, too? The inevitable sting of feeling as though happiness lies on the other side of a brick wall and life’s purpose ebbs and flows arbitrarily through rough waters?


I’ve often tried to split the difference between how to frame happiness as a choice — a precondition rather than a result — while still remaining just doggedly determined and hungry enough to work toward a brighter future. Over the past ten years, I’ve governed my life using six words that — on my best days — have kept my mind optimistic and content, my heart both full and full of longing, and my soul on fire for the next challenge and chapter. Here they are:

“Always be happy. Never be satisfied.”

Six words. One big idea.

It’s been my AOL Instant Messenger away message, my Facebook status, my Twitter bio. It’s been written on my whiteboard, stuck to my desk on a Post-It, and scribbled on napkins for friends I’d met for coffee. It’s been my mantra since I first heard a variant of it late in 2007, and that source material was … rather unlikely. It was tucked away in very last sentence of a long-forgotten (by everyone except me, apparently) ESPN the Magazine column about Willie Parker, a briefly excellent Pittsburgh Steelers running back. I read it. I morphed it. I weaponized it. It’s a succinctly perfect way to approach life.


Atfirst, dissatisfaction sounds like a fairly discomforting default operating mode. It requires an acute low-grade degree of anger. And yet, this is preferable to satisfaction — a precursor to complacency and the gateway to inertia. Framed through that lens, satisfaction, indeed, is infinitely more frightening.

And yet it’s far less frightening than the thought of unhappiness, which feels approximately like a perpetual state of watching life race ahead of you while staring blankly, trying to think about what collared shirt to wear that morning, prepping for an invigorating 11 hours of PowerPoint parsing. Unhappiness is ruminating on going to the gym while it’s not quite 40 degrees outside, and bed is comfy and everyone else who’s there will stare at you blankly as you muscle 10 pounds of free weight over your shoulder because you have to start somewhere. Unhappiness is a brutal state, one of self-violence and self-immolation: the thousands deaths before your expiry.


Happiness is surprisingly simple, in theory. It’s to believe wholeheartedly in the beauty of effort, process and pursuit. It’s an innate ability to accept and appreciate the incredible and unfathomable at face value, and to trust and assume the purest in others until you find out you cannot.

Happiness is accepting that guilty pleasures are only guilty because someone else has told you so, and that by letting others impart their guilt machine upon you, you’ve begun to internalize the insecurities of others as your own. The cognitive dissonance distilled from racking your brain over whether or not you should blast Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in 2017 (hypothetically, of course) with the car windows down will cause you more guilt and pain and lost hours and years than if you just Nike’d the fuck up, looked in the mirror, affirmed “Today, I’m A Good Girl Gone Bad” and gotten after it.

Happy people are falling in love, marrying up, birthing beautiful baby-spawn, getting promoted two levels above you, sailing the Adriatic, moving to Singapore, buying a house in Westlake and building a spaceship to escape our doomed planet once the Deep State creates hologram Mongols with a mission to melt ice caps for fun.

Unhappiness is often caused by overthinking —think of the saddest people you know, they’re routinely these tortured minds without an off-switch, right? — a sort of analysis paralysis. Satisfaction often results in easing up on the gas pedal, a laurel patch on which to rest, fat and drunk off their own success. It’s a sort of catatonia caused by contentment. In this sense, happiness doesn’t think. Happiness merely is. Dissatisfaction doesn’t think, either. It merely acts.

So how to guard against overthought and under-action? Be thankful for where you’ve been, okay with where you are and excited about where you’re headed. Marathon runners don’t pay attention to the 26.2 miles. They pay attention to their breath. Their steps. The warmth of the sun. The roar of the crowd. The whoosh of the tailwind. Don’t listen to people who tell you you can’t — least of all yourself. I know you don’t listen to yourself when you say that you “should,” why change the rules and listen when you tell yourself you “should not?” Don’t push away your dreams because you’ve “thought better of it.” Don’t parse through an endless array of worst case scenarios four or five moves ahead. Much of what we worry about never happens — what usually happens often does.

Right your wrongs. Face your fears. Walk through open doors. You may not be satisfied with where you are at — but you’ll be happy. You’ll have discovered the secret to success in life without thinking too hard about it.

Enlightenment isn’t an over-abundance of thought. It’s an optimal state of wisdom. It’s the perfect amount of thought that leads to love, acceptance, empathy, hope and art. It’s the kind of wisdom that doesn’t stop to think, only to create, to experience and to share. It merely seeks its own level then strives to raise everything around it.

“Always be happy. Never be satisfied.”

Works for me. I’m not going to try and think too hard about it.

BETTER DECISIONS BY IMPROVING YOUR INTUITION

How To Make Better Decisions By Improving Your Intuition

Trusting your gut isn’t woo-woo: it’s a science-backed skill that you can develop. Here’s how.

Source: pixabay.com

Have you ever had the experience of knowing that a situation just doesn’t feelright? You know — that nagging feeling that something is off?

My gut instinct began whispering to me early on in my previous career. At the time, I rationalized that the extreme pressure I felt was a side effect of my own inadequacy, not the result of a toxic office culture. “If I just work harder and stick it out, it’ll get better,” I told myself.

But as the months went on, I developed a deep knowing that it wasn’t the right path for me until I couldn’t ignore my intuition any longer. A sense of nagging dread followed me everywhere. No surprises here: leaving that job to start my business was absolutely the best choice. I knew that my gut could be trusted to guide me.

Research shows that using intuition helps us make better decisions, as well as gives us more confidence in them. This might surprise people who dismiss intuition as a woo-woo, spiritual concept. In reality, it’s a powerful scientifically-backed skill. Learning to trust your gut can be a competitive advantage in both business and life.


What is intuition?

Psychologists define intuition as “immediate understanding, knowledge, or awareness, derived neither from perception nor from reasoning”. It’s an automatic, effortless feeling that often quickly motivates you to act.

As an entrepreneur, I rely on my gut instincts all the time in my work with clients. Part of my job is to bring order and structure to the thoughts and behaviors of others. To do that, I channel my tendencies as an empath and a highly sensitive person. I also tap into my intuition, which helps me get to the source of what’s troubling someone –– even if they can’t find the words themselves.

You can experience benefits from honing your intuition. For instance, if you’re giving a speech or presentation, getting a “read” on a room can help you tailor your points so that they successfully resonate with your audience. Or, if you’re deep into developing a new product and you aren’t sure how to choose between solutions, doing a gut check can steer your creative process in the right direction.

What you may be surprised to learn is that intuition is a deliberate skill that can be developed. Once honed, it’s applicable in many situations — from helping you choose a career path, to making snap judgments under pressure, and much more. If you have a question to be answered or a decision to be made, intuition can help.


The gut as a “second brain”

Intuition involves trusting the collection of all your subconscious experiences. It draws on everything you’ve experienced for all the years you’ve been alive, which means it’s constantly growing and evolving.

It’s no wonder that scientists have started calling the gut (in the literal sense) our “second brain.” Researchers have discovered a vast neural network of 100 million neurons lining our entire digestive tracts. That’s more neurons than the spinal cord has, which points to the gut’s incredible processing abilities.

Like our conscious mind, the gut is teeming with information. Everyone knows what it feels like to have a pit in your stomach as you weigh a decision. That’s the gut, talking loud and clear.

But does the gut know what it’s talking about? And can it really compare to the conscious mind? Amazingly, the gut doesn’t just compare to the mind: it rivals it.


Follow your hunches

Anecdotal evidence reveals that scientists often make discoveries “accidentally.” When scientists maintain an open, curious mind, they’re better able to spot patterns and make creative connections. This type of innovation-by-hunch is responsible for incredible discoveries like penicillin and Teflon.

Another study demonstrated the power of using intuition, rather than ignoring it and using only rational information. Though many people say they prefer to make decisions rationally, it’s easy for the mind to get overwhelmed with data. In this study, car buyers who relied on analysis of the available information only were ultimately happy with their purchases about a quarter of the time. Meanwhile, those who made intuitive purchases were happy 60 percent of the time. That’s because relying on smaller samples of data, called thin-slicing, allows our brains to make good decisions even in the absence of lots of information.

The gut does make decision-making faster and easier, but that alone isn’t why it’s so powerful. Relying on your gut can also lead to decisions that result in better outcomes.


Balancing heart and head

One of my clients, Norah, told me that she was considering leaving her job, but that she couldn’t make a final decision. She didn’t want to do something she would regret, and she had gone through every analytical exercise that she could think of: a pro/con list, talking to a friend, and envisioning what it would be like if she stayed versus if she left.

The one thing she hadn’t done, though, was tune into her intuition. She was surrounded by the stress and noise of analyzing the situation. She hadn’t stopped to do a gut check. When she did, she found that her intuition was signaling loud and clear.

I asked her simply, “Does the idea of leaving feel like a ‘hell yes’ or just a ‘yes’?”.

When she thought about staying at her job, she felt warning pangs go off, and she even had a physiological reaction. When she thought about leaving, her demeanor did a 180. She sat back in her chair. She felt an utter sense of relief come over her.

Soliciting your intuition’s help in huge decisions like this might seem illogical, but it’s actually the perfect time to listen to it.

Even while your mind has been rationalizing all the reasons you should stay in a job or a relationship, your gut has been listening and cataloging every sign and red flag.


How to holistically hone your intuition

Intuition can be developed as a decision-making skill. To refine your sensitivity to gut instincts and intuitive nudges, it’s critical to make space for intuition to grow — and to practice techniques to pay more attention to it.

Some people are born with great intuitive abilities. There’s evidence that women, in particular, have strong intuition because (from an evolutionary perspective) they needed a strong sense of awareness to protect their children from danger.

Intuitive abilities can also be affected by experiences that occur during periods of emotional growth. If someone experiences a traumatic childhood, it’s likely that they’ll experience excessive doubt and squash their inner voice out of self-protection. They might need to learn to trust their intuition again.

For most people, however, the work of honing their intuition requires only small, habitual changes. Here are a few ways you can practice developing your skill:

1. Put intuition front and center.

Companies that say they embrace intuition don’t always account for it logistically. If you’re a leader who wants to let intuition have a role in your organization or on your team, adjust your timelines accordingly. If deadlines are rigorous and fixed, creativity can’t thrive.

Then, encourage your team to begin to think intuitively and perform gut checks. To tap into what this means, consider changing up the way you make decisions. If a decision usually comes after intensive analysis, experiment with using a combination of data and intuitive thinking.

Brainstorming is a powerful technique if done well. Try IDEO.org’s Brainstorms Rules to avoid missteps that kill creativity.

In particular, help you and your team make a collective effort to listen more. Don’t discount feelings or hunches. Any team naturally has a mix of more and less intuitive people. By expanding your collective intuition, you bolster your individual skills as well.

2. Use the snap judgement test.

Try this exercise to practice making a snap decision with a question you are deliberating on:

Write a simple yes/no question on a piece of paper. Make sure the question is actionable and not theoretical. For instance, rather than, “Do I dislike my boss?” you would write, “Should I quit my job?” Write yes/no below the question and leave a pen nearby.

Then, go do something else for a couple hours. When you next come across the piece of paper, grab the pen and close your eyes. Then open them and immediately circle your answer.

This exercise relies on the quick-thinking accuracy of the gut. It might not be an answer you like, especially if the question was a big one, but there’s a good chance that you forced yourself to respond honestly. It’s a good way to get some clarity on the situation, regardless of how you ultimately decide to act.

3. Make space for reflection.

Intuition can’t flourish in busy, noisy, environments — whether at work, during your commute, or at home. To really hear the insight that comes from inside, you have to build in time to reflect on your experiences. That often seems easier said than done.

Because I recognize that intuition plays a powerful part in my life, I build reflection time into my schedule. I book buffer time between meetings and adjust my morning and evening routines so I have time to decompress and reflect.

Other tools for reflection include journaling, taking walks to clear your head, and cultivating a meditation or mindfulness practice.

On simple meditation technique is to simply use a moment to get awareness of how you feel. By regularly scanning your body and checking in with your feelings, you can get in touch with what your gut is saying.


The transformative and expanding nature of intuition

Your intuitive capacity is growing as you read this. It never stops. That’s the beauty of this incredible tool.

When we harness and apply intuition, we’re able to make decisions faster and more comfortably. Many times, we make decisions that have more successful outcomes. And over time, our ability to notice and use our intuition increases—and so do the benefits.

Whereas I used to feel ashamed of how much I trusted my gut, now I see my intuition as a core differentiator in my work. A huge body of growing scientific research shows that intuition is more powerful than most of us could have ever imagined.

Of course, you probably had a gut feeling about that all along.