Editor’s note: Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and the author of “Practical Solutions for Pain Relief.”
Many high performers in sports, business, and the arts will tell you that they swear by their intuitive sense. It allows them to make decisions, often in a split second, without overthinking and losing options.
Look at baseball players. Since the average fastball in Major League Baseball is thrown at over 90 mph, the batter has no more than 150 milliseconds, literally the blink of an eye, to decide whether to swing. Furthermore, the ball is invisible to the batter for the last 10 feet of its travel and a mere 10 milliseconds during the hitting range. Never mind the added complexity of hitting a round ball with a round bat with the right power and accuracy.
However, New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge recently broke the American League baseball record with a whopping 62 home runs in a single season. Sure, there’s preparation and skill involved, but without intuitive sense, how else did Judge defy physics in this seemingly complex and rapid set of steps?
For athletes like Judge, knowing when and how to make the right moves seems to come naturally and, in part, is backed up by science.
But science also confirms that intuition isn’t just a special sense possessed by special people, like record-breaking athletes, according to a 2016 study.
Intuition is something we all have and can strengthen to make everyday decisions. Read on to find out why and how.
According to Max Newlon, president of BrainCo, a Harvard Innovation Lab-incubated company that develops products based on brain-machine interface technology, the human brain has two distinct modes of thinking: analytical and intuitive. These are often called left-brain and right-brain thinking, respectively, because research has shown that different thinking styles occur, he said.
“Depending on the task, different thinking systems work more efficiently. Right-brain intuitive thinking is characterized as more feeling-oriented, creative, and bigger-picture thinking,” he added.
Newlon shared the example of someone deciding to buy a house: “A person acting intuitively confirms their decision with statements about liking the feel of the space, imagining themselves living there and imagining that it will feel like home when their extended family visits. Conversely, an analytical decision will focus on things like the quality of the schools, the commute time and distance, and the overall financial arrangement.
But what about those business decisions that CEOs make from the hot seat, or the split-second moves of professional athletes?
“The ability to make quick, intuitive decisions is based on building and cultivating self-confidence,” said Dr. Dehra Harris, assistant director of applied performance research for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Developing your inner voice, Harris points out, is an ongoing process that requires two steps:
1. Learn to listen to yourself.
2. Engage in a regular reflection process.
Start with a moment of silence and observe the different voices in your head, advised Harris, St. Former assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“In general, you will hear two voices. One is fear-based, associated with racing thoughts, the other is quieter and more true to your nature,” explained Harris. “The best way to identify them is to notice how they make you feel. Your inner voice will always calm you down, even in the face of big tasks, fear-based. while the voice will increase the overflow.’
Second, Harris pointed out that listening to your inner voice is not a flawless system. He suggested reflecting on the results each week.
“It may seem counterintuitive to review intuitive decision-making, but if some results have not been successful, there must be a change in strategy. Remember that intuition comes from a pool of accumulated experience and knowledge.”
Albert Einstein once said, “Intuition is nothing more than the result of prior intellectual experience.” Newlon agreed, but took it a step further, suggesting that intuition is not just the result of pattern recognition in your accumulation of experiences, but may be from “millennia of evolution.”
Actively working with your intuition and having a daily practice of trusting it will strengthen it, even in the face of stress. “Stress reduces the brain’s resources for decision-making, so it helps to switch to a skill you’ve already actively applied and worked on for a more reliable outcome,” Harris said.
As we consider the ability to strengthen intuitive decision making with practice, let’s take another look at Aaron Judge. In addition to breaking the home run record, he stole 16 bases in the same season, breaking his personal best. In fact, through August 9th, he was 100% accurate in 13-of-13 stolen base attempts, which is an impossible feat.
Was it a coincidence that Judge’s homerun and base-stealing success increased at the same time? Or was it partly due to regular practice and his confidence in his ability to make accurate and intuitive decisions?
As your analytical mind ponders this, consider that there is very little physical correlation between hitting and base stealing.
To see how regular practice improves the power and accuracy of your intuitive hits, try these three exercises:
1. Breathe into presence
As a mind-body coach in professional sports, I have had the privilege of working with Judge on his breathing and helping him integrate a breathing practice into his training regimen. Because your breath is happening in the moment, it is your strongest connection to the here and now, freeing you from thoughts of the past or future. In today’s situation, it is easier to listen to your inner voice. Try this 5-7-3 breathing practice to calm your mind so you can better listen to your intuition.
This 90-second deep breathing exercise will help relieve stress
– Source: CNN
2. Practice right brain meditations
Instead of trying to keep your mind blank during meditation, try to focus on letting your imaginary right brain flow without judging your analytical mind. A good exercise for this would be to consider a question or possibility and let your meditative imagination lead you through a possible positive outcome. If a decision is too difficult to fathom without letting your analytical mind get in the way, Harris suggested focusing on a favorite song and letting your imagination run wild into the experiences that song creates for you.
3. Play with creative tools
Don’t be afraid to be 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 free-form sketches, use story cards as creative writing, or affirmation cards to set your intention.
“Working with any practice that helps you actively use your intuitive brain can be very valuable, and sometimes even more so when we strip away the mystique and look at it rationally,” Newlon said.
Now that you have the understanding and tools to empower your intuition, why not start seeing where your inner voice leads you?