Dive deep, introvert

There is much in the world that needs doing, and introverts often try to keep up with naturally broad-ranging extroverts. We may fear others’ expectations or judgments: what will people think if I say no?  Or have our own inner expectations or judgments: I should be doing more.

But introverts are naturally at their best when they dive deeply into just a few things. They may have diverse skills, but their natural tendency is to specialise, rather than keep many balls in the air.

Extroverts, though they cast their net wide, need downtime too. But when they try prolonged deep dives they soon grow bored, and lose energy. When introverts try to juggle many balls, they soon become discouraged, or overwhelmed. Neither is better or worse.

If you’re committed to helping bring about a healthy and sane future for the world, you’ll be acutely aware of all the movements clamouring for your support and involvement. You can’t do it all – in fact, you’re less effective when you try to.

So give yourself permission to simplify.

Just now, I have four strands I’m dedicated to: working with the team at Embercombe, helping out on the Accidental Gods podcast, writing a new book (and the occasional blog), and working with a maximum of seven clients. That’s enough for me: for someone further along the spectrum towards introversion, it might be too many.

I’ve learned to identify my strands and then raise the drawbridge, saying ‘no more’ to myself and the world. I get excited by certain projects, but I don’t have to be in them.

I’ve found that when I take on too much, it doesn’t end well. It’s better to be effective in what I’m most strongly called to, than scattered across too many pieces. Just being lured by exciting new initiatives takes up inner disk space. And exposed to so many voices, I can lose touch with my own.

I’ve taken some steps to stay balanced and effective:

  • Start each day with a wander and a meditation
  • No TV or newspapers
  • Social media: only Twitter and LinkedIn, to post or share something specific
  • Scan around six favourite sites briefly, two/three times day
  • Unsubscribe from most list emails
  • Unplug from all devices each Sunday, and do delightful things

I practise discipline gently; I don’t give myself a hard time when I occasionally do something different.

I didn’t suddenly switch to this way of being. It evolved over years… and will continue evolving. Pieces of work come to an end, freeing up space. Then I turn my radar back on, ready for the next strand to appear – however long it takes.

Your optimum conditions will look different from mine. But if you’re an introvert, they’ll almost certainly involve simplification. Try pledging yourself to whatever it is you’re here in this life to do, and dive in.

Woman Diving Into Water, Paul Cezanne

www.gillcoombs.co.uk

Am I Too Old for Something New?

I’ve heard this question many times, in various forms: often from people in their fifties, but sometimes younger – and once from someone aged thirty-six. My response is always no; no, you are not too old for that.

It’s said by those who work with the dying that people often experience significant transformation, letting go, a new perspective: in their final days, or even hours. It’s never too late, and living evidence of this truth is a 90-year-old woman who checked out of a weekend workshop with the following: “I now know what I’m going to do with the next stage of my life.”

We are all capable of life transitions, wherever we are on our trajectory. Yet what many people wonder is not ‘Am I capable of a fresh start?’ but ‘Is it worth it?’ They brood on questions such as ‘If I retrain now, will I have enough years’ work left to be worth it financially?’ One pragmatic response is that we don’t really want to retire from work we truly love; we hope to do it for as long as we are able. If you undertake lengthy study even in your sixties, you may have decades of fulfilling work ahead.

A more soulful response might be: we don’t know how many years you will have to do this work, and maybe it doesn’t matter. Your soul seems to want to unfold a new pair of leaves, or a flower, or some seeds; perhaps all you need to do is let whatever is trying to come through, come through.

Another common concern is: ‘I don’t want to waste all those years in my current field.’ The concern might be about wasting money, or wasting the skills and knowledge you have gained. At a practical level, those skills and knowledge won’t simply evaporate. They will actively inform the work you do next, or they will fall away and create rich compost around your new seed. Or both.

And at a deeper level, sometimes there is a fundamental need to let go of the old before the new can emerge. This is a form of psycho-spiritual death, and requires both courage and readiness. (Readiness isn’t an achievement in this case; more a feeling of necessity.)

I was dipping back into my first book Hearing our Calling the other day. I smiled to see my musings on how my entire life had led up to this work; how I suspected I wasn’t quite spent yet, and hoped there would be something more. I was 48 when I wrote those words. The last eight years have been rich in new ventures I could never have imagined. And I’ve just committed to substantial study, to support a new phase of my work that’s been emerging.

Perhaps, rather than ‘Am I too old?’ a better question is ‘What is calling me?’ – no matter what our number of years.

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Wild Growth

A client recently called to say he wouldn’t be able to make our Zoom session as he was lost in the forest, and couldn’t get Wi-Fi. I opened Outlook to reschedule, and while it was loading, I asked him how he was.

He told me he felt directionless: his heart was no longer in his job, but he was afraid of walking away without a guaranteed steady income. ‘It’s actually like being lost in the forest.’

With his words I saw that we could perceive his lostness as an inconvenience, or as a gift. I’ve often worked with clients on the phone in homes or offices, and I’ve done sessions in nature, drawing on Ecotherapy. Could we combine the two? He was up for the experiment.

He said a little bit more about his life situation: what had been happening, and how he was feeling now. I asked him to look around, to tell me about the place he was in. He described the woodland, and was clearly drawn to an old sycamore. I suggested he sit with it for a while. I heard rustles and snaps from the forest floor as he made his way towards the tree.

He sat for a while, and presently spoke about feeling the sycamore’s roots in the earth, and its trunk giving him a better sense of his spine. He felt more grounded, he said; more solid. We spent some time expanding and anchoring his physical and emotional sensations.

Eventually he felt ready to move away from the support of the sycamore’s trunk. Standing, he found himself caught in brambles. He described an urge to trample them, kick himself free, and we explored what that would be like. He said trampling might damage the brambles and any unseen creatures amongst them, and possibly him too. He took time to step carefully through, with mindful (and bodiful) attention.

Back in a clear space, he reflected that ‘slowly and carefully’ may be how he needs to leave his job, rather than the ‘door slam’ he’d been imagining.

Presently he found a path. He didn’t know where it led, but he knew it would lead somewhere.

He emailed me later (from home) about how surprisingly transformative he’d found the session we almost didn’t have.

It was transformative for me, too. It’s well known that we can find ourselves infinitely creative when obstacles arise. And that can multiply when unspoken, unquestioned rules are dismantled by circumstance – as lockdown showed us so powerfully and beautifully.

It makes me shiver to imagine what transformations might be possible if, as a society, we can face our current crises creatively and unconventionally, with the wild world, rich in meaning, as our container and inspiration.

Think about what you’re doing

“Think about what you’re doing.” As a girl I heard this instruction most days from my frustrated mother.

I was a head-in-the-clouds child; not so much in the creative sense of making up friends, or worlds (though I did a little of both) – more like wondering, or anticipating.

I might be trying unsuccessfully to tie a shoe lace, wondering which pony I would ride on Saturday. Mum would notice my faraway look and say, “Think about what you’re doing.”

And I would think, “Right, what am I doing? Putting my shoes on… I wonder why humans are the only animals who wear shoes? Except horses of course, but that’s only because we make them… are we the only animals who make other animals do things?’… and so on.

I was thinking about what I was doing, but not in a way that got my shoelace tied. The instruction got lost in translation between Mum’s pragmatism and my tendency to abstract concepts. If she’d had the language, she might have said instead: “Bring your awareness to what your hands are doing right now.”

It’s an experiment I often suggest to clients whose minds tend to leap off across lily pads: practise bringing yourself present to your current task, or your immediate choices. Then you’ll be less likely to regret actions or decisions, less likely to lose or break things.

Of course lily-padding is both natural and productive to those inclined that way. But it can also distract them from important tasks – such as applying for a much-needed job or significant decisions (such as whether to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’).

Abstract thinkers aren’t always aware that being present comes easy to natural pragmatists; that the present is where they spend most of their lives. For them, the unfamiliar stretch is to dream. But being present in the moment can feel almost impossible for those with a strong tendency to lily-padding.

Any habit needs time and work to take on a life of its own, but a major obstacle is not even remembering to be present. This is where a daily, scheduled mindfulness meditation can really help. It’s discipline training for the mind, strengthening of the attention.

Once we’ve got the habit of being present, able to bring ourselves back from the clouds at will, we’re far better able to deal with the present: whether choosing what to prioritise next, or tying a shoelace.

The Crucial Tool We’re Not Using

Myers Briggs, the personality type tool, has a bad rap in some circles.

There are two main objections. Some complain it lacks scientific rigour, its creators being women without degrees; others have a passionate aversion to being ‘put into a box’. The first group are using their Thinking function, the second Feeling.

Yet Type theory, built on the foundations of C. J.  Jung’s work, has a vital role to play in today’s epic struggle for a sane world, and a future for the life on Earth we love.

For example, Idealists (Intuition combined with Feeling) put a lot of energy into persuading people that a new level of consciousness is needed to stop complex networks of life unravelling. But those using Sensing don’t appreciate complexity – they’re much better at concrete facts than abstract ideas. Getting irritated with them doesn’t change this fact; it just widens divisions.

Someone with strong Sensing will be more open to a dependable version of ‘how things are’ than a vision of ‘how things should be’. It’s one reason David Attenborough succeeded where so many had failed.

Sensing combined with Judging gives what Keirsey calls the ‘Security Seeking’ temperament. People with this combo not only resist change, they can find it hard to even imagine. Tradition is all: what has worked before will work again, like the old story of Great Britain. This is how Security Seekers see the world, and their worldview is both real and firm. Push them, and they’ll push back.

As Howard Zinn has pointed out, adherence and obedience to existing hierarchies got us into this terrifying mess. Some self-interested Strategists (Intuition combined with Thinking) have taken advantage of obedience, and adherence to norms. designing systems for traditionalists to follow, and paying the media to keep feeding subtle ‘instructions’.

Conformity can appear shocking to mavericks. But it’s just another way of being; human roles are distributed proportionally, as with bees. That’s why Extinction Rebellion strategists (working with idealistic Visioners) need to create a generative, healthy ‘normal’ for traditionalists to support.

Used carefully, type theory is an immensely useful and powerful tool for crossing the divides. It’s also vital for the success of project work: for example, it can also help ease tensions between those with Extraverted and Introverted Feeling, a dynamic that can disrupt relationships – and the work – if it isn’t addressed.

As you’re probably getting from this short piece, type theory is complicated. There are many reasons why it (or something like it) should be learned early: not least because we are all capable of honing our preferences and developing our less preferred functions – when we know they exist.

Jung’s work on Type is much more complex than the examples in this short piece. It would change how we relate if children learned these key concepts: we are all capable of honing our strengths and developing our less preferred functions – when we know they exist.Myers Briggs isn’t perfect, any more than Darwin’s theory of evolution turned out to be.

Everything is a work-in-progress. And it’s not unique: plenty of alternative models have sprouted from the work those two women did at their kitchen table. There are endless online resources, some more useful than others. But the 101 we could all usefully come back to is this:

People express themselves, see the world, make decisions, and organise their lives, differently.

When such diversity is ignored, we can be painfully divided. When it’s recognised and integrated, it can be powerful, healing, and creative: it helps us work consciously together for the greater good.

Waterfalls

Mighty cascades pouring from mountain shelves in Iceland, turbulent rapids sculpting the rocks of the Grand Canyon, or the numerous mini waterfalls that animate Devon’s rivers: all embody a sudden rapidity of movement; a step-change. Travelling down the river of life, we each encounter personal waterfalls that must be navigated.

Mini-waterfalls are usually quite safe. Mallards paddle and forage undisturbed close to water that slips between, or arcs over, small granite boulders. They pass down, twirling in the gentle current, only if they decide to. Choosing an experience that feels edgy is to choose the waterfall: to dive in and learn to play the violin, join a group, shop somewhere different, speak to a stranger, or try unfamiliar food.

Mallard+in+Dell++2015+1a.jpg

You can usually get out of a mini-waterfall half way down, if you decide you don’t like it – though if you follow through, you’ll probably arrive in the calm pool below relieved, exhilarated, and wondering what you were so anxious about. To inexperienced or nervous ducklings, negotiating even a tiny waterfall can feel like passing through rapids. But the more falls they successfully negotiate, the less afraid and more resourceful they become.

Rapids are like a dare: you enter them knowing they’re potentially dangerous. Typically you’ve made your decision and planned for the rapids some way upstream, but there can be no assurance you’ll emerge safely. Your heart is racing, but a strong voice (inner or otherwise) insists you make the attempt. Once you’re in, you’re committed to the ‘trial of the soul’ you chose.

Rapids are significant, unpredictable experiences:  taking a test, facing an audience, moving home, a career change, leaving a relationship. You’re on the far side of short rapids quite quickly; others require endurance. Your task is to ride the buffeting twists and surges like a skilful goosander: relaxed but aware, ready to adapt your tactics in a moment, prepared to seek help from rescuing wings if you get into trouble.

goosander.jpg

Mighty falls, however, are seldom of your choosing. They may come as redundancy, disease, betrayal, bereavement, or death. Believing yourself  to be in still waters, you gradually become aware of a deep roaring; of a strong, smooth undertow pulling you inexorably towards the edge – beyond which may lie oblivion. There’s no point in fighting it: you could hurt yourself more if you struggle, and you’ll need all your energy to heal and recover. Besides, it’s taking you anyway.

You may get smashed and deluged during the plunge, but at the end of most falls (except maybe the last) you’ll eventually rise to the surface. It’s possible you will never fully recover, at least never be your familiar self again. A way to endure mighty falls is to submit to them like a precious, cushioned seed: to deeply accept that you’ve left behind all you knew; to trust that the next quiet stetch of water will offer you peace and time to grow in your soul something new, resilient and beautiful, ready to meet the next waterfall.

big fall.jpg

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It Takes a Village

According to some, the therapy industry thrives largely because our parents didn’t give us everything we needed to grow up happy and safe. Apparently in order to heal, we first need to recognise their failures; naturally, such recognition generally releases tears, anger and indignation. For healing of the whole family, however, it helps to recognise that our parents couldn’t give us everything we needed.

There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Over countless thousands of years human children, like many other young animals, grew up in large family groups. They learnt from, and were nurtured by, the whole community. If you were quite different from either of your parents, there would probably be someone around who was enough like you to recognise what you needed to grow well. Crafters, healers or musicians would teach their skills to those youngsters who showed promise, or interest.

Today, it’s usually down to a small family unit to provide everything; no wonder it’s not always sufficient, however hard the family tries…

In the pre-civilisation extended family group, it wouldn’t matter if some adults’ primary skills and interests were something other than parenting; there would be more than enough protection from the group’s natural guardians, cuddles from the natural nurturers, and instruction from the natural teachers, to go round. Older children would lead play with younger children. There would be less need of fierce competition for attention, for love; and the older children would learn important caring skills.

tribal-council

As in any primate group, emerging warriors could try out their strength, power and sexuality against those of a similar calibre and appetite, rather than immature, unready siblings too weak to offer a match. I meet many in my ‘soul coach’ practice who were damaged by such encounters. But the young adult, the emerging warrior, feel they must try themselves somewhere.

In healthy tribal groups, adults would feel deeply connected instead of isolated; reaffirmed daily by playing their vital role in the group, and by real, unambiguous contact. Old people would not experience long groundhog days of loneliness; they’d generally be loved and respected. Communities would benefit from their long-accumulated wisdom, and their knowledge of a wider community: the myriad familiar plants and other living beings, the land our very sustenance comes from.

Small wonder there is so much depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness; so much addiction, medication and suicide. Small wonder so many have difficult relationships with basic and natural aspects of humanity such as sex, power and attachment. Small wonder so many are plagued by guilt:  parents who could not be everything, brothers and sisters who mistreated siblings, siblings who let it happen, families who don’t know what to do with their elders.

Community has been gradually eroded by ‘progression’, its loss greatly accelerated by the industrial revolution. Local ‘tribes’, with their ancient, interweaving stories, can never be recreated.  Protection, instruction and cuddles are outsourced to strangers (some of whom do a better job than others). A monetised, disconnected ‘village’ is encouraged by the state, because it grows GDP. This breeds fear of those outside the family unit; children are taught young not to trust.

Okay, here’s the obligatory ‘utopia’ disclaimer:  community, of course, was never perfect. In losing the best of community we also lose the worst, including the long feuds, the petty conflicts, the lack of privacy. But even with all that, tribal living was probably a lot more emotionally healthy and more balanced than the societies most of us inhabit today.

However, it’s immensely heartening to see how easily and quickly the best of community can be recreated: in streets and neighbourhoods, through places like the Lammas Eco Village, by organisations like the Network of Wellbeing, societies of shared interests or values, in families and online everywhere. Conflict may still arise: this will always happen where there are humans. But in healthy community, conflict is recognised, named and carefully negotiated.

Thankfully, humanity has realised what we were in danger of losing forever. Community in its many forms is beginning to burgeon again, in myriad collective, creative responses: in cities and in valleys where the candle of community has been lit, and is holding fast, even in the cold wind of the 21st century.

It seems we really can use our collective wisdom, creativity and intention to find ways for our children to be raised by healthy, thriving, diverse ‘villages’. When we are able do this enough, maybe we are able to reclaim healthy adulthood, meaningful lives – and true community, at its best.

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Believe Nothing

Those were the very first words I heard my therapeutic counselling course tutor say.

Ooh, cynical, I thought.

Then she read, ‘Do not believe what you have heard; do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations; do not believe anything because it is rumoured and spoken by many; do not believe merely because a written statement of some old sage is produced; do not believe merely the authority of your teachers and elders. That includes me,’ she added with a laugh.

I protested, ‘But you’re our teacher. What are we supposed to believe?’

She smiled. ‘That’s one of the things you’ll learn.’

Oh great, I thought. This is going to be a waste of time and money. And yet, that turned out to be one of the most useful precepts I encountered on the course, and for the next twenty years.

Today these words (said to have originated from the Buddha), are more relevant – indeed, vital – than ever: technology has opened the field to anyone, wise, unwise, or otherwise, to share advice in blogs and on social media.

The internet is awash with well-intended advice memes: ‘First impressions are everything.’ ‘It doesn’t matter what others think.’ ‘Relax; it will be okay.’ ‘Never stop trying.’ ‘Risk being vulnerable.’ ‘Express your anger.’ ‘It’s not your fault.’ ‘Be patient.’  ‘Trust more.’ ‘Say no.’

All of them can be helpful, reassuring and sometimes life-changing. They can also be misleading, confusing and counter-productive. ‘Walk away’ might be good advice for someone enduring an abusive relationship. It might not be so good for someone who serially walks away from jobs because they’ve never dealt with a recurring issue/theme in their life, and takes ‘Walk away’ – especially with a mountain or sunrise (or both) background – as confirmation to quit. Again.

All such messages speak from the personality and story of whoever creates or shares them, including recognised teachers – they cannot do otherwise. For example, mindfulness might be taught by someome so intrigued by abstract ideas, they’ve never paid much attention to the here and now. When this person experiences the benefits of being present, they learn avidly and become a passionate expert – not recognising that many ordinary people, uninterested in abstract ideas, are already naturally good at being in the here and now.

We are all different; we are all unique, with our unique and complex stories. I’m hardly the first to suggest that true acceptance of difference is the biggest hope for world peace; it’s also important for individual peace. People sharing profound words of guidance don’t know your circumstances, your personality. It’s good to deeply know your own, and develop your intuition. Then you’re able to sift through the exhortations of others, take what’s useful, leave what isn’t (whilst recognising that it might be useful for someone else).

Yesterday’s street-wise are today’s information-wise. Whether we read it in the Daily Mail or the Bible, on Twitter or Tiny Buddha, we’re getting better at discerning. However, we all have stuff – facts and ideas – that we believe out of habit, without even realising. They’re called introjects.  We acquired a whole bunch of these messages masquerading as ‘truths’ from the people we grew up with. We carry on acquiring them from the significant people and groups we interact with. Even with the help of a coach, counsellor or therapist, it can take a lifetime to identify our introjects; to tease them out from what we now feel as we evolve into greater maturity, and into a surer sense of what we believe and what we don’t (and what we remain open-minded about).

So should you believe this ‘believe nothing’ advice? Well, of course even that is ironically but neatly subjective. Some are more inclined to trust (often those who are more trustworthy). But some habitually and immediately reject new ideas, and could usefully open up to believing more. Some are learning to be less trusting, some to be more so. Neither is better than the other – just different.

But don’t take my word for it.

www.gillcoombs.co.uk

believe nothing

You rock!

A friend once remembered her geography teacher describing three different types of rock: metamorphic (the product of dramatic changes), sedimentary (a build-up of invisible layers) and igneous (solid and enduring). Within each type, there are many sub-types. The teacher then added that people could be understood in that way, too.

There are various ways of categorising individuals (some more helpful than others). We are all, of course, more complex than any model. But models can help both me and a client perceive more clearly their natural preferences, the trajectory of their life. It’s for them to decide what fits, what doesn’t – and what seems not to, but might be worth bearing in mind.

‘Rock types’ may not be a recognised approach in the field of psychology, but in my client work I’ve often been reminded of my friend’s story, and mused thus:

‘Metamorphic’ clients are those who naturally pass through distinct phases in their working life: re-inventing themselves with ease as they move between apparently diverse areas, and sometimes feeling so squeezed by the pressures of a role that they jump into something entirely different. They bring great energy to a new project or role, and leave it with equal decisiveness. They appear to leap from one thing to another but there is often a core skillset, or thread of values, running through what they do for a living, and why they do it.

metamorphic

The ‘sedimentary’ client typically has a career that builds slowly over the years. They may change jobs, but each layer draws on, and is infused by, layers that have gone before – allowing them to develop deeply textured skills and wisdom that can reach out sideways. This depth can be invisible to those only witnessing the current stage: the sometimes fragile sedimentary types are not likely to speak much about their achievements, but can surprise others by drawing on their reserves when the situation evokes their contribution.

sedimentary

An igneous rock is more of a ‘career for life’ type. They can appear cool or even hard, but once they have chosen their work, they do it with solid passion. I don’t see many in my consulting room, as people who come to me are usually seeking some kind of transition. Any major career changes that happen for an igneous are usually forced by something like redundancy. I used to meet more igneous types in my work with organisations, and they’re characterised by thorough knowledge, and steadfastness.

obsidian

I don’t rush to mentally assign a rock type (and when I do, I do it lightly). An apparent metamorph might finally find the work they’ve been longing to build up in layers. Someone else might have an apparently igneous career for years until the still, small voice that has been urging then to reinvent themselves begins to shout.

Human beings being what they are, each type of rock usually looks askance at the others, whether in judgment or sheer bewilderment.

To the others, an igneous rock can seem inflexible and unimaginative, sedimentaries reclusive and flaky, and metamorphs unstable or even chaotic. For anyone growing up in a family (or culture) predominantly of a different type, there is often a message, whether or not consciously delivered/received, that different = wrong.

Sometimes the task with a client is to help them to recognise and celebrate their own rock type (even if we don’t use that language), and to live and work in a way that honours their true preference. This can be immensely liberating: an out-of-type career path drags us down. A metamorph naturally struggles to stay long in any type of role; working at depth may not come easily to an igneous, and a sedimentary’s worst nightmare could be something new smashing their carefully built layers. It’s fine to be the rock you are.

But for others, the point of our work is to lean out of their comfort zone for a while. I can ask catalytic questions, and offer insights and feedback, but only they can decide whether the possible rewards are worth the risk of deliberately working out of type. If so, then my job is to help them find the courage to make a decision, identify the strategies to implement it, and develop the resilience to see it through.

Each client is unique, and so each piece of work is unique, and never predefined. Together, the client and I co-create: exploring, experimenting, learning each other as we go. In that way, we uncover the pace and the direction our sessions need to take.

It’s how I like to work. I wonder what the geography teacher would have said about that…

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Can You Trust Your Intuition?

An intuition arrives fully formed: a neatly wrapped little parcel of knowing.

Maybe you have a decision to make. While your conscious attention is busy elsewhere, your subconscious mind/body (some might say soul) draws on memories of all the information and sensation it’s ever received, as well as every decision and action you’ve ever taken – and the outcomes of those decisions and actions. The soul does its alchemy, and the answer arrives when it’s ready – possibly when you’re meditating, but equally likely when you’re doing the shopping.

Intuition may also tap into what psychologist CJ Jung called the collective unconscious: humanity’s shared memory-experience that makes possible common dreams, shared cultural symbolism, and synchronistic events. Such sentience could extend beyond humanity to all other living beings, so when people speak of being guided by the universe in their decisions, they might be on to something.

Intuition is generally reported as being trustworthy, and no wonder: our personal mega-computers have almost infinite data to work with. But although true intuition is generally reliable, we need to be careful: what seems to be intuition can come from elsewhere, and be mistaken for the real thing. This can lead to bad (sometimes catastrophic) decisions which cause us to doubt our intuition, or even whether it exists at all.

biridans-ass

Two emotions often mistaken for intuition are desire and fear.

You might, for example, feel that your intuition is telling you to enrol on a certain class. You feel a strong and recurring urge, and so you go with it. But maybe you’re not fully aware of the power of your sensual desire for someone else you know is signing up. Your rational mind might have already told you that a relationship probably isn’t going to happen, but your strong desire has you go along anyway, masquerading as intuition.

Or maybe you experience what feels like a strong intuition that you’re ‘meant’ to be in Brighton. You throw over all obligations to head there straight away. This might be intuition, and in Brighton perhaps you connect with someone who’s dreaming of the same start-up that you are. But equally it might be a yearning for happiness connecting to a hidden memory of a blissful childhood holiday – even though that bliss can never be recaptured in the same way.

That’s not to say following inner prompts is always wrong. Your strong sense that a certain plan is going to work out may be either intuition, or a really strong hope that it will work out – and the strong hope and belief themselves may be enough to carry the plan through. But the more we’re aware of where inner prompts are coming from, the better equipped we are to make good decisions, leading to actions that support our wellbeing.

We can also get what feels like an intuition not to do something. For example, you may sense an inner voice telling you not to go to a certain networking event. This could be a good intuition that it’s not your sort of event – or that there’s something else you need to be doing. However, you could call it intuition and stay at home, missing a fantastic opportunity because what you were really feeling is irrational but real fear of public exposure.

It can be hard to trust intuition when so many other drives feel like the real thing. Caught in this place, we can sometimes become paralysed by anxiety and self-doubt, unable to move forward.

So how can you tell the real thing when it arrives? Intuition is when you just know. People have long described it as a ‘gut feeling’. Now that we know the gut has its own mini-brain, connected to the rest of the body and the main brain, this gut feeling that intuition is a gut feeling suddenly makes a lot of sense. But the trouble is, so many other things feel like ‘just knowing’, especially if we want them to enough.

If you’re unsure, one way is to keep a log. What do you feel when you consider a particular course of action? What are your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations? Later, you can reflect on what you did, and how you feel now about the decision you made. You’ll start to see patterns and themes emerging, showing how you tend to make decisions, and how that works out for you.

The more aware and honest you are about your deep fears and desires, the more skilled you’ll grow at unpicking what’s motivating you: whether your ‘knowing’ is a good basis for a decision, big or small – or whether more exploration is needed. Once again old wisdom holds true: in this case, the words of Socrates: ‘Know Yourself’.

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