“You will never follow your own inner voice until you clear up the doubts in your mind.”
― Roy T. Bennett
Have you ever wished you could just know what to do? Have you ever thought, “If I could step into the future and see how this decision would play out, then I would have clarity on how to move forward”?
We’ve all longed for a simple, definitive way to know we’re making the right choice. And while time-travel might still only be possible in the movies, we actually do have a built-in internal guidance system that, amongst all the other factors that you could look at when making decisions, gives you the most accurate, untainted information of all.
And that system is your intuition.
Introverts are actually uniquely equipped to get in touch with our intuition due to our introspective nature. However, we often don’t know how to turn down our overthinking minds long enough to tune in to our gut, so we end up feeling more anxious than calm.
This article will outline exactly why we struggle so much to trust our intuition, how to tell the difference between anxiety and intuition, and how to build your intuitive muscle.
Why You Struggle to Trust Yourself
“Self-trust is the first secret of success.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
First and foremost, we’re not taught to trust ourselves. From birth, we’re placed in a system that compares us to our peers in academic achievements, popularity, and well-being.
A system that reprimands and punishes the quiet ones and celebrates and rewards the talkative ones.
We’re encouraged to look outside of ourselves to see what we “should” value and to think about how a decision will look to others more than what we believe is right.
Some of us were taught to think about how others feel so much that we rarely, if ever, think about how we feel and mistakenly believe our self-worth is tied to how happy we can make those around us.
Now, let’s think more specifically about introversion…
Were you praised for being quiet, reflective, introspective, and disliking small talk?
Or were you urged to speak up, make friends, be social, and get out of your head?
Most of us were explicitly or implicitly taught that we should be different than what seemed most natural to us.
That we should want to make small talk, talk more, have several friend groups, and be the life of the party.
And since we didn’t (and don’t) want those things – we’re “wrong, antisocial, rude, or weird”.
Consider the bigger implications of these experiences. What kind of person did you think you needed to be in order to make friends, be lovable, or succeed in life?
To be a great friend, we’re expected to:
- Be energetic
- Get out there
- Talk with lots of people
To succeed in business, we’re expected to:
- Speak up in group meetings
- Talk about our achievements
- Attend lots of networking events
To be lovable, we’re expected to:
- Be happy and positive
- Avoid “burdening” others with our feelings
- Not ask for “too much” or have “unrealistic” expectations
It’s all around us that we need to change and be different to succeed.
Now, think about how you made sense of that growing up…
Would you really trust yourself if you weren’t even encouraged to know or be yourself?
No wonder we feel anxious and uncertain, look outside of ourselves to ensure we’re making the “right” choice, and become disconnected from our intuition before we even realize we have it.
Intuition vs. Anxiety: Which Is It?
“Feelings are your inner guidance system-your emotional compass. When you allow this compass to direct your actions you build self-trust. When you feel hungry, you eat. When you feel tired, you rest. When you feel lonely, you reach out for a connection to others. In this most basic way, your feelings link you with the wisest part of yourself. They tell you what you need to know at any given moment.” ~ Cheryl Richardson
How often are you pausing to hear what your body is telling you? In his groundbreaking book, The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. van der Kolk shows us how trauma changes not only how our brain works – but how our whole body interacts with and interprets the world.
And it isn’t just traumatic experiences that our body reacts to. We’re experiencing the world through what we smell, taste, touch, see and hear, as well as what we think, feel, imagine, and experience.
Although we typically get distracted with the analytical mind and believe we can “think” our way out of anything, it’s our senses that hold the key to unlocking our full understanding and potential.
Because we spend so much time preoccupied with our thoughts, we misread or dismiss the information our body is giving us: like how some people or places just “seem off” or how certain requests feel like the wrong choice or how casual comments from specific individuals sends a chill up your spine or feels like a punch in the stomach.
Anxiety: “Am I overthinking this?”
Anxiety is like a malfunctioning alarm system. It keeps sending you red signals even when everything is fine. This happens because one of the brain’s main jobs is to keep you safe, from real or imagined physical and emotional harm.
If you even perceive that a situation could be harmful (e.g., like how a presentation could open you up to judgment or criticism, which could hurt your self-esteem), your body starts preparing to protect itself. This means that your fight or flight system comes on and your rest and recharge system takes a back seat.
So, what does anxiety sound like, look like, and feel like? Below are key signs to help you determine exactly when you’re experiencing an anxious cycle.
Anxiety sounds like:
- What if I mess up?
- What if things don’t work out?
- What if this isn’t what I’m supposed to do?
- What could go wrong?
- What will other people think?
- This happened in the past… it’ll probably happen again!
- What will happen in the future?
- What if I miss something?
- What if I let everyone down?
- What if (fill in the blank)?
- Increased heart rate
- Racing thoughts
- Obsessing over an event or outcome
- Difficulty eating or sleeping
- Upset stomach, tight muscles, headaches, nausea
- Increased inflammation, unexplained physical ailments
- You feel too overwhelmed to take clear, definitive actions.
- You overthink.
- You procrastinate.
- You’re less productive.
- You have more difficulty concentrating.
- You’re less present with loved ones.
- You mess up on simple tasks.
- You overlook details.
- You feel out of control, paralyzed, and overwhelmed.
- You don’t feel confident in your ability to make good decisions.
- You second-guess any choices you do make.
- Your inner critic gets louder.
- You’re less patient and more critical.
- You become hyper-focused on making the “right” choice.
Do you see how damaging this cycle can be?
And yet, we often put so much belief in needing to think things through, that we get caught in this anxious-overthinking-more anxious-more overthinking spiral.
But the answers you’re seeking can only be found in the silence.
Anxiety shouts; intuition whispers.
Have you been quiet enough lately to hear your own voice?
Intuition: “I can’t explain it. I just know.”
The main reason we dismiss intuition is the exact same reason we must listen to it.
In our society, we put a lot of emphasis on the analytical and rational mind. We assume that if we can “make sense” of, explain, or justify something, then it must be the “right” choice.
But this opens us up to all kinds of dangers:
How many times have we attempted to rationalize something that we knew wasn’t right?
How often do we justify bad, hurtful, unhealthy choices in ourselves or others?
How long have we tried to explain away someone’s toxic behaviors?
We often rationalize and justify ourselves, our choices, and others to avoid a very uncomfortable psychological experience known as cognitive dissonance.
Whenever we notice a discrepancy between our thoughts, feelings, actions, or values, we experience cognitive dissonance. Because we don’t like sensing this discrepancy, our mind goes to work trying to “make sense” of it all until we feel less anxiety, guilt, or distress.
Intuition isn’t based on trying to “make sense” of anything. It isn’t dependent on our rational mind or justifications. And because it’s not susceptible to this faulty thinking it’s actually a much better guide to making healthy and aligned choices.
While anxiety tends to start and stay in the mind (although it causes certain bodily reactions due to its release of stress hormones), intuition begins in the body and leads us to have a calm, focused, and clarity-driven conversation in the mind.
Your intuition has no inner critic.
When you have an intuitive knowing about something, you’re not anxious. Anxiety and worry turn off your ability to connect to your intuition and self-trust because anxiety encourages us to make fear-based decisions.
Consider this: you’ve been in a relationship for one year. For the first couple of months, everything seemed great! He’s charming, fun to be around, exciting, and romantic.
Although there were a few times when his anger seemed out of place or he dismissed your feelings, he later apologized and tried to “make it right”. You can understand this, right? I mean, we all make mistakes and need second chances every now and then.
Plus, he’s planning to meet your family soon and everyone is excited to meet him. They think he’s great (of course, you didn’t mention the few times he lost his temper or blamed you unnecessarily) and you wouldn’t want to disappoint them with another failed relationship.
By the one-year mark, you’ve experienced some gut feelings that this just “isn’t right” and that he’s hiding something. But you justify and rationalize these feelings in your mind, supposing that you’re just overthinking again as you tend to do and that things will work themselves out in time.
When you think about leaving, you have a sinking feeling that you’ll be alone again. You really don’t like the whole dating process and have already invested so much time and energy into this relationship, you dread the idea of starting over again. So, despite these subtle (but clear) signals, you decide to stay in the relationship.
In this example, your intuition told you (although subtly) that something was off, and that this relationship wasn’t quite what it should be. But as soon you had those gut feelings, your logical mind kicked in to rationalize these feelings because of your fears about leaving the relationship and starting with someone new.
Intuition is not fear-based. Whenever you experience fear, ask yourself: where is this coming from? Am I scared of judgment, backlash, or criticism? There’s a big difference between being scared to make a choice because of what others will think and feeling a little apprehensive because you haven’t done this before, but you know it’s ultimately for your highest good.
The best way you can keep yourself safe is to hear, listen, and act on your intuition.
Let me show you the ways in which intuition is different than anxiety. Then, in the last section, I’ll teach you how and why to trust and build your intuitive muscle.
Intuitive experiences can be recognized by:
- Feeling like something is “off”
- Noticing a consistent shift in your mood/energy around certain people
- Feeling drained after spending time with a certain person (especially if you’re doing something that is otherwise fun or enjoyable)
- Having a gut response
- Noticing a specific thought, idea, or opportunity that keeps coming up
- Having clarity around a specific struggle, especially when you’re not consciously thinking about it
Key Feelings or Thoughts NOT Associated with Intuition:
- Inner criticism
- Fear-based thoughts
- Lack of focus
When you’re acting in alignment with your intuition, your thoughts are focused on the reasons you’re making those choices and the values those reasons are founded on. It might not always feel like the “easier” choice – in fact, most of the time, it’s not. But in your gut, you know it’s the right choice.
This is because your intuition nudges you to act in ways that are congruent with your deepest beliefs, values, and highest good and not on passing thoughts or fears around what others will think or the pressures of the moment.
In fact, when you’re listening to your intuition, what others think really isn’t involved in your decision-making. Now, this doesn’t mean that you never consider how others will feel about your decisions.
But it does mean that others’ thoughts, feelings, or opinions are not the primary factor driving your choice.
Only you can hear your intuition – which is why your values and beliefs must be the framework from which you construct your life.
Building Your Intuitive Muscle
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
We’re all at different levels with how “in touch” or “out of touch” we feel with our intuition. But no matter where you’re at right now – whether you already consider yourself a “feeler” or you’re someone who struggles to even understand your own emotions, you can learn to identify, trust, and act on your intuition.
Two-Step Intuitive Method for Decision-Making
There are only two questions you should be asking when making decisions in your life.
- How will I feel about myself if I make this choice?
- How do I want my future self to look back on this decision?
Let me explain.
We often make decisions from an “outside-in” perspective. We wonder, “What will others think of me if I do this? How will others feel about this decision? What if they disagree or don’t understand my choice?”.
But this is the wrong mindset to begin your decision-making process. We need to adopt an “inside-out” perspective.
Instead of asking, “What will they think?” ask “What will I think about myself if I do this?”
This helps in two ways: (1) it decreases your anxiety caused from wondering what others will think of you and (2) it helps you get more in touch with your own values and priorities.
Make decisions from your mind, not by imagining what someone else will think of you or the decision. It’s not about what others think or even how it will look that matters most, but about how to make decisions that are founded upon your deepest values and beliefs.
The second piece is about how you want your future self to look back on this decision. This is critical because it gives you emotional and mental space from the immediacy of this decision and allows you to view it from a new perspective.
We often make decisions reactively or based on the immediate consequences that will follow. But this does not mean you will be satisfied with the long-term outcomes.
Your future self is disconnected from the pressures of the current environment, so it’s easier to think about what will be for your highest good or will resonate most with the kind of person you want to be.
These two questions will help you build your intuitive muscle because you’ll be connecting with your inner voice, both current and future, instead of looking at the expectations or demands of the present situation.
The language of anxiety is thoughts; the language of intuition is feelings.
While anxiety talks to you through your analytical mind, intuition speaks to you through your body (usually your gut or chest) and your emotions. As such, it’s really important that you learn to quiet your mind to hear the body.
Tips to Quiet Your Mind
- Go to a quiet place or somewhere you can “zone out” and be uninterrupted
- Close your eyes or stare at a blank space and take 5 deep breaths, pausing in between each breath
- Imagine “scanning” your body from head to toe: do you notice any areas that feel heavy, tired, weak, uncomfortable, tight, or anxious?
- Simply notice what you find, don’t judge it
- Imagine that the heavy or weak areas of your body could talk to you – what would they say? Have a dialogue between yourself and that part, simply listening to what that “part” has to share.
- Is it needing more attention or care?
- Does it wish things were different?
- Is it feeling uncomfortable with some part of your life right now?
- Does it feel neglected or dismissed?
- Journal what comes up for you during this process, even things that might not “seem” relevant
- Repeat this process daily or weekly
Tips to Connect to Yourself
- Listen to a guided meditation
- Take slow, deep breaths in a quiet place
- Take a walk in nature
- Be mindful of all of your senses
- What can you taste, touch, hear, smell, and see?
- Creatively Express Yourself
- Listen to music
Intuition is not an unexplainable phenomenon. It just doesn’t sound the same as our rational brain, so we typically don’t hear it.
It’s like someone speaking to you in a foreign language – none of the sounds make sense to you because you don’t understand the language, so it’s easy to just “tune it out”. Intuition is much the same way.
Initially, you might not even “hear” it because you don’t speak the same language. But as you become more familiar with the intuitive language (i.e., your body and emotions), you will start to recognize slight nuances, like the tightness in your chest or the sick feeling in your stomach, that you previously completely overlooked or ignored.
And since your intuition talks through the body, it’s important that your body – physically, mentally, and emotionally – is healthy; otherwise, you could get weak, unclear, or tainted intuitive signals.
Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. – Steve Jobs
Trusting your intuition goes against the typical advice to gather information, get everyone’s consensus, and then move forward. But that advice ignores the fact that no one can live your life (and your consequences) but you.
Other people haven’t been in your relationships, workplace, family, or had your unique set of experiences. Don’t seek advice about your relationship from someone who doesn’t have relationships you admire. Don’t ask someone who believes there’s only one way to financial freedom whether you should quit your job and start a business.
I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting we never consult more experienced, wiser people to help us with our decisions
What I am suggesting is that you see listening to your intuition as an absolutely necessary and valuable piece of the decision-making puzzle and that when your body talks, you listen.