Sixth sense, also known as a gut feeling or intuition is an ancestral ability we inherited from the first human beings. Although it is indeed a wonderful gift, there is no paranormal process behind it. Learn how to use your sixth sense to get the most out of it.

One brain, two minds
Humans have two different types of thinking: analytical and intuitive. The intuitive mind responds for the decision-making process beyond conscious awareness. It is fast and spontaneous and works based on pattern-recognition. It is also old and probably evolved in our ancestors as an alarm system for survival, triggered in the face of danger or opportunities.

The analytical mind can compute, reason, and solve problems. It makes and follows rules and inhibits the intuitive mind.

In many aspects analytical and intuitive thinking differ. The analytical mind is narrow, controlled, conscious, problem-focused, and uses language to communicate, whereas the intuitive mind is broad, automatic, non-conscious, holistic, and uses feelings to express itself.

Using the sixth sense professionally
Forget the mystical image of a mage behind a crystal ball. We all have intuition, and several people frequently use it in their professions without even realizing they do. Experienced managers often rely on their gut instincts to make complex decisions. Entrepreneurs trust their feelings when creating a new product for the market. Chess players use their sixth sense while deciding their next move within seconds.

Professionals, such as firefighters, paramedics, basketball players, and police officers depend on complex decisions involving knowledge, experience, and emotion. They also work under time pressure, which demands them to take action while still evaluating what to do.

There is no time for analytical thinking and significant consequences for mistakes. To make matters worse, their work conditions are dynamic and demand real-time reactions. How can they manage that?

They all rely on their gut feelings while generating monitoring and modifying plans to meet their current needs. Intuition is the ability to recognize patterns and make decisions at light speed. Although this process occurs unconsciously, it is not opposite to reason. Actually, intuition is based on previous experience and accumulated knowledge, not just a random guess as some people may think.

Sense and sensibility: reaching a perfect balance
Throughout history, the analytical mind has been overestimated. Many people still claim that the decision-making should strictly follow the Cartesian logic, and rely on a careful evaluation of specific criteria. They argue that intuition works on stereotypes and prejudices, that it is anarchical and emotive, and can lead to disastrous results.

It is undeniable that the defenders of analytical thinking have a point, the intuitive mind indeed has a dark side; it reflects ourselves, our background, and is as imperfect as we are. However, the analytical mind also has its flaws. It requires a long time to accomplish the rational process. Besides, unlike the intuitive mind, it can only take into account part of the relevant data to make a decision, as the human conscious capacity to process information is limited.

It is widely known that too much information is not good for humans, and can even lead to stress. The intuitive mind prevents us from overloading the mind using automatic processes to deal with information.

As each type of thinking serves different purposes, in an ideal situation, intuitive and analytical minds should work together for the best results. In this perfect scenario, the intuitive mind searches the unconscious for solutions by recognition of familiar situations, mental simulation, and activation of memory data. The analytical thinking, in its turn, can correct flaws in intuition and help us deal with new situations through learning. The outcome would be better decisions.

Mind training
Intuition is the best human asset, but it can also be a dangerous tool. Understanding the intuitive mind grants us great power for decisions. How can we master this innate tool and get the best out it?

The cultivation of intuition requires experience. A lot of previous experience is behind the quick move of a chess player or a firefighter. According to Herbert Simon, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on intuition based on previous experience, we need at least ten years of hard work to achieve a decent background. Unfortunately, there is not an easy path, but in the long-term, the time-saving intuitive mind makes for the time we took to gather the experience we needed to trigger a background made of one million of memory patterns.

Some personality traits can help achieve deep knowledge and experience: curiosity, openness, propensity to seize opportunities, tolerance, and emotional intelligence.

Trust your feelings
Although all people have intuition, not all use it. There is still a lack of confidence in unconscious intelligence. That is a pity, as all data in the world, all analytical thinking, cannot compete with a lifetime of experience.

Sometimes reason points somewhere that does not leave us in peace. This feeling of uneasiness is how the intuitive mind talks to us. We should trust or at least consider it. It is very likely our brain noticed something you did even realize was there.

Most of the time, the process of the intuitive mind is reliable and happens fast. Frequently, we are not entirely aware of the reasons why we feel what the right decision is, we just do. In the end, we know more than we think we know, and know it without thinking.

Suggested reading
Gigerenzer, G., 2007. Gut feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious. Penguin.
Klein, G., 2008. Naturalistic decision making. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50(3), pp.456-460.
Sadler-Smith, E., 2010. The intuitive mind: Profiting from the power of your sixth sense. John Wiley & Sons.
Sauter, V.L., 1999. Intuitive decision-making. Communications of the ACM, 42(6), pp.109-115.
Simon, H.A., 1990. 8. Alternative visions of rationality. Rationality in action: Contemporary approaches, 189.


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