All of us are born with a strong intuition. If you’ve spent much time with kids, you know this to be true. They’re crazy intuitive. Unfortunately, our public education system emphasizing thinking over feeling so most of us aren’t ever given space to foster our intuition. Over time we lose it and mistrust it. Then, when we graduate from school and start facing big decisions and challenges, we try to use our critical thinking skills to think our way to the answer, rather than taking the time to ask ourselves, “what do we truly want?” And that’s not to say that critical thinking isn’t helpful, but it’s only one of the tools at your disposal. Trying to go through life with critical thinking as your only tool for uncertainty is like trying to make a gourmet meal with only a paring knife. In certain circumstances, it’s infuriating. If you’re trying to slice a watermelon, for example, having a chef’s knife makes the whole experience way easier and more fun. And your intuition is like that chef’s knife. It needs to be sharp to be useful. We need to practice using our intuition, both to sharpen it and so we begin to trust it.

Another way to think about intuition is the unconscious mind. (In this case, I’m lumping subconscious into the unconscious.) While it’s not totally clear, many scientists agree that 95-98% of our decisions every day are made in the unconscious mind. We probably only spend 2-5% of every day making conscious decisions. So if the unconscious mind is what’s really running the show for us, does it really make sense for us to leave the conscious mind in charge of important decisions? Probably not but the conscious mind is sneaky. We don’t realize how much it’s doing for us. We don’t really notice it, appreciate it, or tap into it very often. Like strangers with candy, we’re not quick to trust it.

I used to never trust my intuition and I still don’t sometimes. I see myself doing something, like carrying too many things, and I think, “that’s not a good idea,” and then I do it anyway and spill rice all over the floor. That’s a small example but humans do this in bigger ways all the time: we take jobs that deep down we know we won’t like, we make out with people when we intuitively know they’re not a good fit. And when it doesn’t work out we usually make up some story that places the blame elsewhere. Conversely, when we make a choice to do something from our intuition and get great results, we call it luck.

About six months ago another life coach named Elizabeth Granfort, who describes herself and as deeply intuitive, told me that the right side of your body is your masculine side and is concerned with critical thinking, while your left side is your feminine and more intuitive side. This set off a light bulb for me. Going back to 2004, all of my chronic pain has been on the right side of my body. No doctor, herbalist, chiropractor, or body worker has been able to explain why it was so one-sided. It occurred to me while talking to Elizabeth that my pain could be the result of years of ignoring my intuition and I decided to start playing with it. I began to regularly ask myself questions, starting small. At the grocery store, I’d put my hand on a certain bag of chips or piece of fruit and ask myself silently, will my body like this? I have a lot of food sensitivities and my body is changing all the time so eating the right things can be tricky. Interestingly, I always got a clear “yes” or “no” when I asked. When I ignored my intuition and ate things that got a clear “no” on, because I was stubborn and wanted to eat vegan sugar-free ice cream no matter the consequences, I got a stomach ache every time. When I lost my car key at the grocery store recently and couldn’t find it anywhere in the store or the parking lot, I asked myself, “where is my key?” I got a clear “in the car.” I didn’t believe that because when I shined a flashlight in the car I couldn’t see a key anywhere. I also mistakenly thought that my fairly new car was smart enough to prevent me from locking myself out. Two hours later, when I got in with a spare, I found my key wedged between the seat and the center console, just out of sight.

These are just small things I’ve been playing with but learning to ask and trust your intuition can be useful on a much broader and deeper level. It can help you make big decisions with more ease and confidence, perform better at work, and certainly improve your game in sports.

In “The Inner Game of Tennis,” author Timothy Gallwey writes about how the best tennis is played from the unconscious mind. He divides the self into two parts, Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 is the conscious, thinking mind and Self 2 is the unconscious, intuitive mind, where the natural talent lies. While training tennis players, Gallwey noticed that his students were way more successful when they were playing from Self 2. When he’d say, “hold your racket like this, and put your feet like this,” they started thinking about what to do and didn’t play as well. When he had them simply watch him hit 10 balls in a row and then asked them to imitate him, without instruction, their form drastically improved.

If you’d like an opportunity to get out of your conscious mind and start playing with your intuition, come to my workshop, Stop Second Guessing Yourself and Channel Your Inner Wisdom.  The workshop will give you both a chance to practice your intuition and tools and prompts so you can practice at home.