What does it really mean to become your authentic self and live life on your own terms?
It's easy to roll your eyes at these kinds of questions and simply get on with your day-to-day life. There's plenty to distract us––bills, family obligations, social media, and so much more––from taking a step back and pondering on something as abstract as authentic or intuitive living.
Then again, detaching yourself from your intuition is like letting go of the driving wheel and leaving the journey of your life to run on autopilot. Instead of setting the course of your life according to your own values and desires, you let circumstances, society, or the people around you determine the direction you take.
This has become a norm of sorts: people approach adult life as a box-ticking exercise, choosing their career, relationships, and country of residence according to social and cultural rules rather than their individual needs. There might occasionally be a little voice inside, or a “gut feeling” as we call it, telling them that there could be something else out there for them, yet the instinct is to bypass that voice and listen to the collective.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
The power of intuition is now increasingly being recognized by science, and a group of modern-day thinkers are helping people open up to the idea of using their hearts and emotions as much as their brains and sense of logic.
"Human consciousness, at the moment, is more aware of the mental construct rather than the wisdom construct. We could still tap into the wisdom, it's not missing, but the brain, electrical activity, and mind-thought patterns are dominant. They think they make up the entire body, but it's the heart that pumps our blood," said Jess Lively to Intelligent Change founders Mimi and Alex Ikonn during a conversation on The Ikonns podcast.
Lively learnt to challenge this type of conditioning and to listen to her intuition by simply having a dialogue with her inner voice, asking questions through the art of journaling, and waiting for the answers to come through.
This type of intuitive exercise led her to give up the 'American dream' of being married, owning a home, and having a stable job. Instead, aged 30 and newly divorced, Lively chose to travel the world, start a podcast, and go after her real dream of having whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted it—minus the financial stress.
"I could have lived the normal American life, but, ultimately, I realised that my then-husband and I wanted different lives. We could have stretched each other, we could have held hands and crouched together in a box, but, instead, we chose to high five, stand up tall, and live the lives we were meant to live," said Lively.
Many of today's great thinkers, leaders, and entrepreneurs have spoken of that tipping point, when they finally decided to rip the existing rule book apart, stop telling that inner voice to be quiet, and take decisions according to their own desires.
This was the premise behind Glennon Doyle's now-legendary memoir "Untamed”, which speaks about the magic of following your inner voice and designing your life just like you imagined it.
"Ideas of right or wrong are the bars that keep us caged. I decided that if I kept doing the "right" thing, I would spend my life following someone else's directions instead of my own. I wanted to make my own decisions as a free woman from my soul, not my training," writes Doyle in "Untamed," as she narrates how she gave up an unfulfilling marriage and life, in favor of being with the woman she loved.
But how do you start listening to your intuition, if you've learnt to ignore it for as long as you can remember?
Stop doing, slow down and just spend some time with yourself, is Doyle's biggest piece of advice on getting back in touch with your intuition. In her case, it took the form of sitting in her closet for ten minutes every morning, but you can do anything from journaling to meditation, walking without the distraction of your phone, or simply sitting and breathing.
"I sink beneath the swirling surf of words, fear, expectations, conditioning and advice—and feel for the knowing. I sink a hundred times a day. I have to, because the knowing never reveals a five-year plan, it will only reveal the next right thing," writes the author. "I have learned that if I want to rise, I have to sink first. I have to search for and depend upon the voice of inner wisdom instead of voices of outer approval. This saves me from living someone else's life. The more I live by my own knowing, the more my life becomes my own."
Writing to your Inner Voice
In Lively's case, the path towards connecting with her intuition meant "learning to write to that inner voice" by always turning to her journal. By putting your thoughts, emotions, and ideas on paper, you will see the answers flow through you, and you can find clarity on anything, from whether you need to quit your job to the outfit you should pick for dinner—there's no topic too big or too small that your intuition can't help you find the most authentic answer to.
"I now know what I need to order before even reading the menu," joked Lively on The Ikonns podcast.
Journaling itself can take many shapes and forms, from a 20-minute session where you write down everything you're feeling in a stream of consciousness or a daily practice with the Five Minute Journal. Noting down what truly makes you happy, what you're grateful for, and how you wish to spend your days in your Five Minute Journal will offer you a daily reminder of your values and priorities. Ultimately, the better you know your values, the more in alignment you will live.
"Our thoughts, feelings and ideas are constantly streaming past us. They appear briefly in our consciousness and then disappear again. When we allow ourselves to become immersed in our own uncensored ideas and write them down, we can really look at them and understand our patterns," said Jay Shetty, another great advocate for mindful and intuitive living, who wrote extensively on the topic in his best-selling book “Think Like a Monk.”
Forget About the Rules
According to Shetty, not only do we need to journal, meditate, or spend some quiet time by ourselves, but we also need to unlearn many of the rules and pre-conceived ideas we've grown up with, to be able to tap back into our inner wisdom.
For starters, the concept that our thoughts and emotions are disconnected is false. There shouldn't be friction between what our hearts and heads want: it's just one body working together.
"Our self isn't our brain, it includes our entire bodies," said MIT professor Alan Jasanoff, who believes that the brain and body coordinate to create emotions. This means that to tap into your inner wisdom, you need to ensure that your body is functioning well, so that your judgment isn’t clouded by unmet needs like lack of sleep or poor gut health.
Another misconception to let go of? That the easiest solution we are usually drawn to is the intuitive one. We've been conditioned to think that the easiest or shortest route is the best one. But that's not our intuition talking, it's our bias.
Our intuition will guide us to the path that's true to our deepest desires. This could translate into the quickest solution there is or it might cause some friction, before it yields the outcome we were hoping for. Just think of Doyle’s story of having to face initial criticism from her family and children, when she announced her decision to divorce her husband and start a same-sex relationship with the true love of her life.
"We think that intuition is supposed to lead us through the path of least resistance, but coming into alignment is often a longer process that might not feel good at the start. It's a myth that everything magically falls into place when we make the right choice," said Shetty.
"Stay open minded about what the right decision looks like, which is really all sorts of ways. We want to be flexible in our perceiving and thinking, and from this state we are more likely to connect with our intuition." – Jay Shatty