Photo courtesy of Olivia Bee/Trunk Archive

Why We Doubt Our Intuition

Go with your gut. Listen to your inner voice. Believe in yourself. We have a whole bunch of ways of telling ourselves to be more intuitive. But when the time comes to make a difficult decision, why is it always so hard to trust our intuition?

A sense of immediacy—or false urgency—is what conditions us to question our instincts, say psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed and mindfulness teacher Deborah Eden Tull. In other words, false urgency leads us to believe there is one right answer, and it makes us fearful of making the wrong choice. And we feel desperate to come up with an immediate answer. Freed and Tull say this is what ultimately diminishes our intuition. As they explain, tapping into our true internal knowledge requires patience and, sometimes, taking a step back before we can truly move forward.

Are You Intuitive?

Everyone has access to intuition, but few people are trained to distinguish intuitive knowing from the wants and desires of the pressured and conditioned mind.

We are asked to make intuitive choices every day of our lives. But in moments when we feel pressured to make the “right” decision, we can’t always access clarity. It’s easy to mistake urgency or superstition for intuitive knowing. We sometimes confuse the ego’s agenda with guidance from the universe.

There’s a pure, intuitive place in each of us; however, we are all exposed to false urgency syndrome, which can obscure our knowing.

What’s false urgency syndrome? It’s:

  1. “I need an answer now!”

  2. “I’ve got to run!”

  3. “I’ll hop on that call.”

  4. “I’m running behind.”

  5. “Gotta go!”

  6. “Hurry up!”

  7. “What’s taking so long?”

How did being busy and overwhelmed become synonymous with being virtuous? How did we decide that anyone who is not keeping up is a slacker or loser? People are so jacked up, they hardly know how to relax or get a good night’s rest anymore. The adrenaline and cortisol that flood your bloodstream when you are rushed and stressed may feel like power—they do provide a temporary high—but they lead right back to more anxiety and false urgency.

On a daily basis, false urgency syndrome reinforces a desperate pace and feeling in our lives. It cuts us off from our still, calm inner knowing and pulses with an unrelenting intensity of speed and demand. When false urgency rules the day, every decision carries a red-alert status that makes it difficult to have clear intuition.

How do we tell the difference between false urgency syndrome and intuition? How do we hear past false urgency to access genuine intuition when faced with a life decision? How do we know whether it’s the voice of urgency or the voice of truth that’s speaking?

Tapping into trustworthy intuition leads us into a state of clear seeing where we can access all of the wisdom required to know what to do next. Doing so requires that we actively resist false urgency syndrome because true internal guidance can come only from a peaceful and restful place inside us. Luckily, true intuition has some very dependable qualities, and it is possible to take steps that will set you up for the clarity and discernment it requires.

The conditioned mind speaks loudly and repetitively. It pushes for immediate answers that will “solve” your life’s suffering. Its language is:

  1. Story

  2. Drama

  3. Fear

  4. Fantasy

  5. Headiness

  6. Loudness

  7. Superstition

With intuition and insight, you experience your nature as connected to a larger-than-self place where peace and spaciousness reside. These feelings include:

  1. Calm

  2. Trust

  3. Deep knowing

  4. The still, small voice within

  5. Kindness

  6. A sense rather than something that has been scientifically proven or justified in your mind

  7. Peace

Six Steps for Unlocking Your Intuition

  1. Notice dualistic thinking.

    Picture yourself making a difficult decision. Maybe it’s “Should I stay, or should I go?” or “Should I take action, or should I not?” When we’re presented with a this-or-that choice and have to weigh the benefits of yes and no, we might notice that both options involve some degree of disappointment.

    As a rule, whenever we find ourselves in the place of either-or, there’s cause for suspicion. Life is not dualistic. There are always more than two choices. Whenever you find yourself stuck with only two, it’s likely that the conditioned mind—the one caught up in false urgency syndrome—is in control of your process.

    The word “decide” comes from the same root as “homicide” and “suicide.” It points to cutting one part out. For example: If I stay, I get these three things that I want, but there is a downside. If I leave, there is an equal downside. The options that sit at either end of an imagined duality will always cut out one part of you.

    Intuition will not operate in dualities. It will make a direction apparent, but it allows for the complexities that exist in every situation.

  2. Offer self-compassion.

    It feels awful to believe that it’s possible to make a wrong choice. In this state of fear, our body constricts and our inner knowing becomes dimmed. We can cultivate self-compassion to calm down from the pressure and fear of making the wrong choice; from that return to presence, we have access to centered perception. Presence is the only place from which we have real access to clarity and intuition.

    The first step to clear seeing is to turn within, toward the part of you that feels the weight of false urgency. Take a deep breath. Slow down. Investigate your feelings with curiosity rather than judgment. Consider that it is more important and useful to center yourself than to urgently try to make the right choice.

    Ask yourself these questions:

    1. How does it feel in my body right now?

    2. What am I saying to myself? What am I believing about this situation?

    3. How am I feeling? What part of me is feeling distressed by this decision?

    4. What expression of compassion is needed right now?

    Offer yourself the compassion that you need to begin to take a step back. Offer yourself the soothing voice of care and okay-ness.

  3. Learn to ask for guidance from stillness rather than eagerness.

    To receive true guidance, we must learn to relax and empty our minds, rather than filling them with the busyness of “trying to figure it out.” Step back. Allow your still, small, internal voice to emerge.

    There is a tendency, for women in particular, to ask for guidance in a petitioning way: pleading, worrying, even approaching prayer with urgency and fear. The noise of your own voice pestering and pleading can block the sound of your own wisdom speaking to you. You can deafen yourself with incessant internal questioning. If you notice you have this tendency, have compassion for yourself around it. It reflects an internalized belief in female inadequacy. True feminine power comes from the capacity to go deep within and birth a peaceful knowing from a contained, patient, quiet, and confident place.

  4. Listen deeply.

    Intuition does not speak through a loud story or narrative. It does not necessarily present itself through a complex or superstitious story. To receive guidance, listen deeply, in a relaxed, patient, and attentive way, rather than pushing your eager mind to “get it” or “understand.”

    It is especially important to find a way to relax your body. The more relaxed you are, the more receptive and open to intuition you become. As you begin to feel truly peaceful in your body, you will feel more clarity arise, and your answer will present itself most often as simple knowing—perhaps through a word, feeling, or sensation, or just a felt sense. Intuition speaks subtly, kindly, and always with compassion.

    Deep listening is not just a practice we bring to difficult choices. We can practice deep listening all the time, as a way of life. In doing so, we continually strengthen our sense of intuitive knowing.

  5. Be patient and receptive.

    Remember that inner knowing is encouraged through our willingness to be patient and receptive. It is not harmful to consult professionals whose expertise is in the divine guidance area; however, no one will ever be more expertly qualified than you to know what is best for you. It takes tremendous courage and determination to resist false urgency syndrome and start a practice of listening deeply to yourself. It comes from within, and it’s worth mindful, gentle, and enduring exploration.

  6. Gather with others to access intuition together.

    It can be helpful to start an intuition support group that meets on a regular basis. After getting quiet together in some way (meditation, silent walking, or ceremony) for ten to twenty minutes, each person can write out any questions they are struggling with—and can then host any answers that come. Share the resulting wisdom with one another if it feels right.

    Being with others in a quiet, intentional space reinforces our personal and collective wisdom. There are an intimacy and a clarity that can come from choosing to be with others in a relaxed and open state without an agenda. Guidance is always available to us when we make room for the divine by honoring a soft, slow, and centered connection.

    Intuition belongs to all of us when we devote earnest time to the sacred within us and around us.

Jennifer Freed, PhD, MFT, is a psychological astrologer, a psychotherapist, and the author of Use Your Planets Wisely: A Relational Approach to Personal and Collective Happiness. Freed is the executive director of AHA!, a nonprofit organization that works with schools and communities on social and emotional development.

Deborah Eden Tull, the founder of Mindful Living Revolution, is a Zen meditation and mindfulness teacher, an author, and an activist. She is the author of Relational Mindfulness.