Five years ago, my husband Jake was training for a triathlon. He had just purchased a new road bike and woke up one sunny Saturday morning to take it out for its first spin.
As we were lying in bed, he looked at me and said, “I don’t have a good feeling about this; I hope something doesn’t happen.”
I suggested if he had a bad feeling, maybe he shouldn’t go. He thought for a moment, his logical mind kicked in, and he replied, ”Of course I should go, it’s fine. I need to train. It will be okay.”
Fast forward two hours later when I got a call from an unknown number. I answered with trepidation, knowing exactly what this call was going to be. A man told he had just found my husband in the middle of the road. He had an accident and the ambulance was on its way. He would stay with him until it was there.
Turns out, he was lucky to have just broken his femur and hip. Jake knew that morning that something wasn’t right. But instead of trusting his intuition and listening to that inner voice, he went anyway. It happens to all of us.
You often hear people say, “Go with your gut”, “Trust your instincts”, “Follow your intuition” and “Listen to your inner voice.” That all sounds great, right? If only it were that easy.
With all the external noise and internal conflict, how do we listen to our inner wisdom?
When you can tune in to that inner voice, you can make better and faster decisions, solve problems with greater ease, and live a more fulfilled and happy life.
I’ve worked with thousands of people over the course of my career and have learned that while this inner voice shows up in a variety of ways for each of us, we ALL have it.
In this article, I’ll outline some tips and strategies for how to identify and listen to your own inner voice. If you can find that voice and truly listen, it can save you a lot of time, energy, angst….and perhaps even a broken hip along the way.
I understand this might be easier for some than others. But regardless of who you are and how you’re wired, I just know, in my gut something will work for you.
Call it Gut. Knowing. Insight. Soul. Innate Wisdom. That’s the voice we’re looking for.
The dictionary defines intuition as, “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.”
It’s a hunch. A feeling. An inkling. A sense.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”, he explores the inner processes of intuition and instinct, examining how we make snap decisions and judgments. He has numerous examples of people having a hunch, feeling or intuition and how, while there was no hard evidence to back them up at first, science and data eventually backed up what they knew to be true.
Did you know that 95% of our brain activity happens at an unconscious level? Studies from numerous cognitive neuroscientists show that only 5% of our cognitive activity (decisions, emotions, actions, behavior) comes from our conscious mind.
We are taking in information through all our senses all the time – and processing it at an incredible speed. So that intuition, hunch, inkling, sense, voice, is coming from masses of information we can’t even cognitively or consciously process.
Then there’s cognition. “The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.”
This is more about understanding. Problem solving. Discernment. Organizing.
This is the logical, thinking part of your mind. Weighing pros and cons; coming to rational conclusions based on data or other factors. These are the voices of reason which often try to override your instincts.
Your inner guidance and wisdom aren’t always a voice in your head. Often, it’s a feeling, a sensation, image, energy or emotion. You might notice it your body. There’s no one best or way to experience your inner voice. The important thing is to identify when and where you feel it.
Is it a feeling in your gut? This is true for many of my clients and for me, personally. You may have heard the gut being called our “second brain.” This is because of the enteric nervous system (ENS). It can operate independently of the brain and spinal cord, and the central nervous system. We really can think with our gut!
Celebrity therapist and pioneering hypnotherapy trainer Marisa Peer has this to say: “The stomach is the seat of all emotions and your feelings are the most real thing you have; so the trick is to listen to your feelings. If something feels wrong, your inner voice is saying it is not right for you. If you get the horrible lurch in your stomach, your inner voice is telling you ‘this is wrong’.”
Perhaps it’s in your heart. When I asked a Jessie Gardner of HeySoul.com, a friend and colleague known for her acute sense of self-awareness where her inner voice resides, she said, “My heart for sure. Always my heart.” That’s no surprise, our hearts are very intelligent organs.
“Most people don’t know this, but the heart can feel, think and decide for itself. It has around 40,000 neurons and whole network of neurotransmitters with very specific functions, which make it a perfect extension of the brain. It’s automatic, almost instinctive, as if a mysterious, primal voice were telling us that the center of our true being, our conscience, is located right there.”
Maybe the voice is in your head? When I talked to my Dad about his inner voice, he balked at the idea of feeling it in his gut or heart. Instead, he shared about the voice that comes from the back of his head that talks to him not with him.
Try this: Look, Listen, Feel.
We experience inner wisdom in different ways. Maybe you relate to one of my examples? Maybe you “see” a picture, vision or image that comes up in your head. Perhaps you feel sensations in your body – energy, emotions or feelings. As we go through examples of how to listen, pay attention to how and where yours shows up.
We often have a feeling or a sense of something, just like my husband did, but very quickly, our logical mind kicks in to try to understand and comprehend what we feel. This especially happens when we don’t have data or information to back up our hunch or inner voice. We, and of course, others believe it’s not valid if we can’t justify or explain ourselves. So we push our instincts aside.
A recent client told me about how he ignored his inner voice not long ago. He dropped off his 16-year-old daughter at the mall. As she got out of the car, he thought, “I should tell her to make good choices.” But, because her friends were in the car and he didn’t want to embarrass her, he decided not to. His logic, reason and social graces took over. A few hours later he got a call from the mall police. His daughter had stolen a ring. “I knew I should have told her to make good choices.”
We often override our instincts with logic, reason, desire, and, in this case, societal pressure or social graces. But we don’t have to.
Sometimes we know what we need to do, but don’t like the answer. This happens with clients all the time when I ask what they sense they should do. They answer, but then reply, “But I don’t want to do that!”
Once, a client told me the story of her wedding, and a knowing that she simply ignored. As she walked down the aisle, she knew that she should not marry the man standing in front of her. Truthfully, she knew long before that day. But she didn’t want to hurt his feelings, call off the wedding, let friends and family down. So, she went through with it. Inevitably, that marriage ended in divorce – and this story is all too common.
That’s what the following strategies are for! Let’s dive in.
“Be still. The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” – Ram Dass
There are lots of ways to find quiet in the busyness of life. Turn off the phone, shut off the TV. Get some time and space to yourself.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you? Yes, I’m going to recommend you meditate. I know meditation seems to have become the panacea for everything that ails you, and there a good reason for that: it works. It’s one of the fastest, easiest and most effective ways to tap into your inner voice. Meditation aides us to connecting with our true self. Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati said “If you quiet the mind, the soul will speak.” I completely agree.
Another great way to find quiet is to be in nature. Why? Because there’s a connection. It’s grounding. You’re able to tap into the “oneness” of everything. This can shift things energetically. Want the double whammy? Meditate in nature.
You might find your quiet in nature, meditation, yoga, exercise, prayer. Whatever it is, find your quiet.
Most of us are running a hundred miles an hour in every direction. It’s hard to hear anything at that pace. Have you ever been driving down the freeway with the windows down, listening to music, when the person next to you starts talking. Can you hear them? Of course not. It’s too loud. There’s too much going on. You need to roll up the windows, press pause on the music and stop.
Our inner voice is speaking to us all the time, but sometimes it’s just too loud or we’re too busy to hear it. Pressing “pause” allows to tap into our innate wisdom.
When I was studying Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Mike Bundrant at the iNLP Center gave me a fantastic tool that I share with almost every client. It’s called the AHA Solution. It’s often used to identify patterns of self-sabotage, but in this case, we can use it to listen to our inner voice.
Next time you have a feeling, a sense, a hunch or intuition, follow this protocol.
A. Aware: Be aware of what you are feeling. Pay attention and notice.
H. Halt: This is the pause button. Think about the ways you can respond to what you’re hearing or noticing. You could listen to your inner voice, ask more questions and seek to hear it further. Or, you could choose to ignore it completely and let your cognitive mind take over and convince you it’s okay.
A. Act: Now that you have options, decide which action you will take.
If you want someone to come to your house, you’ve got to invite them over, right? Try taking this approach with your inner voice. While it’s always running in the background, it may have taken a backseat because it can’t seem to get through all the noise. It’s going to speak up more often when it knows you’re open and listening. Take a moment now and invite your inner wisdom to show up. Let it know you are ready and willing to listen. Wait to see what happens.
I love this one; our bodies are so dang smart. They will tell us if we ask and listen. But too often we have disconnected from sensations in our body to push through in the interest of productivity.
A few months back I was working with a client who came to our appointment with a massive headache. She stopped midway through our session and asked if I would mind if she went and took a couple Advil. Of course I said it was no problem, but asked if she was interested to understand the cause of her headache first. She nodded.
I had her close her eyes, take a couple deep breaths and ask her head, “What do you need from me right now?” The answer? “I need rest.” She burst into tears. She was exhausted but felt she couldn’t stop. She was leaving for a trip in a couple days, had her son’s birthday coming up and felt completely swamped. However, when she asked the question, her inner wisdom knew what she needed.
Try this at home. Next time you get something that’s bothering you physically, stop and be still for a moment. Ask that part: What do you need from me? What’s this about? Or What’s going on? And then wait and listen for an answer. This might sound a little out there, but trust me, it works.
When my Dad has a big problem he’s trying to solve or an important decision to make, he thinks about it before bed. I realize this might go against all advice regarding thinking about stressful things before bed, but that’s just the thing. He isn’t thinking about it or trying to solve it. He just puts the problem in the back of his mind for the night.
In the shower the next morning, solutions start bubbling up. These are usually spoken to him as if someone is talking to him. “What about this? Why don’t you do this?” It’s usually a very simple answer he hadn’t yet considered. And his response back to himself is frequently, “Why didn’t I think of that?” But he did!
This goes back to the 95% unconscious part that’s running in the background. When he stops thinking, his mind stops racing and puts the problem in the back of his mind, the unconscious part of him comes up with all sorts of great solutions. A colleague of mine used to refer to this as putting things in her ‘slow cooker’.
Have you ever flipped a coin, only to decide to do the exact opposite of what the coin said? Flipping a coin instigates our instinctive response because it gives us something to react to. When writing this article, My 7-year-old daughter was sitting at dinner one night, deciding who she wanted to put her to bed. She started doing the game, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.” Each time she finished, she landed on my husband. So, she went again. And again. Until six attempts later when she landed on me and replied, “I choose Mummy!” When a decision is taken out of our hands and happens to us, it gives us something to react to.
Try this with a decision you’re trying to make. Flip a coin. Are you happy and ready to go with that answer? Or do you want to go against the decision and try again? Well then, you already know what you want, don’t you?
I just had to include this one. I know it might sound a bit odd, but bear with me. Years ago, I read about a CEO who made all his big decisions this way. Let’s say he was considering acquiring another company. He would sit down and imagine he was eating that decision. Then he would stop and wait and see how he felt. Did he feel energized and alive or sick to his stomach? I love this idea and have tried it myself. It allows you to get out of your head and go into your body to make the decision. This might not be for everyone, but maybe it’s for you!
Sometimes you don’t know until you’re “in it.” When you’re faced with two choices, make the best choice with the information you have and what you feel is best, and then start moving. You’ll know if that choice is really right for you as you’ll feel good as you move forward. You’ll know it’s wrong if you continue to feel heaviness or resistance. The more you move forward the clearer the signal will become.
Whether it be a best friend (who knows how to listen and ask the right questions), a coach or therapist. Having scheduled time to tune in and having someone ask the right questions allows you tap in to what you already know. You already have the answers within you, sometimes you just need a little help to uncover them.
Like with anything in life, practice makes permanent. It takes time to grow and nurture your inner voice, especially if you’ve ignored it or pushed it to the side for some time now. The more you listen and hone your skills, the better and faster you will become at hearing and listening to your intuition, your gut, your innate wisdom.
Play with the strategies above and see what works. Better yet, as you read through the ideas, identify which ones you felt or sensed would be good to try. Try those first.
Practice on small things first, like what you want to eat, what to wear or whether you want to attend that party Saturday night. You don’t have to start with major life decisions, whether you should buy that house or if you should take that job.
Need more evidence that this will work for you? Think about a time in your life when you recognized and listened to the inner voice – what was the outcome? Now, think about a time when you heard that voice, but for some reason, ignored it or pushed it aside. What was the outcome then? You, know, that time when you felt like you shouldn’t do something, but did anyway? Or had a bad feeling but kept moving forward?
Pay attention. Next time you have a bad feeling, a sense that something isn’t right, an inkling or a pit in your stomach, pay attention.
Following your inner voice will lead you to the truth of what’s best for you. Tuning into your innate wisdom will help you make better and faster life decisions, solve problems with greater ease, and live a life of greater happiness, success and fulfillment.
In the words of Madeleine L’Engle, “Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.”
Featured photo credit: hiva sharifi via unsplash.com