Recently, I was alerted to the fact that my current landlords were not renewing my lease. We have lived here nearly 8 months of a 12 month lease. It’s a mutual agreement, as they proved themselves to be untrustworthy and frequently invasive of my space. They scheduled 2-3 “inspections” a week. For an introvert, having our space invaded is one of the biggest stressors we might experience. Those invasions upset my schedule, my sense of well-being, and made me feel psychically sick. I wasn’t sleeping well, if it all. My appetite was off. My interactions with others were negatively impacted.
So in recent weeks, I set out to find a new home. One home seemed perfect, until the owners stated that they would live beneath me in the apartment located on the lower level of their rental home. They further stated that they would be performing ongoing renovations while we were in residence.
Though the house itself seemed perfect, I knew I was treading into another invasive relationship. Then, when they provided the lease in advance of me signing it, the document was very anti-dog. Everyone knows me as “that dog guy.” My dogs are well-trained, though do get rambunctious, as young pups will. But in the house they’re relatively quiet and well-mannered. They come with extensive references.
Here I was faced with this dilemma.
On the morning I was to meet with them, I backed out, telling them it wasn’t a good fit. The night before I woke up with a panic attack, and couldn’t get back to sleep thinking about it. That morning, I was physically ill — enough so that I went to the store and got some cold and flu meds. Then I slept for two hours. When I awoke, I realized that the physical symptoms I experienced were part of my intuition telling me not to sign the lease.
There are ways our intuition speaks to us, if we choose to listen. I made a pact with myself decades ago that I would never, ever ignore intuition or make excuses for it, or try and justify it by lying to myself. Here are some of the signs we might experience when our infallible intuition is speaking:
- Something feels ‘wrong’ in my body. Listening to your body’s subtle signals is a critical part of exercising your intuitive sense, says Dr. Judith Orloff, who also trains UCLA medical students and psychiatric residents to use intuition when treating patients.“Your body is a powerful intuitive communicator,” she explains in Second Sight. “Intuition allows you to get the first warning signs when anything is off in your body so that you can address it. If you have a gut feeling about your body — that something is toxic, weak or ‘off’ — listen to it. Go and get it worked up.” She’s seen too many people ignore their sense that something isn’t right with their bodies, and subsequently find that small problems have become big ones.Physical symptoms can also have symbolic value. “If you’re around somebody and your energy goes down, that’s an intuition not to ignore,” Orloff says. Sudden sleepiness can mean that you’re in the presence of an energy-draining person or circumstance; it can be your body’s way of communicating that these conditions are taking more energy than they give. If you stay in a situation that makes you feel instantly depleted (like taking a job after you left the interview feeling exhausted), it can easily lead to a situation where you become depressed, anxious and — not surprisingly — stuck.
- I am in danger. The feeling you get about a person in the first 10 seconds expresses an “ancient biological wisdom,” says psychologist David Myers, PhD in his book Intuition: Its Powers and Perils (Yale University Press, 2002). Early humans who could speedily detect whether a stranger was friend or foe were more likely to survive, he says, and they would create descendents who were able to read emotional signals in another person’s face almost instantly.Of course, the human capacity to judge can go badly awry, as it did in the 1999 fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo in New York City. Police fired when they thought the young Guinean man was reaching for a weapon, but he was actually unarmed and digging in his pocket for his identification. Because social conditioning helps to create unconscious beliefs, and these beliefs can produce first impressions and snap decisions that are utterly flawed, Orloff suggests that it’s important to check your gut feelings against your rational mind whenever possible. And there are simple ways you can attend to what feels like a warning signal in the short term, she says.
- “If you don’t trust somebody, even if it turns out to be inaccurate, it is something to pay attention to,” she explains. “If you’re walking down the street at night and you get the feeling ‘stay away from that person,’ just cross the street.”
- I want to help. While you might think of our gut instincts as something we’ve maintained mostly to avoid danger, the human species has evolved an equally powerful capacity to sense when our fellow beings need support. “Sympathy is one of humanity’s most basic instincts, which is why evolution lavished so much attention on the parts of the brain that help us think about what other people are feeling,” notes Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).Since evolution has made you a quick read of other faces and their emotional signals, you don’t always need to wait for a verbalized cue before you reach out. The sympathy instinct nudges you to change the subject when wedding talk makes a newly divorced colleague cringe, or to start up a conversation with a nervous seatmate during an airplane landing — subtle gestures that can make a big difference in someone’s day. The capacity to empathetically identify with other faces can even be what compels you to donate money after a natural disaster. Studies of humanitarian relief efforts show that people are markedly more compelled to give after seeing a photo of an individual in need than after reading statistics about damage.
- This is it! When your intuition signals that you’ve found something or someone truly right for you, the choice often becomes strangely easy. “It feels healthy; it feels good; it doesn’t feel like you’re forcing it, there’s not a lot of conflict,” says Orloff.Lehrer agrees that when you’re poised to make a big decision with lasting repercussions, like choosing your life partner, you’re best off deciding from the gut. Based on the bulk of his research into the cognitive mechanisms of decision-making, he actually recommends that you “think less about those choices that you care a lot about.”According to Lehrer, the rational mind is really suited only to limited concrete choices, like deciding between two brands of car insurance. In situations where there are just a couple of relevant factors involved, the prefrontal cortex can weigh the comparative rewards of each and yield an excellent result. But there are so many factors involved in a complex decision like, say, buying a house, that the limited space in the prefrontal cortex gets overwhelmed. In that state, it becomes the wrong part of the brain for the job.
In order to trust our innate “inner voice,” we must trust it completely, with intent. When we begin to trust our intuition, it opens that sluiceway and allows intuition to guide us in every instance. Once we trust ourselves to make the right decisions and choices, we become happier and more fulfilled.
Intuition comes more easily to introverts, as we tend to shun chaos and other distractions, allowing us, in the due course of our days, to really be able to hear intuition speaking to us. That’s not to say that intuition is exclusive to the introverted spirit — far from it — but a quieter, more receptive mind will benefit the most, in my humble opinion.