How to tell intuition from emotion

Have you ever asked someone for advice, only to hear the well-know “follow your heart”? What the hell does that even mean? Of course, if you’d actually ask someone what they mean by this cliche, you’d most likely hear something along the lines: “do what feels right”. You know what feels right to me? Cats. Cats are soft and warm and feel perfectly right. But that’s probably not what people mean, is it?

The problem with “doing what feels right” is that “feeling” is kind of a vague concept. There are plenty of ways to feel. First, there is the actual sense of feeling something with your skin. Then, there is feeling pain or joy. And then there is feeling everything will work out (or not). Yet all of these feelings are very different in nature.¬†Unless you’re buying a new bed, “doing what feels right” is usually not related to the physical sensation of touching something. It’s something on the inside, which just makes it that much harder to grasp. And of course this is made more complicated by the “right” part. Suppose you’re drunk at a fabulous party, dancing with someone you just met, as your partner is sitting at home. The music is amazing and you’re enjoying yourself. At that moment, it might feel “right” to kiss your dancing partner, even though you know this won’t feel “right” for you in the long run when you see your partner again. So right is a very fluid concept. With this fluidity, how are we supposed to make sense of “doing what feels right”?

Emotions are physical

Apart from the sensation of touch, there are actually two ways of feeling: feeling emotions and feeling intuitively. As we discussed earlier, intuition is instinctive knowledge, which is why it’s a great starting point for decisions. The challenge is to differentiate your intuition from your emotions. But how can you tell if what you feel is really an emotion or your intuition? Here’s how!

Emotions are very physical sensations. Ever got red hot with anger? Ever had butterflies in your stomach? Those are emotions. You feel them in your body. Because emotions are so tied to your body, changes to your body affect emotions in a very direct matter. Ever heard of PMS? That’s influencing your emotions right there! Ever felt hangry? Or overflown with joy after riding a rollercoaster? These feelings are also emotions. In my experience, emotions are not a very good guide when it comes to taking important decisions. That’s because emotions are fleeting (though they can stay on for a long while, if the right physical stimuli are present). They often depend on other factors than just the situation at hand (just a side note: of course, if the situation continuously makes you feel sick, this also could be a pretty good clue for you to avoid it).

Intuition is part of our mind

Intuition is a different matter entirely. Or, to be more precise, contrary to emotions intuition is not matter at all. It’s mind. Intuition is not necessarily aligned with your conscious knowledge, nor is it necessarily aligned with your emotions. A personal example: several years ago I was having some problems with my love life. Logics (and all my friends) told me it was a dead end. I felt emotionally drained, continuously dealing with crying spells. Yet at the same time I had this very solid knowledge that things would turn out the way I hoped. Despite all odds. It was not hope, it was a knowledge I couldn’t explain even to myself. And in time, it proved right.

Intuition is not something mystical, no more than emotions are. But unlike emotions, intuition is a result of our subconscious processing of information. Even if we are not able to acknowledge this information consciously. Which makes it surprisingly reliable.

So the next time you hear “do what you feel is right”, investigate your feelings. Do you feel them in your body? Or is it more of a deep knowledge you can’t explain? Tread carefully when following emotions, but don’t be afraid to trust your intuition, the results might surprise you!

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