A piece in the New York Times this week, third in a series of stories about the research of “Brain Power,” sheds interesting light on the existence and importance of human intuition.
The concept of a hunch, or a gut feeling, is explored as it relates to soldiers’ abilities to detect hidden explosives in war zones. Woven through the research is the story of Sgt. First Class Edward Tierney, who impulsively ordered his patrol of nine men to fall back from a car holding two small boys parked unassumingly on a sidewalk in Iraq. Seconds later, the car exploded.
The story concludes:
“Since then, Sergeant Tierney has often run back the tape in his head, looking for the detail that tipped him off. Maybe it was the angle of the car, or the location; maybe the absence of an attack, the sleepiness in the market: perhaps the sum of all of the above.
‘I can’t point to one thing,’ he said. ‘I just had that feeling you have when you walk out of the house and know you forgot something — you got your keys, it’s not that — and need a few moments to figure out what it is.’
He added, ‘I feel very fortunate none of my men were killed or badly wounded.’”
The article delves into the science behind this phenomenon of intuition, explaining that the humans are often subconsciously aware of details that accompany danger, and they feel a sense of urgency even before the brain has time to process those details.
‘”Not long ago people thought of emotions as old stuff, as just feelings — feelings that had little to do with rational decision making, or that got in the way of it,’ said Dr. Antonio Damasio, director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. ‘Now that position has reversed. We understand emotions as practical action programs that work to solve a problem, often before we’re conscious of it. These processes are at work continually, in pilots, leaders of expeditions, parents, all of us.’ …
As the brain tallies cues, big and small, consciously and not, it may send out an alarm before a person fully understands why.”
The importance of listening to intuition – whether you are on bomb patrol in Mosul or meeting a new “friend” at a party – cannot be underestimated. One of the leading books on this subject is called “The Gift of Fear,” by safety expert Gavin de Becker. GDB describes intuition as knowing something, without knowing why. The book goes on to explain that two facts about intuition are always true:
1. Intuition is always based on something, even if you can’t consciously see a reason to be wary.
2. Intuition will always lead you to a safer place, never into danger.
Trusting our intuition is one of the greatest tools we have as humans to guard our own personal safety. But going through life ever vigilant and prepared to listen to our survival signals does not mean that we live in constant fear. On the contrary, because we know our intuition will warn us of danger, just like Sergeant Tierney’s intuition warned him of an imminent explosion, we feel at peace, unthreatened, comfortable in our own skin.
This confidence we gain by acknowledging and trusting our intuition, in fact, allows that very intuition to function more effectively. Consider this statement in the New York Times piece:
“In war, anxiety can run as high as the Iraqi heat, and neuroscientists say that the most perceptive, observant brain on earth will not pick up subtle clues if it is overwhelmed by stress.
In the Army study of I.E.D. detection, researchers found that troops who were good at spotting bombs in simulations tended to think of themselves as predators, not prey. That frame of mind by itself may work to reduce anxiety, experts say.”
Thus, our intuition makes us feel more confident and secure, and that very confidence allows our intuition to function at a heightened level, keeping us even safer, making us feel even more confident, and the upward spiral continues.
The moral of the story is:
1. Intuition is one of your most powerful safety resources.
2. What appears to be just a “hunch” is likely a signal that your brain has not even processed – listen to it!
3. Trusting your intuition will raise your confidence, allowing your intuition to thrive, keeping you safer, and so on.
Next time you know something without knowing why, trust your instinct. Your brain knows more than you realize!