Editor’s note: Known as the “Mobility Maker,” Dana Santas is a board-certified professional sports strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach and the author of Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.
Many top performers from sports, business and art will tell you that they swear by their intuitive instincts. It allows them to make decisions, often in split seconds, without overthinking and missing opportunities.
Look at baseball players. With an average Major League Baseball fastball thrown at speeds in excess of 90 mph, a batsman has no more than 150 milliseconds, which is literally the blink of an eye, to decide whether to bat. Additionally, the ball is virtually invisible to the batsman for the last 10 feet of its journey and is only 10 milliseconds within batting range. Forget the added complexity of hitting a round ball with just the right amount of power and precision with a round racquet.
But New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge recently broke the American League baseball record in a single season with a whopping 62 home runs. Sure, it takes preparation and skill, but without some intuitive flair, how else could Judge seemingly defy physics in these complex, lightning-fast steps?
For athletes like Judge, knowing when and how to make the right moves seems to come naturally, and to some extent science confirms that this is the case.
But science also confirms that, according to a 2016 study, intuition isn’t just a special sense possessed by special people like record athletes.
Intuition is something we all possess and can empower to make everyday decisions. Read on to learn why and how.
According to Max Newlon, president of BrainCo, founded by the Harvard Innovation Lab, which develops products based on brain-machine interface technology, the human brain has two distinct modes of thinking: analytical and intuitive. These are often referred to as left-brain and right-brain thinking, respectively, because research has shown that’s where the different thinking styles take place, he said.
“Depending on the task, different thought systems work more effectively. Right-brain intuitive thinking is characterized by more emotional, creative, and inclusive thinking,” he added.
Newlon gave the example of someone deciding to buy a home: “A person acting intuitively will reinforce their decision with statements about liking the feel of the space, imagining living there, and introducing themselves that your extended family will feel at home when you visit. Conversely, an analytical decision maker focuses on things like quality of schools, time and distance to commute to work, and overall financial processing.”
But what about the spontaneous business decisions that CEOs make from the hot seat, or the split-second movements of professional athletes?
“The ability to make quick, intuitive decisions is based on creating and nurturing self-confidence,” said Dr. Dehra Harris, assistant director of applied performance research for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Developing your inner voice, Harris noted, is an ongoing process that requires two steps:
1. Learn to listen to yourself.
2. Participate in a regular reflection process.
Start with a moment of stillness and observe the different voices in your head, advised Harris, a former assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“Generally, you hear two voices. One is fear based and associated with racing, repetitive thoughts, while the other is calmer and true to your nature,” Harris explained. “The best way to identify them is to notice how they make you feel. Your inner voice will always calm you down, even on big tasks, while your fear-based voice amplifies the overwhelming.”
Second, Harris realized that listening to your inner voice is not a flawless system. She suggested reflecting on the results on a weekly basis.
“It may seem counter-intuitive to test intuitive decision-making, but if some of the results were unsuccessful, the strategy needs to change. Remember that intuition draws from a well of accumulated experience and knowledge.”
Albert Einstein once said, “Intuition is nothing but the result of previous intellectual experiences.” Newlon agreed, but went a step further and suggested that intuition is not just the result of pattern recognition from the accumulation of your experiences, but possibly is “from millennia of evolution”.
Working actively on your intuition and trusting it every day strengthens it – even under stress. “Stress reduces the brain’s resources for decision-making, so going to a skill that you’ve already been actively using and working on will help you get a more reliable outcome,” Harris said.
If we look at the ability to strengthen intuitive decision-making through practice, let’s take another look at Aaron Judge. Not only did he hit the home run record, but he also stole 16 bases that same season, breaking his personal record. In fact, he was 100% accurate through August 9, with a 13-13 on base steal attempts, which is another unlikely feat.
Was it coincidence that Judge’s home run and base stealing success increased at the same time? Or was it partly due to his regular practice and confidence in his ability to make accurate, split-second intuitive decisions?
If your analytical mind thinks about it, consider that there is very little physical connection between hitting and stealing a base.
To see if regular practice can improve the strength and accuracy of your own intuitive “hits,” try these three exercises:
1. Breathe into presence
As a mental-body coach in pro sports, I’ve had the privilege of working with Judge on his breathing and helping him incorporate a breathing exercise into his training program. Because your breath is always in the present moment, it is your strongest connection to the here and now, freeing you from thoughts of the past or future. In a present state it is easier to hear your inner voice. Try this 5-7-3 breathing exercise to quiet your own mind so you can better listen to your intuition.
This 90-second deep breathing exercise helps relieve stress
– Source: CNN
2. Practice right-brain meditations
Rather than trying to keep your mind blank during meditation, try focusing your attention on allowing your imaginative right brain to flow without the judgment of your analytical mind. A good practice for this would be to consider a question or decision and let your meditative imagination guide you through a possible positive outcome. When it’s too difficult to make a decision without your analytical mind stepping in, Harris suggests focusing on a favorite song and letting your imagination guide you to the experiences that song conjures up for you.
3. Play with creative tools
Don’t be afraid to get creative in your attempts to be more creative. You don’t have to be an artist, writer, or psychic to play with tools that allow you to tap into your intuitive right brain. You can try freeform sketches, use storytelling cards to inspire creative writing, or use confirmation cards to set intentions.
“It can be very valuable to work with any practice that helps you actively use your intuitive brain, and sometimes even more so if we remove the mystique and look at it rationally,” Newlon said.
Now that you’re armed with the understanding and tools to empower your intuition, why not start seeing where your inner voice is leading you?