Data Mining Your Own Intuition

Volume 3, Issue 20

Intuition is when an idea (usually in the form of a feeling with cognitive elements embedded in it) pops into your head fully formed without being preceded by a step-by-step logical chain. These “cognitive elements” equate to meaning; that is, you know and comprehend the content of what it is you are saying to yourself. You know this without having heard words spelling it out and there is usually no image that you can see in your mind — although in heightened states of consciousness you may be able to see an image tied to this intuition.

Dan Goleman points out that at least some of these feelings — the ones we call “gut feelings” — are called that because we sense they are somehow coming from our gut, which is accurate because the part of the brain from which these intuitions come (the basal ganglia) is also associated with the nerve connections between the brain and the gastrointestinal system. These intuitions are really the net guidance stored from our experiences in the form of summary action implications that tell us the way we are going either worked or failed in the past.

These gut feelings are not the totality of the intuition but a subset of the intuition. Other intuitive packets come to us from other parts of the brain and some may not be directly traceable to our experiences in this life.

These ideas flash into our mind and usually flash right out again unless we have a strong and abiding mental intention to pay attention to and remember their content. Without such conscious intention, we probably won’t even notice these fleeting intuitions. They are a subtle guidance system that does not speak loudly in our mind.

By contrast, the ego voices that dominate most of our mind at most times are loud, strident and salient. These ego voices are the thoughts, inner dialog, and feelings that are linked to our base motivations. We are pulled around by our negative fears and anger reactions to events around us that we are attached to because we feel our livelihoods and social standing are at stake and at any moment something can be taken away from us. The ego is stressed out due to Acceleritis (Information Overload) on top of and thus exacerbating its own predisposition to worry. As a result of this inner competition for attention and the fact that most of our attention is at nearly all times cast outwards not inwards causes us to not even catch these intuitions in the first place.

If we do catch the event it is generally not heeded because of the jumble of subsequent louder thoughts giving us impulses to verbally fight, complain, argue, dismiss, or otherwise rain on whatever it was that somebody just said that may have triggered the intuition.

This is a testable hypothesis — you can experiment with the following to see whether it is the good advice I think it is, or not:

Start a program of paying attention to your own hunches and look for them to arise. When they do, put off the other business that seems so important to the ego and commonplace mind, and focus on what your intuition just told you. Make sure you remember the content by either writing it down or forming a keyword or key phrase or key image that will serve as a retrieval mechanism to bring back the whole content of the idea.

Then at an appropriate time in the proceedings taking place around you, if any, tentatively see if the application of that intuitive idea seems to contribute anything to the situation or not. Do this instead of — or at least before — offering any of the subsequent jumble of thoughts that came after the intuition to the company around you.

This is the reverse of the commonplace mind’s procedure, which is to speed past the intuitive event and come up with some other strategy for dealing with the present situation. Or even if we retain memory of the hunch our tendency is to edit and “improve” upon it, which often has the opposite effect. Stick with the way it appeared in the beginning — based on my experience, the odds favor this being the successful course of action.

On the other hand, you might see what the intuition is and realize that although triggered by the current situation, it really applies to another situation. You would then wait to tentatively apply the hunch until you are in the situation to which it refers. In this case also resist the tendency to edit that first flash — though using diplomatic language is always a good idea so long as you do not distort the original idea.

Sometimes the intuition gives us not the right answer but an answer that is wrong but which will lead to the right answer, one that might not be reached other than through this wrong answer. Socrates appeared to know this — he flowed with his intuitions yet by phrasing the ideas as questions he protected himself against error.

More on the complexity of intuition and its optimization in upcoming posts.

Happy Independence Day to all!


Follow my regular blog contribution at Jack Myers Media Network: In Terms of ROI. It is in the free section of the website at  Bill Harvey at

One thought on “Data Mining Your Own Intuition

  1. Eric

    Spot on again, Mr. Bill! In all my years, the most significant changes in my life have been directly preceded by such moments of clarity. By paying attention, then following them, I’ve solved problems quickly, altered bad situations and, often, brought greater love and understanding into my life.

    One of the more intriguing aspects of this subject is that the more often one honours and pays attention to such moments, the more often they seem to appear. And one begins to feel a greater stability of purpose and excitement in life. How does it get better than that?


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