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How do you turn off the auto-pilot and begin to live intuitively? How can you learn to listen to your intuition?
When I finally learned how to listen to my intuition, I was able to quit the job I hated, begin the career I had dreamed of since I was a little kid, and even start my own business just for fun! Oh yeah, and I also gave myself a makeover and got married!
Now, I continue to build the life of my dreams with intention and passion by worrying less about prestige and propriety and more about cultivating my passions and prioritizing mental health.
So how was I finally able to learn how to listen to my intuition and build a life that was more aligned with my highest good? I’ll tell you in this blog post and give you ten tips to help you do the same.
How can you tell if you’re living intuitively or not?
I didn’t use to live intuitively at all. In fact, it wasn’t just that I ignored my intuition. I didn’t even know how to listen to it! And this way of life got me into all sorts of disasters, both large and small. I stayed in relationships I knew were toxic and I chose an arduous and expensive career that was all wrong for me.
All because I let my ego steer the ship, which meant my life was out of alignment with my values and I wasn’t fulfilling my soul’s purpose.
You may not be listening to your intuition if…
You may not be listening to your intuition if you feel like you’re just going through the motions of your daily life. Like you have no real place or purpose in this world. Or you feel empty or unfulfilled and find yourself wondering, “Is this it?”
Or, maybe you’ve got it worse, like I did, and feel lost, anxious, or depressed for no apparent reason. I have been fortunate enough to have lived a pretty charmed life. On paper, I’ve been the talk of the town and worthy of envy from many less fortunate than me. Nonetheless, there came a time when everything caught up with me and I realized that I was so lost and so scared of nothing and everything at the same time. I was anxious and depressed for what felt like no articulable reason.
And that’s the crazy part about all this I think. Accomplishment-driven, over-achievers are probably more at risk for ignoring their intuition than anybody else! How can this possibly be the case?
Well, the problem with humans is that our brains have evolved to make us highly rational thinkers capable of complex reasoning, critical thinking, and analysis. All of that is great most of the time (just ask any teacher or job interviewer). But when it comes to important or personal decisions, overthinking can actually misdirect us.
What my life shaped up like when my intuition was nowhere to be found
I’ll use myself as an example for how ego, intellect, and overthinking can misdirect us in life. Growing up, I was always the top student in my class. I graduated high school with a 4.6 GPA and was voted Most Likely to Succeed. My friends, parents, and teachers couldn’t wait to see what kind of brilliant, multi-millionaire success I would become.
Since I majored in English in college, I decided I’d be a lawyer since that was the most prestigious English-major job there was. I hated law school from the very first minute. The reading was awful, the people were (mostly) awful, the lawyers we networked with and aspired to be were even worse. But what was I going to do, quit? What would everybody think?
So I worked harder, networked harder, my GPA shot up, and I eventually got the litigation job of my dreams. Or so I thought. Turns out I hate talking on the phone. I hate confrontation. And arguing. I hate formalities. I hate talking numbers and negotiating. Yup, I hated my life.
But I made good money. My parents loved gushing about their daughter, the attorney. And my jet-setting, Ann Taylor-wearing social media presence was on point.
How does it help to listen to your intuition?
I’ve found that fine-tuning my intuition through various habits and practices, which I will share with you in this blog post, has allowed me to set and work toward goals that are more in line with my soul’s purpose.
If you’re an achievement-driven, workaholic, go-getter like me, you may feel like you’re constantly planning, researching, acting, doing, perfecting, and starting more projects than you can finish. But we need to slow down and ask ourselves if all these goals are even worth achieving.
We need to tap into our inner wisdom and figure out what goals and desires are actually in line with our soul’s true purpose, and which are just achievements that our ego is convincing us we should want. There’s a big difference between those two, and man!—my ego has been my deadliest foe.
So how do you differentiate between ego and intuition so you can listen to your intuition more?
For me, intuition is what resonates quietly but truly underneath all the chatter and clamor and nagging that my ego and my fears and my pride and my pettiness and show-offiness and greed and whatever else bombard me with on a daily basis.
Make no mistake–distinguishing ego from intuition is not easy. Especially if you deal with fear, low self-esteem, or depression. But the distinction is perceptible and gets more so with attention and practice (and, let’s be honest, therapy).
Intuition is your gut, sure. But it’s also what makes you feel warm and excited and alive and at peace.
To listen to your intuition is to embrace those feelings, no matter how scared or self-conscious or insecure or silly or self-indulgent or impractical your ego may try to make you feel about it!
On to the list!
So, without further ado, let’s dive into a variety of ways you can improve your intuition and live a more authentic and intentional life right now.
My first tip for how to improve your intuition is to limit social media. Allow me to explain.
Yes, social media helps us reconnect with old friends and view our cousin’s new baby photos, which is lovely. But by and large, people use social media to boost their egos. And that is the opposite of improving your intuition.
How so? Well, social media can dangerously get us caught up in creating a life that looks good on the outside rather than one that actually feels good on the inside. It makes us feel false pride and joy because we got a lot of likes and comments on a post that in actuality may not really resonate with our deepest values and true desires.
And on the flip side, we can get sucked into the comparison game and feel bad about an otherwise joyful and fulfilling life. Legitimate social science research proves that social media personas are overwhelmingly facades and highlights reels. This means that social media can trigger our ego and thus drown out our intuition.
A few ways to prevent social media brainwashing and improve your intuition
So, if you’re wondering how to improve your intuition, try one of the following:
- Designate one day a week–perhaps Saturday or Sunday–to be your offline day.
- Implement a no-social-media-before-breakfast-or-after-dinner rule.
- Delete the apps from your phone so that you’re not simply reaching for social media out of habit. If you want to check IG or FB, you have to get to a computer.
2. Spend more time in nature.
It is easier to listen to your intuition in nature. Why?
Spending time in nature slows us down and connects us to something bigger than ourselves, our demanding work deadlines, our nosy neighbors, our internet trolls. The awe and sense of wonder that come with experiencing any type of nature also inspires our brains in new and creative ways. (Dare I say, intuitive ways?) I almost always gain at least a subtle sense of calm and perspective when I spend time in nature.
Sure, this can mean book a cabin getaway with your partner if that’s within your means, but that’s definitely not necessary to improve your intuition. It can mean a family hike on Saturday morning or tea on the porch at sunrise or under the stars.
We have a joke in our house that our dog is nature. So to spend more time in nature just means hang out with the dog. And that brings me to the next way you can improve your intuition.
3. Hang out with dogs and/or babies.
Dogs and babies are incapable of not living in the moment. They are always present because they don’t know how to dwell in the past or worry about the future. They just exist. To live intuitively, you must live in the moment.
If you’ve ever spent time with a dog or a baby, you know what I mean when I say that they gently yet immediately snap you into the present moment. This happens when you throw a tennis ball over and over again for a dog in the yard. Or when you play peek-a-boo with an infant. These experiences ground and purify us because there is nothing more to them than the present moment.
The next few activities are affirmative steps you can take to actively listen to your intuition and to strengthen it. Doing this will allow you to start making decisions based on your intuition instead of your ego (aka outside pressures and internal insecurities).
4. Ditch the naysayers!
We all have people in our lives—sometimes our closest family and friends—that are utter conformists. They take the path of least resistance and do what’s expected of them or what everybody else is doing. Out of their own fear, they ridicule and scold anybody who doesn’t also conform in exactly the same way.
Now, in defense of these people, their naysaying is probably coming from a place of love and concern for you, but if you’re wondering how to improve your intuition so you can perhaps break out of a meaningless rut of a life that isn’t speaking to your soul, these people are probably not going to be on your side.
How do you do this exactly?
To listen to your intuition often means taking risks and breaking out of the mold. So, what to do about naysayers who will think you’ve gone crazy?
First, no need to burn bridges. (Unless that’s your thing. Do you!) Just take what they say with a grain of salt. Then, surround yourself with positive and supportive people who are inspiring go-getters themselves.
Think about your most positive, supportive, courageous friends. The ones that try new things and take risks. The ones that are always pushing their art or music or new business ventures on Facebook. Personality is contagious, so see more of those people! Chances are, most of these people know how to listen to their intuition to some degree.
If you surround yourself with people who are unafraid to pursue their passions, you will start to do the same. If you surround yourself with people who routinely listen to their intuition, you will improve your intuition as well.
No pretzel legs, no chanting, no transcendence or whatever else you’ve heard about meditation. (Unless that’s your thing, of course. Again, do you!) The specific practice I’m talking about to help improve your intuition is mindfulness meditation.
According to mindful.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
So, simply put, when you meditate, you sit and notice your breath. You don’t change or control your breath. You just notice the natural ebb and flow of it. And when thoughts inevitably distract you, simply notice them without judgment. Then, revert your attention to your breath.
In fact, you can create a simple daily spiritual practice around meditation.
6. Listen to your body.
To listen to your intuition means to listen to your body as much–if not more–than you listen to your thoughts.
Don’t get me wrong. As someone who has prized her intellect since she was, like, four years old, I thought this was crazy-talk. But just because our society praises one type of intelligence doesn’t negate the importance of other types of intelligence.
Being in touch with one’s body is so instinctual, and primitive, and natural. Specifically, pay attention to the feelings that manifest in your body in certain situations or when certain topics are brought up. You will start to recognize your intuition’s signs. Meditation helps with this. So does yoga.
Here’s what I mean.
I was interviewing for a full-time faculty position a couple years ago. The college was farther away from me than I preferred, and I had applied to the position begrudgingly at best because I was still pissed about a prior rejection by another school.
As I drove for miles and miles, getting nervous about whether my GPS knew where it was taking me, the stretch of highway I was on curved around a canyon and suddenly, the most serene, vibrant green hillside appeared. It wasn’t just pretty – I was inexplicably mesmerized and calmed by the view. (And if you get as nervous as I do for interviews, you know there is nothing calm about the process.) The flutter in my chest came to a rest. The buzz in my hands went away as I gripped the steering wheel. And because I had been practicing how to listen to my intuition, I knew what this was. This job was mine.
Spoiler alert: I walked into that interview so relaxed and confident that I was cracking subtle jokes, calling the interviewers by name, and I impressed the fucking socks off them all. I left that interview like I owned the place. I knew the job was mine, I couldn’t wait to start, and I was exactly 0% surprised when they called to make me an offer a couple weeks later.
7. Befriend your anxiety.
I can’t talk about intuition without talking about anxiety. The most common question I hear (and still ask myself) is how to tell if a feeling is your intuition or just anxiety.
Anxiety, at least for me, has led me off my soul’s true path and made it extremely challenging for me to trust to my intuition. For starters, I’ve been anxious my whole life. This means that I have a bad feeling about pretty much EVERYTHING right off the bat. So, I’ve learned to fake confidence and be socially appropriate and likable by keeping as much of my anxiety to myself as possible and lead as normal–nay, stellar and outgoing–a life as possible.
This strategy certainly has its upsides (I was the popular cheerleader-type in high school which meant a lot of great memories growing up despite my inner nerdiness and insecurity, I sang and performed musically into my college years and beyond despite almost crippling stage fright, and I argued in federal court as an intellectual property litigator straight out of law school).
Umm, that sounds kind of awesome. What’s the problem?
The ugly underbelly of ignoring my anxiety was that I got off track in life somewhat easily because I was so used to ignoring and fighting every negative feeling I ever got from a situation. What did this look like? Lame ex-boyfriends, “in-crowds” I never formed deep connections with, and a legal career that literally made me ill.
If I had befriended my anxiety earlier–learned to acknowledge it, be okay with its presence, and cope with it healthily–I probably would have recognized when I was doing things that didn’t resonate with my highest self and were taking me off my soul’s right path.
It also would have been easier for me to distinguish between feelings in my body that were caused by anxiety versus legitimate discomfort, fear versus excitement, and – you guessed it – ego versus intuition.
8. Channel your ten-year-old self.
To improve your intuition rather than ignore it, think back to what you loved to do as a ten-year-old.
Why ten years old? Well, any younger than that might be too young for any meaningful self-discovery. By age ten though, most of us begin to develop clear preferences, interests, and strengths. And after age ten, societal expectations and family and peer pressure start acting on our innocent, true selves.
In other words, we were probably much better at listening to our intuition at age ten than we are now.
So, what did ten-year-old you love to do? What could you do for hours without getting tired? How did you choose to spend Saturday mornings or summer afternoons? What did your mother have to pull you away from to make sure you ate?
The answer to this question is SO. IMPORTANT. You know why? Because the answer hints at your soul’s true purpose. And the part of you that deals with stuff like soul’s purpose is your intuition.
Ten-year-old me was a big fat nerd, for instance.
What did I do? Easy. I played teacher. And I mean put on an award-winning performance, complete with chalkboard, sticker chart, my teachers’ old books, reading out loud, calling on imaginary students and waiting in silence for imaginary student’s imaginary response, you name it!
And if I wasn’t doing that, I was putting together family newsletters. Writing about upcoming holidays (always including the holiday’s origins, which I researched on our Encyclopedia Brittanica CD-ROM), neighbor gossip, Christmas wish lists for Santa, you name it.
And here I am. An English professor and blogger.
Taking the time to think back to when you were a child and didn’t have to worry about your ego marring your true self just yet will improve your intuition because it will remind you of your true intuitive desires and joys.
9. Interpret your dreams.
Alright, ready for a more radical tip for how to improve your intuition? Let’s talk dream interpretation.
There are various bodies of thought when it comes to our dreams. I subscribe to the belief that dreams are our subconscious minds trying to sort out what our conscious minds are too busy, confused, or afraid to figure out.
In other words, dreams are messages from our intuition. And if you want to learn how to listen to your intuition, pay more attention to your dreams!
10. Read tarot.
I saved the most out there – but possibly best – tip for how to improve your intuition for last. Read tarot, preferably for yourself.
Contrary to popular belief, tarot cards aren’t a psychic tool to predict the future per se. According to Brigit Esselmont, my favorite tarot blogger and podcaster, “you can use [Tarot] to gain instant access to your intuition and your inner source of power and wisdom.” Through Tarot as a door to our intuition, we can explore our deepest–even subconscious–thoughts, wishes, and fears. And that is the key if you want to live intuitively.
How tarot guided me toward my fabulous day job
Want an example? Several years ago, I wound down a subscription box business I was running out of my home and was wondering what to do next–blog and write full-time or apply to full-time faculty positions at local community colleges–I pulled the King of Pentacles. This card is rooted in traditional prosperity and stability in a way that seems almost old-fashioned to me. If that didn’t just scream full-time faculty position! In that card, I saw that I shouldn’t be afraid of taking what part of me considered a typical or conformist job because it would allow me to do what I love (teach!) while helping create a comfortable and financially stable life for my family.
I also realized that having an office, flexible schedule, and professional culture of learning, writing, and reading would probably help–not hinder–my personal writing projects. The decision was easy after that because tarot nudged me to use my intuition, rather than my ego, to make this decision.
Intrigued? I recommend starting with the classic Rider-Waite tarot deck, although you can choose whichever deck speaks to you, and just trying it out!