How to train your intuition

How does a firefighter know that a burning house is on the verge of collapse? In a game of blitz, how does a chessmaster find the most appropriate move in a fraction of a second? How does a striker on the football field find the space to dribble past three world-class defenders and beat the diving goalkeeper?

Intuition is the ability to arrive at a decision without knowing how you did it. When a fireground commander (leader of a firefighting team) approaches a situation, her decades of experience gives her patterns from hundreds of situations, both real and virtual, that she can invoke in a fraction of a second to decide what to do. Psychological research shows us that she does this “by mentally simulating (her decision) to see if it would work in the situation they were facing.”

We train our intuition everyday, whether we know it or not. When we move to a new locality, every street turn leads us to a new place – a pharmacy, a convenience store or a subway station. With time, we can then drive to the supermarket without thinking about the route. To find our bearings is one of the oldest skills we possess. It helps us navigate lush forests as well as urban jungles. A person who is not good with routes is simply one who hasn’t trained his intuitive sense of direction.

We could take this even further. Where do the actions we do every day, every hour and every minute take us? What does reaching for our phone to check our notifications lead to? What happens when we reach for a snack and gobble it up? How does the decision to exercise for half an hour make us feel after we are done?

We could train our intuition by looking back at any of these actions and simulating where they lead us, just as the fireground commander does. Does our impulse lead us to a meaningful place? Every urge we have corresponds to a turn into a certain street or alleyway. Through introspection, could we simulate where we are headed before we are lost?

Inspiration: Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

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