Take These 4 Practical Steps And Discover How You Can Improve Your Intuition Using Creative Mindfulness
What is intuition?
Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with thinking.
Particularly logical thinking. That’s the death star of intuition.
Also surprisingly, it has nothing to do with tapping into deep emotions.
Getting stuck there usually stops any action from happening – except over-analysis.
Not surprisingly, it’s counter-intuitive to everything you’ve ever been taught about learning.
So let’s forget about having a forceful focus, dismiss deep drilling into the problem or tapping into some higher power. It’s much more home-grown and down-to-earth than you could imagine.
First the intellectual side: Cognitive scientists describe intuition as having a provisional hypothesis – essentially taking a quick look and having a ‘first go’ at a problem before checking it for accuracy.
The down-to-earth definition: Intuition is ‘not deliberate thinking’. This means that you’re not deliberately trying to solve a problem or work out a puzzle until your mind feels as if ready to split.
Intuition, counter-intuitively, kicks in when it’s not under pressure. It’s with not focusing on problems that an answer pops into your mind. I call them ‘shower moments’ as most of mine occur in a super relaxed de-focused state of pure warm bliss.
Another easy place to bring on this state of mind is with creative mindfulness – because tapping into a place for insights to emerge means accessing a similar state of mind achieved during mindfulness moments.
Warm showers and creative mindfulness aside, let's dive into ways you can improve your intuition so you can access it more readily and reach higher levels of thinking to problem solve and reach more ‘a-ha’ moments as needed.
Sound good? Keep reading.
Pattern making helps your unconscious mind put seemingly ‘odd’ ideas together in new ways.
Life is a series of intertwining patterns.
It’s in making sense of these patterns by finding themes, the shape of ideas and the edge of new concepts that problem solving meets intuition head-on.
The simple art of doodling, that one thing humankind has done forever – on cave walls and sticky note pads is often the key. Those simple ‘marks’ have more purpose than first imagined.
If we hold the notion that life is a series of intertwining patterns, then each one of us is a pattern formation in and of ourselves – one that is intrinsically interned in an ever-growing arc of patterns.
When we tap into this innate knowledge and work with our pattern-making abilities then we begin looking more intuitively for patterns and the process of seemingly disparate or odd ideas have more chance of finding commonalities to create new solutions to what can feel like unsolvable problems.
This is the edge of imagination, of deeper intuition and insight into what is a natural gift each of us has access to. It's the art of solving problems creatively.
Intuition forms the bridge between the conscious and unconscious state of mind
Most of us are familiar with the iceberg analogy where only the peak of the iceberg is visible representing the tiny part of our conscious mind – the part we’re aware of. In fact, the size of the conscious part of our mind is more akin to placing a tiny ice block on top of the iceberg. Miniscule in the scheme of things.
How can we become more intuitive?
Experts in subject matters – and particularly those who’ve experienced ‘breakthrough ideas’ in science, medicine and the arts put their conscious and unconscious mind together in an ‘unconsciously competent’ manner.
Let’s take a look at some of the research behind this thinking.
Gregory Bateson, an anthropologist and social scientist, developed the four stages of learning.
Bateson says: “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”
Essentially we go from being unaware of what we don’t know (our ‘incompetence’) in a particular area to having an awareness of that ‘incompetence’. (1st level of learning according to Bateson.)
In other words, as soon as we can name that thing – we’re aware of our incompetence.
For example, I know I’d be incompetent at playing a violin. (A no-brainer I’ve never picked one up.) Essentially, I’m consciously incompetent (2nd level of Bateson’s model).
If I picked up a violin, took the lessons needed to learn it and practiced – a lot – I would become consciously aware of my skill (conscious competence – level 3).
It would be beyond this – in a place where I’m no longer aware that I can easily play the violin and have a high level of expertise that good problem solving (and innovation) can emerge. Bateson calls this ‘unconscious competence’. (If you’ve ever tried to teach someone a job you do easily and usually without thinking (e.g. driving a car) and struggle to understand why the other person finds it difficult to grasp, then you know this stage well.)
Experts such as surgeons, scientists, elite athletes, engineers or artists with highly honed skills reach new awakenings because their skill level is now intuitive.
The key is in knowing that these people didn’t start out this way (except for geniuses who came out of the womb playing a piano).
Starting out, for most of us, involves focusing on simply ‘not making mistakes’. Forget about excellence – it’s the basics that count here.
From there we reach a quasi-automatic process, where we’re ‘ok’ at the particular skill we’re practicing. (If I kept up with the violin I might be able to pass exams but wouldn’t be performing at any virtuoso concert.)
It’s similar to becoming a writer – most of us can write a sentence or even an article – but to reach the next level of expert status we’d need to set a mindful intention and follow this through with deliberate practice.
Unfortunately, the majority of people stop before reaching their peak performance.
Stopping ourselves from reaching our peak usually limits any gratification of knowing we’ve done the job as well as we can.
Because excellence comes with rewards – either through pay rises or promotions if you’re working for someone else, success if you’re self-employed or complete breakthroughs if you’re planning on making your mark in the world.
Unfortunately few ever gain that real sense of deep satisfaction from doing something really well. They miss the chance to explore what it's like to live with a greater sense of 'genuine' in life.
Achieving ‘unconscious incompetence’. Problem solving and breakthrough thinking happens in this place.
So, does this mean that tapping into your intuition is impossible unless you’re at the peak of your field?
No. It doesn’t.
You can work intuitively at any level of the learning cycle.
What this means is that knowing how to tap into your personal intuition also takes practice.
And I’ll be covering that soon.
As most of us know, a learning curve is not smooth. It’s jagged in an up-down fashion. And it’s the down curve that trips most people up causing them to stop.
Knowing this beforehand and using intuition even at the early levels of learning can keep you focused on achieving a high outcome with whatever you’re focusing on.
The intuitive process as visual rehearsal
I wonder whether the art of drawing animals on cave walls was an intuitive process used by the early hunters. We often think their paintings on cave walls were done after the kill. What if they were done beforehand?
Imagine if these hunters did this to anticipate problems they may encounter in the wild – perhaps the drawing helped them plan and visualise the hunt in a successful way.
Visual rehearsal is a powerful tool in the intuitive process.
Doing it before a presentation to customers or in meetings often smooths any foibles that may interrupt a smooth flow. It can allow for ‘unexpected’ questions to arise that previously you may not have thought through. It can help you find your balance and confidence.
Think of it this way: If those hunters had been worrying about the accuracy of their shot – they wouldn’t be attuned to the moment and tapping into their intuition. At the moment they needed deep focus and alignment with the task at hand, their ability to use an intuitive process aided their survival.
Intuition is hard-wired into each one of us.
Few now develop it or use it. Yet without it, we struggle to get by with our ice-cube-sized conscious mind that keeps us acting more robotically than we were originally designed to.
How can you bridge the divide between unconscious and conscious thinking?
The following four steps offer you a way to regularly practice getting into your intuitive mind so that when you need to call on it – it will be there in a more mindful and creative way.
Step 1: Set an intention to develop your skill to a high level – problem solving then, when you have deep knowledge and skills, will mean greater freedom in accessing higher levels of intuition. Mediocrity has a way of seeping into all areas of life. It is in making a conscious choice to reach ‘unconscious competence’ that higher thinking becomes more probable.
Step 2: Access a bridge between your conscious and unconscious mind through a naturally occurring hypnotic state – one which places the mind into a relaxed state that occurs naturally twice a day: at night time as you’re falling asleep and upon waking before full consciousness returns.
Step 3: Do this creative mindfulness exercise:
a. Relax your physiology – shoulders, feet, body, neck – sit as comfortably as you can. Focus on your breath – don’t try to change it, simply notice it – breathing easily and steadily throughout.
b. Expand your peripheral vision – put your hands beside your ears and wiggle your fingers. At this point you won’t be seeing your fingers. Maintain your focus straight ahead and slightly above eye level. Now slowly bring your wiggling fingers further towards the front of you. Stop when you can see your fingers wiggling – you’re now accessing your peripheral vision. The wider the peripheral vision you can enable the better. Put your hands down.
c. Now de-focus your eyes while you’re looking forward and up slightly.
d. With your de-focused eyes and accessing your peripheral vision, focus on external sounds. This does two things: stops you listening to your internal chatter of worry and mayhem and be more present in the world around.
Step 4: When you can easily go into a relaxed-yet-focused state as described above, combine it with setting an intention.
Your intention may be around solving a practical problem, finding lost keys, developing a creative solution, gaining insight into a relationship, completing a piece of art – anything that’s on your mind.
Begin by holding your intention in your mind – not the problem itself but the desire of a resolution to it. This is about trust – trust that you have the answer - your logical and conscious mind needs to let go of the problem so your intuitive mind can reach the answer already held in your subconscious.
Now access your relaxed-yet-focused state for about five minutes.
The ‘creative mindfulness’ process is happening behind the scenes. In the same way that none of us sees the workings behind a stage play. They’re happening, we’re simply blind to them - our focus is elsewhere.
After five minutes – you could set a timer before doing this or simply use your ‘mental timer’ to approximate the time (you’ll be surprised how close you’ll be to the exact time) – come back to the present moment by deepening your breathing slightly, blinking more deliberately and moving your arms, shoulders, hands, legs and feet gently.
While the ‘solution’ may have popped into your head, it may not. And that’s ok. Because the back work is being processed. Perhaps in your next ‘shower moment’ your a-ha will arrive. While intuition doesn't perform 'on demand' and hides under pressure, gentle and regular coaxing brings it alive more often.
This process has been widely used by many people to great advantage. People like Einstein, Aristotle and Salvador Dali.
Perhaps it’s worthwhile stepping into your intuitive state more often? What do you think?
Summary of how to tap into your intuition using creative mindfulness:
- Building links between your unconscious and conscious mind
- Creating patterns
- Having deep knowledge in your field of interest
- Developing unconscious competence
- Align yourself with the stages of becoming an expert
- Access more of your unconscious mind
Barbara Grace is the Director of the School of Modern Psychology and the founder of 'Creative Mindfulness'.
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