Training Your Brain to Elevate Your Intuition

How many times have you accurately predicted the outcome of an event like the winner of a sporting event or a decision at a business meeting, even when reason and logic dictated a different outcome? How many times have you thought about a long-lost friend only to find an email from her later in the day? How many times have you known exactly what you need to do with absolutely no doubt to achieve a successful outcome against all odds? This is where the intuitive mind comes into play. It rises above emotion and intellect, giving you an overall picture of things (which psychologists call a gestalt, the image of reality we assign to various situations).

When we suddenly have a brilliant flash of insight, we like to say, “my instinct told me to do this”. But, it is not instinct. It is intuition. We like to say that we “feel out’ a situation, but intuition is not the same as an emotion.  It’s the feeling that tells you what is going on all at once, instead of having to assemble a picture of one emotional or intellectual piece at a time.  Intuitive individuals trust and follow their first gut reaction. Many of you may know others who just always seem to make the right decision in a blink of the eye. These are people with an elevated sense of intuition. In “Super Brain” we argue that you can proactively train yourself to be more intuitive.

With enhanced intuition, you make relatively quick decisions without going through a rational process, yet the decisions are just as accurate. You know when someone else is lying just by picking up on subtle facial expressions. You more often rely on insight, knowing something directly without waiting for reason to arrive at a conclusion. You become a better judge of character, increasingly knowing how to “read people”. Traditionally, we value other kinds of judgments more. Young people are advised not to be rash, to think things through and arrive at a considered judgment. But in reality we all make snap decisions. Hence, the saying that you can’t take back a first impression. First impressions, made in the blink of an eye, are the most powerful. What has emerged from recent studies is that first impressions and snap judgments are often the most accurate. Experienced real estate brokers will tell you that home buyers know within thirty seconds of walking into a house whether it is right for them or not.

It was long assumed that a person recognizes faces better if he first goes through the process of verbally describing the face. “The girl had long brown hair, fair skin, a button nose, and small blue eyes” is supposed to help fix a certain face in your memory.  But experiments show the opposite. One study flashed a series of photos in fast succession, asking subjects to press a button if they saw one particular face flash by. People who had glimpsed the face only briefly did better at this than people who saw the face and were given time to verbalize its features.  Such findings seem intuitively right (there’s that word again), because we all know what it means to have someone’s face stick in the mind even though we don’t rationally break it down into separate features. We also believe victims of a crime when they claim, “I’d know that face in a million years if I ever saw it again.”

In effect, intuition fits the bill for anyone seeking a sixth sense. A sense is basic, a primal way to take in the surrounding world by looking, listening, and touching.  Yet more importantly, you “feel” your way through life, following hunches, knowing what’s good for you and what isn’t, where you should aim your career and avoid a dead end, who will love you for decades and who is only a passing fancy.  Highly successful people, when asked how they reached the top, tend to agree on two things: they were very lucky, and they wound up in the right place at the right time. Few can offer an explanation on what it takes to be in the right place at the right time. But if we valued intuition as a real skill, it is probable that highly successful people are the best at feeling their way through life.

“Seeing” the future is intuitive, too, and we are all designed for it. There is no need to call the ability paranormal. In one experiment subjects were shown a fast series of photos, some of which were horrendous, such as depictions of fatal auto crashes or bloody carnage in war.  The subjects were monitored for signs of stress response, such as faster heart rate, rising blood pressure, and sweaty palms. As soon as a horrifying image was presented, the stress response was inevitably triggered. Then a strange thing occurred. Their bodies began to indicate stress just before a shocking image was displayed. Even though the photos were shown at random, these people reacted in anticipation of being shocked; they didn’t react in anticipation of innocuous images. This means that their bodies were predicting the future, or to be more precise, their brains were, since only the brain can trigger the stress response.

So, is it possible to elevate your own level of intuition? In Super Brain, we argue yes and the key is to just tune in. All of us have the capacity for intuition, but like a weak radio station, intuition can be blocked by static interference from other more powerful stations, like instinct, emotion, and intellect. In Super Brain, we explain the concept of the triune brain: the reptilian brain, which serves basic instinctive drives like fight-or-flight, feeding, and reproducing; the limbic brain, which brings you feelings and short-term memories; and finally, the neocortical brain, which provides you with reason, judgment, purpose, and meaning. The three brain regions correspond to the three phases of the mind referred to as instinctive, emotional, and intellectual, respectively. When these three brain regions are working in harmony and balance, with none dominating over the other, the fourth phase of the mind, intuition becomes accessible. When any one of the three triune brain regions is overactive, intuition gets squelched out. If the reptilian brain is making you too stressed and anxious, if the emotional brain makes you too fearful and needy, or if the intellectual brain is filling your head with internal dialogue, intuitive signals can get buried.

To enhance your intuition, simply try to quiet your mind.

Intuition, or “superconsiousness” (as described by Sivaya Subramuniyuswami in, “Merging with Siva”) is a state that can be best attained after meditation, or just a quiet moment during the day. Try to actively turn off your internal dialog. Try to consciously resist basic instinctive cravings and the multifold emotions that serve them. Do all this, and, voilà, intuitive signals start to become tuned in. Of course, as with any phase of the brain, intuition can also go out of balance. If you are too trusting of your intuitive hunches, you fail to see reason when it counts. This leads to impulsive decisions and irrational behavior. But, if you are too tied up with your thoughts and feelings, you lose access to your intuition; you lose the ability to feel out situations.  This leads to blind decision-making that depends too much on rationalizing your actions, even when they are obviously wrong.

When balanced, the four-fold mind is a superb tool for reality-making with infinite possibilities. Going out of balance happens when you favor one part of the brain over another. Notice how easy it is to identify with one phase of the mind, which encourages it to dominate. If you say, “I’m sad all the time,” you are identifying with the emotional brain. If you say, “I’ve always been smart,” you are identifying with the intellectual brain. In the same way, you can be dominated by the instinctive brain when you are obeying unconscious urges or by the intuitive brain when you follow hunches, gamble and take risks.  With enough repetition, the favored regions of the brain gain an advantage; and, the unfavored regions actually start to atrophy.

Yet, your true identity isn’t found in any of these separate regions. You are the summation of them all, as controlled by the mind.  The shorthand for the brain’s controller is “I,” the self.  “I” can forget its role and fall prey to moods, beliefs, drives, and so on. When this happens, your brain is using you. When you consciously choose to be mindful and become the user of your brain, you are exercising the human mind’s single greatest achievement. Once you choose to do so, you can use your mind to rewire your own brain in a manner that routinely accesses and elevates your intuition. You just need to make the conscious choice at every moment keep track of what part of your brain is dominating at any moment, instinctive (reptilian), emotional (limbic) oar intellectual (neocortex). Once you have done so, simply tone that part down and find balance. And, now intuition can once again be accessed.

I know this sounds overly abstract, so let’s diagram it from the brain’s perspective as you eye a piece of banana cream pie:

Instinctive: “I’m hungry. I want to eat that banana cream pie and fill my belly”

Emotional: “Mm, banana cream pie would taste so delicious right now.”

Intellectual: “Can I afford the calories in that banana cream pie?”

Intuitive: I have a feeling that if I eat that whole slice of pie, I am not going to feel very good!

In summary, being too intellectual, emotional, or instinctive, readily blocks out intuition. But, when you use your whole brain in a balanced and holistic manner, your intuition kicks in. The universe, your universe, suddenly has purpose, to celebrate mind and foster life along with the experiences that life brings.  As your intuition blooms and own experiences become richer, the universe gets better at serving its purpose.  That’s the reason why the brain began to evolve in the first place. And the next step is the intuitive brain.

By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP & Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy, Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School Director, Genetics and Aging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi are co-authors of their forthcoming book Superbrain: New Breakthroughs for Maximizing Health, Happiness and Spiritual Well-Being by Harmony Books.

photo by: shuttermonkey