Many people think of intuition as a magical power. Skeptics dismiss it as
lucky guesswork. But experts who study the phenomenon assert it's a very
real ability that can be revealed in lab experiments and seen on brain
scans. Read on for spellbinding findings about your gut feelings, plus
unexpected ways to observe your body's signals and tap the unlimited
potential of your subconscious mind.
Verified research shows that our instincts often times hit us first on a
visceral level, informing us of what we need to know well before our
consciousness can catch up. Here's what transpires when your intuition
gets physical. It's easy to know something's afoot when your heart is racing,
you're soaked in sweat, and you have butterflies in your stomach. But even
if the shift in your pulse or perspiration is more subtle, your intuition might
still be trying to send a message.
You may be able to better follow your heart (and your sweat glands) by
practicing meditation. A study found that in people who practiced
meditation, brain regions linked with sensitivity to the body's cues and
sensory processing had more gray matter. The more powerful the
meditation experience, the more developed the brain regions became.
Eyesight seems pretty straightforward. The eye perceives images, the brain
understands them. But there actually are two kinds of vision—one
conscious, the other intuitive—and thus, the eye perceives a lot more than
we usually realize.
Research has shown that our brains respond with anxiety to images of
faces expressing fear—even when the images are flashed so quickly we
had no awareness of ever looking at them. The amygdala, which plays an
important part in emotional processing, activates in response to these
pictures even when they're displayed for only milliseconds—far too fast to
register in our conscious mind. This reaction comes from our earliest known
origins: When our ancestors first met strangers, the ones who quickly
understood the newcomer's feelings and intentions were far more likely to
survive. If you find yourself in a situation that's making you feel nervous,
you may have spotted a reason for concern without even knowing it. Pay
attention to the sensation.
You may not know that eating intuitively—paying attention to your inner
satiety meter—is far more likely to lead to a healthy weight than dieting.
After assessing the eating habits of over one thousand college students, an
associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University, found that
those who relied on internal hunger and fullness cues to determine when
and how much to eat had a lower body mass index than people who actively
tried to control their weight through calorie restriction. In another study,
people who practiced intuitive eating over the course of two years
maintained their weight and achieved lower cholesterol levels, lower blood
pressure, higher self-esteem, and greater levels of physical activity. Further
research has shown that intuitive eaters are less likely to think about how
their body appears to others, and more likely to spend time considering
how their body feels and functions. Becoming an intuitive eater requires no
more than the willingness to sit and listen to your body's signals. Eat every
three to four hours, before extreme hunger sets in, and stop when you feel
nourished and energized, not stuffed. Imagining the portion you want to
consume before a meal—and what that will physically feel like afterward—is
another way to start trusting your gut.
There's a good reason we say that a bogus idea doesn't "smell right":
Research suggests that our nose plays a major role in forming our
judgments, even if we're not consciously aware of the scents we're
detecting. But our sense of smell dosen't just shape our first impressions of
a person; it can control our behavior as well. Research shows that
particular odors encourage shoppers to linger over a product and may
even make them willing to spend more money. In one study carried out at a
clothing store, the scent of vanilla doubled the sales of women's clothes.
Exercise temporarily improves your olfactory sense, because adrenaline
constricts blood vessels in the nose, increasing nasal airflow. Smell
receptors that line the inside of your nose regenerate roughly every three
weeks, but if you live in a big city, air pollution can damage the receptors,
meaning countryside vacations may temporarily boost sniffing prowess. If
you had to guess whether it's easier to take in new information when your
attention is focused or when you're distracted, you'd guess the former,
right? If so, you'd be wrong. In a study researchers presented subjects with
a series of abstract images. The participants gave their full attention to half
the pictures but were purposefully distracted by another task while viewing
the rest. When shown the images again and asked to identify which they'd
seen before, they fared better with the pictures they'd viewed while
distracted. Our intuitive brains are processing information even when we're
not paying attention. And with the brain's analytical system occupied by
another task, the intuitive system—which excels at picking up the gist of a
situation—is better able to do its work.
Next time you're faced with a problem, consider your options for a while,
take a break and concentrate on other tasks—then go with the first solution
that comes to you. Pausing your analysis gives your unconscious mind the
storage capacity it needs to filter through the information and give you the
Memories of things you encounter during the day are stored in your brain,
often playing out in dreams while you sleep. REM sleep is excellent for
problem solving because your brain is putting pieces together and trying
out new alternatives. You receive insights that would not occur to you when
Dreams allow us to see solutions that aren't apparent to our logical,
conscious minds. To help foster dreams, I recommend "dream incubation":
Write down a problem and think about it just before bed, then let your
intuitive solution emerge at the break of dawn.
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