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#9- Demystifying Intuition
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Demystifying Intuition

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Irrespective of their field, great performers tend to posses a strong sense of intuition: an NFL running-back sensing where a gap will emerge; an elite marathoner anticipating when a surge is likely to occur; a Baron’s top-10 investor selecting a winning stock based on a feeling; or an award-winning educator understanding exactly what a challenging student needs. This sort of insight is often heralded as a magical sixth sense; a reason why great performers are great. But that’s not the case. If anything, intuition doesn’t precede greatness, it follows it.
 
Intuition occurs when the instinctual subconscious mind realizes something before the slower and more methodical conscious one does*. This results from years of experience and pattern recognition, so the best way to develop intuition is to become a student of your field. By repeatedly exposing yourself to a variety of situations and carving out time to reflect on them, you are hardwiring pattern recognition into your brain. This eventually manifests as intuition. In other words, it takes arduous and conscious analysis now to gain quick and instinctual insight later. Two examples:
  • A journalist who reads extensively, follows stories that catch on, and analyzes the elements of those particular stories. Over time, he or she will develop a “sense” for what topics lend themselves to compelling prose, and how to write effectively.
  • A coach who trains numerous athletes and reflects on what elements of a program worked for some athletes but not for others. As time passes, he or she will have a “sense” of what kind of training to prescribe to various athletes.
As great as intuition may be, in the words of the investor Ravee Mehta, “It should be safeguarded with logic.”  What Mehta means is that intuition should serve as a starting point, a compass to guide you down the right path.  But once you start along that path, it’s still wise to use your conscious, deliberate mind to ensure you are headed in the right direction. The less experienced you are, the more you should safeguard your intuition with logic.
 
In his book The Emotionally Intelligent Investor, Mehta outlines 5 steps that anyone can use to safeguard their intuition:
  1. Remember that intuition is only valuable if it concerns a field in which you have true expertise. Ask yourself: Am I truly an expert in this area?
  2. Check for emotional biases. If you are in a happy mood you are more prone to taking risks whereas if you are in a sad mood you are more prone to loss aversion.
  3. Think back and try to find examples of similar situations. How did those play out?
  4. If applicable, use data to analyze your intuitive hunch.
  5. Test your idea with other experts and seek objective feedback.
Although not all situations allow for this kind of methodical safeguarding, following in-the-moment decisions, you can still analyze the results. This is precisely why professional sports teams devote endless hours to watching post-game film.

*Note: Intuition often manifests as a "gut feeling." Recent research shows a strong connection between the brain and gut. A “gut feeling” may very well be just that – your brain and gut communicating beneath your consciousness.
Develop and Harness Your Intuition
  • Remember that intuition is not magic. It is developed through years of experience and reflection. The more intentional you are about your learning progression -- i.e., experience -> reflection -> experience -> reflection -- the more likely you are to develop intuition.
  • As experience increases, so, too, does the validity of intuition.
  • Intuition should be viewed as a starting point – whenever possible, use logic to validate your intuitive hunch.
Learn More
“Intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier experience.” – Albert Einstein.
 
That’s it for this edition of Peak Performance.  We hope you learned something new.  Don’t hesitate to send us your questions or comments or to reach out on Twitter @SteveMagness and @Bstulberg.
 
Finally, if you find this newsletter interesting and useful, please share with your friends and colleagues.
 
Brad and Steve

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