In his bestseller, The Gift of Fear, now a classic, Gavin de Becker tells us that victims of violent behavior usually feel a sense of fear before any threat or violence takes place, but too many ignore that sense. De Becker’s counsel:
Trust your instinct.
But too many choose not to heed that inner voice, which theologians maintain is the voice of our Guardian Angel.
Angels are masters of intuition because, being bodiless pure spirits, they do not learn the way humans do. We learn through our senses, incrementally, over time. Angels, however, receive their knowledge when they were created by God. Angelic knowledge, therefore, is intuitive. And so, when you have a “gut instinct” — a flash of intuition — it’s probably your Guardian Angel communicating with you.
Now science has confirmed the wisdom of our intuition — a 1997 study by a team of University of Iowa and Salk Institute neurologists (Antoine Bechara, Hanna Damasio, Daniel Tranel and Antonio R. Damasio), the results of which were published as “Deciding Advantageously Before Knowing the Advantageous Strategy” in the journal Science, February 8, 1997. (For the PDF of the article, click here.)
The neurologists hypothesized that in decision-making about a complex situation, our intuition (“a nonconscious biasing step”) precedes “overt reasoning.” Note the jargons:
- “Overt reasoning” is deliberation that is conscious and fact-based.
- “Nonconscious bias” is intuitive knowledge that uses neural systems other than those used in “overt reasoning”.
To test their hypothesis, two groups of subjects were asked to perform a gambling task: A group of “normal,” i.e., unbrain-damaged subjects and a group of patients with damage to their prefrontal cortex and resultant defects in decision-making.
The study found that:
- The “normal” group made the right decision even before their conscious deliberation: “Normals began to choose advantageously before they realized which strategy worked best, whereas prefrontal patients continued to choose disadvantageously even after they knew the correct strategy.”
- “Normals” intuitively sensed risk or danger: “normals began to generate anticipatory skin conductance responses (SCRs) whenever they pondered a choice that turned out to be risky, before they knew explicitly that it was a risky choice, whereas patients never developed anticipatory SCRs, although some eventually realized which choices were risky.”
The study’s conclusion is that:
- Our intuition or instincts (“nonconscious biases”) guide our behavior before conscious knowledge does.
- We need that intuitive knowledge in order to make the right decisions: ” Without the help of such biases, overt knowledge may be insufficient to ensure advantageous behavior.”
- Give yourself mental space to reflect. Spend time alone, even if it’s just a few minutes.
- If it’s a really important decision, create a larger window before you decide. Tell people “I need to sleep on this, I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
- The “should” reasons we think of usually mean we’re not listening to our guts.
- Tune in to how your body feels.
- If it’s the right decision, you’ll be at peace about it.