Your intuition is one of your greatest resources in decision-making. Unfortunately, however, many people find it difficult to trust their intuition.
In part, it’s because most people don’t understand what intuition is. They think of it as a “gut” feeling that has nothing to do with rationality or reason. In reality, intuition and reason are not mutually exclusive.
Rather, intuition works like a rapid-fire series of associations that happens unconsciously. How so?
When your brain makes an observation, it goes through your catalogues of memories in order to find relevant information. This information is compiled into the unconscious “gut feeling” that informs your actions.
It is this exact process of unconsciously drawing on previous experiences that allows athletes, like basketball players for example, to know the precise angle and force they need to shoot a three-pointer without having to sit down first to do the math.
So, we can’t think of intuition as the opposite of reason. Rather, intuition is simply a way of reasoning that leaves room for uncertainty when making decisions.
By embracing your intuition, you put trust in both yourself and the experiences that have contributed to your knowledge. This enables you to act with a degree of confidence despite not knowing how a situation will play out. The basketball player, for example, can’t be certain that the ball will swish through the hoop, but he can make an educated guess based on his intuition.
But why should you want to trust your intuition? Simply put: doing so can help you overcome your fear of risk.
Most people avoid risk and uncertainty, leading them to act hesitantly and make poor decisions. By learning to embrace intuition, you’ll become accustomed to taking action in the face of uncertainty, and thus persevere through the fear of making the wrong decision.
Comparing ourselves to others is totally natural, and something that we all do. However, in our attempts to measure ourselves against our peers, we often end up actually ridding ourselves of the very qualities that make us interesting individuals.
Indeed, comparison is the very root of conformity. While competition and conformity might at first sound like polar opposites, they’re actually inextricably related.
Whenever we compete, we necessarily compare ourselves to others by means of very narrow criteria. For this reason, we won’t bother to compete with people from entirely different traditions and backgrounds, yet get riled up about the very people who live next door.
While we might not compare our homes to the mansions across town, we’re likely to compete over who has the best kept lawn on the block.
However, because we only compete with those who are similar to us already, we ensure that we will follow the path of conformity.
If we want to transcend these arbitrary comparisons, we must start by embracing our own individuality. When we focus on our own unique gifts, it reminds us that the world consists of individuals, each of whom make unique and incomparable contributions.
But to let your individuality shine, you’ll first need to cultivate your creativity.
What if you aren’t creative?
Hogwash! There’s no such things as “creative types” and “non-creative types.” But there is a clear distinction between those who make use of their creativity and those who don’t.
So don’t get hung up on whether you’re creative enough. Just get out there and create! It doesn’t matter if you paint, cook, write, make music or whatever else. As long as you’re creating, you’re also cultivating your individuality.
If someone told you to drop everything and go play – right now! – could you do it? Or would your other obligations keep you from leaving your desk? Making time to play isn’t as easy as it might seem.
Our society has the bad habit of tying self-worth to productivity. As a result, we end up sacrificing things like rest, play and our general well-being if those things appear to get in the way of our work.
When was the last time you told yourself to stay up just one hour more to get more work done, despite barely being able to keep your eyes open?
People think of work and play as being polar opposites. They think that, by getting rid of one (usually play), they’ll have more of the other.
The fact is, however, that the opposite of play is not work, but depression. Humans, as has been verified by the author’s research, are biologically programmed to engage in “purposeless” activity, meaning play. To deprive ourselves of play is to do ourselves a great disservice.
In fact, cranking up the amount of play and rest you give yourself can actually make you more productive by bringing back excitement and novelty to your job, while also fostering empathy and creativity.
One way to do so is by playing with your coworkers. For example, you could make it a habit to go out with colleagues to shoot some hoops after work every Friday. Not only will the exercise and fun make you happier and healthier, you’ll develop a connection with your coworkers in your professional context and improve your ability to work within your team.
The same goes for rest. If you always push yourself to exhaustion, then your work – and your well-being – will inevitably suffer. So pay attention to your body and its needs!
Life in our fast-paced, stress-filled society makes for a lot of anxiety. For many people, perhaps even you, the nervousness and restlessness that come with anxiety can be practically paralyzing.
We are most affected by anxiety when we inadvertently allow it to become an integral part of our lifestyle. This often occurs when we try to balance too many things at once without allowing ourselves to take a step back and put everything into perspective.
Think about those days when everything seems to come tumbling down around you: you have to plan for an upcoming deadline at work while also thinking about what to cook for dinner, when to pick up your child from daycare and how you’ll finish writing all those holiday greeting cards in time – all while trying to stick to your daily fitness regimen.
When we’re constantly reminded of everything we need to take care of in the short time that we have, anxiety can become an ever-present aspect of life.
Dealing with anxiety, however, doesn’t mean ridding ourselves of it, or even trying to avoid it. Rather, we must simply be aware of it in order to prevent it from becoming habitual.
The next time you feel anxious, try approaching your anxiety with a broader perspective. Breathe slowly and focus on the moment rather than on an unknowable future – besides, who’s going to care if those holiday cards arrive a few days later?
By simply taking the time to think and acknowledge your anxiety, its source and its ultimate importance, your anxiety will transform into something that is manageable, rather than something that defines your life.
How many times did your parents or teachers tell you to quit spending all your time drawing, singing or playing and to instead do some real work? It’s high time you ignored their advice!
We all have unique gifts and talents that belong to us alone, and we should embrace them, rather than ignore them for the sake of getting “real work” done. Some of us, for example, might be artistically gifted, while others might be particularly good at conversation. Others might have a unique talent for remembering sports statistics.
These gifts and talents are not always necessarily the ones that pay the bills. Nevertheless, by identifying the unique things that we can share with the world and incorporating them into our lives – even if only marginally – we make our lives that much more meaningful.
So don’t be afraid to pursue that hobby or activity that you’ve always wanted to pick up but thought might distract from what you “really need to do.” The truth is: you can have your cake and eat it, too!
You can incorporate your talents into your everyday life by seeing your career in terms of “slashes.”
For example, if you work as an insurance broker by day but also like to write novels in your spare time, you don’t have to undersell your literary talents by introducing yourself as an “insurance broker who dabbles in writing on the side.”
Just because your passion isn’t what you spend most of your time working on doesn’t mean that it’s any less a part of your identity. So instead, tell people that you’re an “insurance broker slash writer.”
In this age of social media, the pressure to present ourselves as cool, blasé types with adventurous lives and without a care in the world has never been stronger. But it’s precisely this desire to be “cool” that keeps us isolated from others.
We need to be connected to others, and the best way to do so is through laughter, song and dance. These three activities create emotional and spiritual connection with those around us, and allow us to feel we’re not alone.
In her book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, Barbara Ehrenreich explains that, throughout human history we have demonstrated an urge to share joy with others by engaging in “collective ecstasy.”
So, when we laugh, sing or dance, we’re engaging in the same primal activity that affirms our place within the larger human community.
All three activities, though, require us to let go in some way.
Admit it: we’ve all had that awkward experience when we’ve laughed a bit too hard, sang a bit too enthusiastically or danced a bit too intensely for the tastes of those around us – and then felt the immediate pangs of humiliation when told to “bring it down a notch.”
Laughter, song and dance all require a full-body vulnerability that few of us want to risk, thus leading us to confine those activities to the privacy of our own homes or amongst trusted friends and family.
We have to tell ourselves that it’s okay to be uncool; it’s part of the opportunity to cultivate connection with others.
The only way to maintain the façade of coolness is by putting down those who are perceived to be “not as cool,” and to do so at the expense of genuine connection. But by throwing caution to the wind and allowing yourself to wholeheartedly enjoy activities like laughter, song and dance without reservation, you lose the need to criticize others and gain an opportunity for genuine connection.
Living a happier, more fulfilling life is easier to accomplish than you might think. It takes practice, not miracles. Ultimately, it boils down to cultivating your courage so that you can approach others, as well as yourself, from a place of sincere compassion.
No matter what, take some time today to do something that you love. It doesn’t matter what your obligations are, if you don’t make time for yourself and your hobbies, then you will suffer in the long run.
Try this out. Look at your to do list and cross off one item, instead replacing it with “take a nap.” Rest is something we all neglect, and if you spend all day every day in high gear, you’ll soon find yourself too worn out to do much of anything. So get some rest!
Check out my related post: How to develop luck aka be luckier!