I strongly believe we all have an inner compass to guide us through life. One way we receive this guidance is through intuition, but it takes some learning to properly distinguish it from mere thoughts, emotions or fear. So how can you recognize true intuition?
Until I discovered how to nurture and recognize true intuition, I could not rely on its guidance, it was basically a matter of chance whether I chose to do the "right" thing, and this gave me a lot of anxiety. Recognizing your intuition is not as difficult as it sounds, though, and learning how to do it will help you when looking for a new job or career - or any number of situations in life!
What is Intuition?
Your brain picks up way more clues than you consciously realize: when you recognize true intuition you essentially learn to tune into this wealth of information, but it is not "rational." In other words, you might not know what is wrong with a situation, but you will have a hunch something is off. This is because the part of you that is picking up this extra information is not the verbal/rational/intellectual part, it goes much deeper, and it's also way smarter. And therein lies its challenge and power.
When I was younger I would sometimes feel very much stuck between two opposite choices: should I take the job? Or should I say No? I would get so anxious about it that it would become impossible for me to tell which option was what I was guided to do and which one was a fear-based reaction, what was good for me vs what was not as beneficial. Every time this happened, I would freak out. No amount of thinking about the situation, trying to figure it out, writing lists of pros and cons would calm me down. And afterwards there was a 50/50 chance of discovering I had made the wrong decision. I could not recognize true intuition. Ugh.
Now I don't experience such dread and anxiety anymore because I learned to tune into my own intuition on a consistent basis. You too can learn how to recognize true intuition. These are the three steps:
Meditation cleans up your mind and over time less thoughts and energies accumulate and get stuck in your psyche as they do now. The less busy your mind is, the more clarity you will experience. It is extremely important to have a mindfulness or meditation practice, especially when going through tough times or transitions. But don't wait until you need it, start developing your practice now. There are a number of different traditions, find the method that suits you best and stick to it. Remember, it's not about meditating 2 hours a day: just begin by sitting down and breathing slowly, deeply and intentionally, for 3 minutes a day. That is plenty to get you started.
2. Get comfortable with not knowing
If you get stuck not knowing what to do, then stick with the not knowing. Most people feel they have to make a decision, and will rush into it. Decide instead that the only thing you know is that you don't know. If you are not sure what to do next, and you cannot recognize true intuition, just wait and observe the situation, or ask for more information to let the truth emerge. For example, let's say you are not sure whether a company you applied to has the right company culture for you - but the money you could make there is good and you need a job! So you feel pressured to make a decision fast, and keep trying to figure out in your head whether you should take the job.
Start by accepting that you have no idea what their company culture is like, and do more research online, get in touch with people who used to work there, or ask for more information during the interview process before making any decision. Don't give the company an answer until you discover the missing information: you can go through the entire process until either they reject you, offer you a job, or you determine whether you want it or not from a place of knowing, not doubting. If you stick with not knowing, without trying to force a decision, you will see the truth emerge, either as new information during your fact gathering, observations, or in the form of true intuition.
The more you stay with not knowing, instead of feeling compelled to react, the more it becomes a habit and over time, combined with your meditation practice, your mind will remain calm and non reactive, clearing the space for true intuition to emerge. And you will be able to recognize it when it does.
3. Listen to non-feelings
One of the most helpful things I learned about true intuition is that it has no "feelings." In other words, when you truly have an intuitive hunch it feels more like a neutral thought that comes out of the blue, rather than a strong emotion or lots of mental chatter. After you have this intuitive hunch, you might experience feelings about it - maybe it's scary information or an exciting realization, but at the moment it pops up it feels neutral and calming. This is why meditation helps so much: the more quiet the mind, the easier it is to recognize these "neutral" hunches, as they are usually very subtle. A busy and very emotional mind is too "loud" for them to appear. An example of such an intuition is a situation when you go to a job interview and everyone seems super nice. But a thought pops up in your head for no reason at all that they are lying about something. You have no history or pattern of always thinking people lie to you and you were not thinking about whether they were lying...this hunch just popped up into your head. Afterwards you might feel upset about it, or anxious, etc. but when it popped up, it was just neutral info. That's intuition.
There is also another reason why it is so important for you to stay with what you don't know: in my experience the majority of people who boast about being intuitive confuse prejudices, emotions, triggers, and biases with intuition. This is why I cannot emphasize enough the need for the 2 first steps above in order to constantly create the right state of mind to truly tune into yourself. It's important you keep uncovering the prejudices, stereotypes and triggers that have built up within you during the years: too often wonderful candidates are not hired or promoted based on unconscious (and sometimes very conscious!!!) biases, disguised as "gut feelings". We all have a ton of work to do on this, and intuition gets only stronger as we uncover and let go of more and more layers of judgement, ignorance and fear. So don't use intuition as an excuse to discriminate - use it instead as its complete opposite, a way to truly tune into the wisdom that lies beyond petty ways to judge and fear others.
A Personal Example of True Intuition
I want to leave you with a positive example of what a true intuitive hunch looks like, as it happened to me. If you know me well, you know that although I host many events and like to speak publicly, I also need a ton of alone time, and I don't like to socialize with strangers when at very busy events (I know, I am weird like that!). A couple of years ago I was at a conference with a few hundred attendees and like so many people I was feeling quite overwhelmed by the crowd and looking forward to the lunch break to hide somewhere and talk to absolutely no one.
So when the time came to eat, I sat at a table to do nothing more than enjoy my own thoughts. As I was eating, this one guy stopped close to where I was sitting and out of the blue I felt a very calm and neutral hunch that I should say Hi. There was no attraction involved, nor other thoughts/feelings about him, just this very neutral and subtle hunch to say Hi. In the past I would have ignored it, but since I had trained myself through meditation and "not knowing" I was able to actually recognize true intuition when it happened. So I followed the hunch and said Hi. It turned out we were working on similar projects, had a lot in common, and were professionally in sync. And we have been coaching each other ever since - for more than a year and a half! He has since become one of the most significant people in my professional life - and one of the best coaches I know. There was no reason for me to say Hi to him and talking to him was so opposite to what I would normally "choose" to do, in fact I didn't want to talk to anyone! But I recognized true intuition and it literally changed my professional life. For the better!
The more you go through the 3 steps above - meditation, being comfortable with not knowing, and becoming aware of subtle, non-emotional hunches - the more you will be able to tune into your own guidance and recognize true intuition. When you do, you will be able to know what to do next, without all the anxiety, doubt and emotional ups and downs you experience now, and from a place of inner knowing instead.