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  • Writer's pictureKatie Dunnigan

How to Use Intuition to Make Decisions

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

"Intuition is the whisper of the soul." - Jiddu Krishnamurti

Left Brain vs. Right Brain - Learning to Use Intuition
Left Brain vs. Right Brain

What is Intuition?

Intuition is our inner voice. It is an ever-present part of us that is wise and discerning. It isn’t passive or complacent. It has a deep understanding of the dynamics of life and it guides us in each moment. Sometimes we use intuition without realizing it. My clients will say things like “I just knew I had to make that decision” or “I just knew that was right for me in the moment.” But intuition also needs to be nurtured, and we do this through inner silence (an important aspect of mindfulness therapy). As we practice quieting our minds, our awareness opens and we become capable of not only listening to, but also trusting our intuition. Intuition and awareness are interconnected. Awareness transforms my perception and lays to rest an issue in my mind. Peace emerges. Nothing has changed at all and yet everything has shifted. It is difficult to describe such a profound experiential process. But this shift in perception creates true objectivity so that we can then use our intuition to check-in with ourselves and determine how to respond (if at all) to a situation. When we live with an open awareness and are more intuitive, life flows better because we are swimming with the tide rather than against it. You are not doing what you want to do, you are doing what you are called to do in each moment.

While intuition is very powerful, it doesn’t allow us to sabotage or abandon ourselves. You can’t use intuition for your egoic desires. For example, if someone has an eating disorder such as anorexia or orthorexia, they can’t use intuition to lose weight. We can only use rules and willpower to go against our true nature. Some people do this to the point of total self-destruction (and believe me, I have been there!). Intuition requires that we deeply listen. We ask a question, and then we get still and we wait for an answer. This can be challenging for those of us who have impatient, demanding minds.

What is Conditioning?

Conditioning is our mental programming (what we learn, both consciously and unconsciously). It involves sets of rules we apply to our life and use to make decisions. Our conditioning creates ideas of what is “right” or “wrong,” and then we use willpower to apply those ideas in real time. Conditioned rules define who we should be, how we should act, what we should feel, how we should handle situations, and so on. They create a duality in our mind. They say that there is a right way or a wrong way. There is good or bad. There is success or failure. There is fat or skinny. There is happy or sad. Our minds have been trained to actively search for these dualities and stay on the side that we deem to be correct. But what if life isn’t so black-or-white? And do we really know anything for certain?

When we become identified with a conditioned rule (i.e. it becomes set in our mind as a truth), judgement kicks in and this can cause issues for us personally and collectively. Duality causes separation, which creates suffering. We hold onto rules because we want the comfort of certainty. We think, “If I just follow these 5 steps, then I will be okay.” But unlike rules, intuition knows that you are already okay, and that you can make choices from that place of okay-ness.

People love to share their conditioned rules with each other in the form of opinions. You can go online and see the type of trouble this creates, especially because people often mistake their fear or anxiety as intuition. My clients often come to me with questions about how they should respond to a difficult situation in their life. Of course, part of my work is using my own awareness and intuition to help them see the underlying dynamics contributing to an issue. But a big part of my role is also teaching people how to break free from conditioning and trust their intuition so that they have access to this innate source of knowledge at all times.

What Are Examples of Using Intuition?

Here are some examples that demonstrate the difference between making a decision intuitively and making a decision based on an conditioned rule:

Intuition: I am hungry and so I need to eat something

Rule: I can’t eat after 7 p.m.

Intuition: I share my feelings with someone because it feels right in the moment

Rule: I don’t speak up for myself because if I do then people won’t like me

Intuition: I am tired and need to rest my mind

Rule: I need to keep busy because people who do more are better

Intuition: I feel that my body needs to move, so I go for a walk

Rule: My Apple watch is telling me I need to take more steps

Intuition: I need to say no because that is what feels most compassionate

Rule: I always say yes so other people don’t feel bad

Intuition: I can feel that I need to spend some time in silence

Rule: I must meditate for exactly 15 minutes every day

Intuition: I feel the urge to cry, so I allow my sadness to come up and express itself

Rule: I don’t cry because I believe that I need to be over this issue already

Intuition: My child’s body knows what it needs or doesn’t need in the moment

Rule: My child needs to eat the food on their plate because wasting food is bad

Intuition: I let go of a negative criticism from someone because it isn’t really about me

Rule: I say something because I believe nobody should get away with disrespecting me

Parenting Intuitively: A Personal Example

Before becoming a parent, I had some “progressive” views on Barbie dolls. I had really good intentions but I was also stuck in judgement. My rule was that I would never allow my child to play with Barbies. I had a fear-based opinion that this toy was a harmful example of body image and femininity. Then one day my daughter was introduced to a Barbie...and she fell in love!

At that time, I had really been focusing on using my awareness and intuition to parent (sometimes I was very successful, and other times I would get stuck). I had been spending time in silence, processing difficult emotions, letting go of my conditioned beliefs about what it means to be a "good" parent, stepping away from the parenting dogma I was seeing online, and simply observing my daughter and nurturing who she is as her own person. When the Barbie situation came up, I knew immediately and intuitively that it was okay for my daughter to play with them. I let go of my rule without having to agonize over the pros and cons. There was no internal battle in my mind. My perception shifted and I was at peace with my daughter’s desires. I knew intuitively that I didn't need to control every aspect of her conditioning.

Today, I don’t really have any feelings towards Barbies. The toy has become neutral in my mind, and my daughter is enjoying her playtime. If in the future I observe otherwise, then I can check in with my intuition again and take a new approach, if needed. One thing I have come to realize through my own inner work is that nothing is all good or all bad, and that most judgements and rules shift depending on the cultural climate at the time. So what do I think about parents who refuse to buy Barbies for their children? Nothing! I do not know what is right or wrong for them. All I know is what my intuition tells me in the moment for my own life.

Does Intuition Work?

Trusting your intuition takes awareness, commitment, practice, and a willingness to let go of what we think we want or need. It doesn’t mean that the path you take will be easy or straightforward, or that you will do everything “right.” It also doesn’t free us from emotion, pain, or life challenges. But somewhere deep inside, we know that we are making choices that are right for us in the moment. It’s almost like it has already been written. I have learned through my own inner work that my intuition will always guide me along the path I am meant to be on.

Mindful Awareness Practice 1:

Think about a time in your life when you struggled to make a decision. What was going on in your mind? What types of thoughts were you having? Were any difficult emotions coming up? Was there any self-doubt happening? Were you trying to apply any conditioned rules?

Mindful Awareness Practice 2:

Next time you need to make a decision in your life, see if you can first spend some time in silence. Allow your mind to quiet down and ask yourself: "What feels right to me in this moment?" Just stay with the question and notice if any answer arises spontaneously. Do not try to come up with anything. If any challenging thoughts or emotions arise, see if you can let them go and come back to the silence. Then ask the question again. If you cannot feel an answer, that is okay. We are just practicing slowing down and asking the question for now. What did you notice during this practice?

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