How To *Actually* Follow Your Intuition

Don’t ignore the vibes your body’s sending you.

A woman walks in a wheat field questioning what her gut feeling means. Experts explain how to know i...
The Good Brigade/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Originally Published: 

You just know that the time is right to pursue yoga training full time, but you’re wondering if it’s worth the risk. Whenever you ask your friends, though, they sagely encourage you to “trust your gut.” That’s all well and good, but when you don’t know how to follow your intuition in the first place, it’s not necessarily the most helpful advice. Because really, how can you know when your intuition is talking to you? Spoiler: that gut feeling can actually be pretty helpful.

"Intuition is that sneaking suspicion that you feel when something is not right but you can't put your finger on why,” licensed clinical psychologist Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D., tells Bustle. “Intuition can be a powerful guiding force and is more developed for some than others. Some people feel a strong urge or sense in their core when something is wrong while others, with a less developed intuition, might feel a small inkling that they aren't really sure how to interpret.

It’s OK if you’re not sure whether those butterflies in your stomach mean “take the leap!” or “run away.” You might get your intuition confused with your scared ego (AKA the thing that keeps you from taking highly calculated risks and mistakes).

"When you're taking risks in life that feel bigger than maybe what you think you can handle, there will always be some sort of resistance,” says Julie Holmes, a New York city-based life coach. “The scared ego usually shows up when you're about to do something new and different in your life but will in the end be beneficial. It could be a job promotion, being more social, or doing something outside of your comfort zone. Scared ego is usually scared of either failure or rejection.” If you’re doing something out of fear that you’re not good enough, Holmes says, you might want to go in the other direction.

Learning to listen to your gut feeling has a lot to do with trust — which can be hard when fear is involved. “To follow your intuition means that you do not have to put conscious thought into making a decision,” says Brooklyn-based mental health counselor intern Bernie Crowl, MHC-I. “It simply comes naturally and with no judgment.” Of course, he explains, not judging yourself is easier said than done, especially when many people have been taught not to trust their own judgment. How are you supposed to trust your gut if you’re not sure if you should trust yourself? Whether you want to know how you can follow your gut or learn to be more self-aware, here are 11 ways to know if your intuition is trying to tell you something and how to listen to it.


You Feel A Peaceful Feeling In Your Chest Or Stomach

Sometimes your intuition is so strong that you can physically feel the effects. While some people might feel a peaceful feeling within their heart, other people might notice their gut is trying to communicate by evoking a sinking feeling instead. "Many people describe their intuition as a feeling in their chest or stomach,” Schewitz says. “Often, it comes as a tightness in those areas and the feeling that something is off.”


You Feel Confident & Happy Even When The Decision Doesn't Seem Rational

Ever have those moments where you daydream about quitting your job, but you don't for financial reasons? That moment of clarity is your intuition trying to speak to you. While it might not sound like a logical answer, the thought that you're having may actually be the answer you've been looking for. "When your intuition speaks to you, and when you learn to tune in to it, you will feel confidence and clarity when it speaks,” Schewitz explains. “When you're scared ego is speaking, you will feel fear and uncertainty.”


You May Experience More Vivid Dreams

Dreaming about falling off a building or being chased by a giant spider could actually be your intuition trying to talk to you. "Intuition can come in many forms,” says celebrity psychic medium Thomas John. “Dreams are a major way that spirit communicates, too. It is important to also document your experience. Because intuition often does not have a specific timestamp, sometimes we intuitively can pick up things about our past, present, and future. I tell my students to make notes and journal about specific feelings, impressions, or senses they have.”


The Same Opportunities Keep Knocking On Your Door

"The way I knew that my intuition was trying to talk to me was in hindsight. Opportunity kept knocking on my shoulder and finally I noticed. Regretfully sometimes it took years," says career coach Jill MacFadyen, M.S.I.R., A.C.C.

When your intuition tries to communicate with you, it may try to get your attention by forcing you to notice little patterns throughout your life. Been wanting to find a new job, but afraid to take the plunge? Your intuition may subtly let you notice certain career articles or job postings to help get your attention.


You Find Clarity When You're Not Busy

Have you ever had those "ah-ha!" moments when you’re in the shower or driving your car? That's an example of your intuition trying to talk to you. When you allow your mind to rest (i.e. meditation), your mind opens up and allows your thoughts and emotions to flow through. "Your intuition talks to you when you are less busy, when you sleep, when are you not trying to push for it, when you take your mind off what you are seeking," MacFadyen says.


You May Notice Your Thoughts Are Being Pulled In A Certain Direction

Your intuition is usually there to guide you in the right direction, but sometimes you miss the signs or choose to ignore them. However, if you continue to notice that your brain wanders back to a particular thought, then you might want to slow down and investigate why you're feeling this way.

"Often, I teach my students that if you are getting intuitive hits about things, and you don't listen to them, they will keep showing up in different ways,” John explains. “Looks for patterns, repeating thoughts, and repeating pulls in certain directions. Pay attention to when you feel pulled by something that seems out of the ordinary or surprising. Pay attention to those thoughts that seem to 'pop' in out of nowhere. Remember, intuition does not come from the logical brain.”


You May Notice Your Instinct And Intuition Are Not In Sync

Sometimes your rational instinct (AKA your ego) will try to protect you from failure or making a mistake. While your instinct is there to help you survive, your intuition will sometimes try to fight against your fears of failure so you can make the right decision and go after your dreams. "Instinct and intuition are different,” John says. “Instinct is an automatic response that has to do with survival. Intuition is more evolved and focused on your highest good. For example, your instinct may be to stay at your job because it is safe and secure, while your intuition may guide you to leave your job and start your own business.”

Psychotherapist Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C., says that these instincts may take the form of ingrained coping mechanisms that no longer serve you. Maybe shoving your feelings down all the time helped make you safer as a kid, but you might notice that this instinct is hurting your relationships now.

To help distinguish when your intuition is serving you well and it’s not, Morales advises practicing some visualization — perhaps with the help of your therapist. “Envision a bunch of shelves and ask yourself what have you done to survive thus far,” she suggests. “Imagine placing those preferable and non-preferable coping tools on the shelves and explore what has been easily accessible and what has been out of reach. As we develop new, preferable tools in therapy, we can start re-organizing those shelves. The more options people have on their coping shelves that are accessible, the less they find themselves using old tools that they may no longer need anymore.”


You Feel Uneasy About A Certain Situation

When you listen to your intuition, you’ll likely feel happy, but if you choose to ignore it, a wave of uneasiness may come over you. For instance, you may choose to listen to your ego to make a safe but wrong decision, instead of listening to what your heart is trying to tell you. If you’re being mistreated, but people around you are trying to pass it off as “no big deal,” it can become a lot harder to trust your gut feeling. Your intuition might be blaring red flags at you through stomachaches or chest pains, but if the people around you say that they’re not seeing what you see, it can impact your relationship with your instincts.

Morales says that you can help yourself out by paying attention to what your body is saying. “When we go inward, we can notice where the body is experiencing any sensations or tension and explore what emotions are connected to them,” Morales explains. “Getting attuned to the emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations will give you information to make choices of what feels right for you in any given situation.”


You May Get Sick

When you don't listen to your intuition, you may actually cause more stress in your life. Physical signs like having anxiety or being sick may slowly creep into your life because your intuition is trying to tell you you need a change.

"Physical signs in the early stages might feel like something's not quite right or something feels off,” Holmes explains. “As many of us tend to ignore our intuition, the feeling will naturally grow to something more severe like anxiety, even depression can be a physical sign that you are not living life the way you know you want to be. If these more obvious feelings are ignored, ultimately our body can manifest illness as an extreme way of letting us know we need to make some kind of change in our life.”


You Have A Sense This Feeling Won't Go Away

There's a reason why that particular thought keeps on popping up in your head: It's your intuition trying to speak to you. Be more receptive to these subtle nuances so you can allow your life to flow much easier. "The best way to determine if it is your intuition telling you something is that you will have the sense that it 'won't go away,’” says licensed psychologist Anita Marchesani, Ph.D. “In other words, that sensation of knowing you should or should not do something simply keeps dogging you.”


You May Feel Inspired

You know your intuition is speaking to you when you feel inspired and excited. This could happen after watching an inspiring YouTube video or listening to a podcast. Hearing others' words of wisdom can help direct your thoughts and spark your intuition so you can begin to follow the path you're meant to be on. "Your intuition might start with a feeling of happiness or excitement [if it's about something good]. While stronger intuition might be desire or an impulse to do something creative or beneficial for either yourself or others," Holmes says.

Learning how to listen to your intuition takes time. Your ego might try to interfere, but if you practice, you'll eventually know the difference between the two. Always try to guide with your heart. The more you listen, the happier and secure you may feel about the choices you make.


Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist

Julie Holmes, New York city-based life coach

Bernie Crowl, MHC-I, Brooklyn-based mental health counselor intern

Thomas John, celebrity psychic medium

Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C., pyschotherapist

Jill MacFadyen, M.S.I.R., A.C.C., career coach

Anita Marchesani, Ph.D., licensed psychologist