Alex Wilson
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Looking for a scientific reason to keep going with your gut instinct? We’ve got you covered.

When you’re making a decision and you instinctively know which is the right or wrong choice, you’re using your intuition.  But your intuition is more than just immediately knowing the correct answer; it’s about understanding what information is important and what isn’t.

Gerd Gigerenzer, director at the Max Planch Institute for Human Development, believes that intuition is an important guiding tool but needs to be supplemented with rational thought. “In my scientific work, I have hunches,” he said to Forbes. “I can’t explain always why I think a certain path is the right way, but I need to trust it and go ahead. I also have the ability to check these hunches and find out what they are about. That’s the science part.”

What Gigerenzer is describing is also referred to as “disciplined intuition.” Relying on instinct is important, but you must also learn how to back up that instinctual feeling with facts and how to put it in perspective. That balance is crucial to making strong decisions.  Develop your intuition with the ideas below so it can be an even larger asset to you at work.

 1. Reflect on a decision before acting.

It’s common sense to think through all of the options in front of you before making a choice, but make sure you take the time to reflect on how you’re feeling as well.  If you have a strong reaction to something, focus on figuring out why that is and how it should factor into your decision.

2. Learn to recognize your emotions.

Author and consultant Victoria Wynn tells clients that following their egos blindly is a bad idea and that stopping that habit takes practice“I tell my clients to practice a game for a week,” she said to Forbes. “The next time they are angry, frustrated or irritated, they should stop and ask, ‘What am I really mad at? Could there be something at the core of this for me to uncover?’”  The more of these moments you experience over time, the more influential they’ll become in developing your disciplined intuition.

 3. Learn to recognize your biases.

Simultaneously, you should learn how your opinions and beliefs color your perspective.  Andrew McAfee writes in the Harvard Business Review that various self-proclaimed experts place too much faith in their own opinions, and that can lead to unrealistic expectations. “Human experts are overconfident, inconsistent, and subject to a swarm of thoroughly documented biases, most of which they’re not even aware of,” he writes. “The most common response to these truths, sadly, is a simple refusal to believe or act on them.”

Avoid this by recognizing your limitations as well as your strengths.  You don’t need to have a specialized skill set to think through your biases, but you should approach the subject with an open mind. After all, the only person you really need to discuss this with is yourself!

4. Use case studies.

The more research you do, the better your intuition will work. Individual research into topics is helpful, but you can use your past experiences as a case study for how you should use your intuition in the future. Think of it as a way to train your brain — continuously pursue additional knowledge and constantly find new ways to challenge your assumptions.

Trusting your instinct and learning how to support (or disavow) it is a delicate balance, but it’s a crucial leadership skill.  Stay intellectually curious and remain open to new ideas, and you’ll be surprised at how much more accurate your gut instinct will become.