06/29/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Improve Your Sixth Sense

When I first met my wife, it wasn't "love at first sight" but I knew with a kind of knowing that we were kindred spirits, that we could grow to love one another. I had an instinct that wouldn't waver. (I confess it took me a bit of time to convince her of my "wisdom" but after three decades together it's become one of my big "I told you so's.")

There are some things you just know. That's intuition, knowing something directly without using our rational thought processes to figure it out. We use our intuitive instincts in many of our relationships with other people, in our work, in our personal decision-making. Often we are deaf to it, or we deny using it because it's too "illogical." Psychological testing confirms that intuitive people (those with a high "I" on the Myers-Briggs, for example), tend to be independent, self-confident, flexible, adaptable and not afraid of risk. As Einstein and Salk confirm, intuition opens a door to our native and deeper sources of knowing, a wisdom tree growing inside us.

Intuition can be cultivated, notes Francis Vaughn, a Mill Valley, California psychologist who has studied intuition for more than a decade, and the author of Awakening Intuition. "We can't make it happen, but we can allow it to happen. Attention itself tends to give it more energy." Ask yourself what you need to know, allow quiet time for processing and listening. When the channel opens, you receive the information you seek without asking. Really.

Actor-writer Alan Alda said it best for me: "You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself."

I have had to learn to trust my intuitive edge, the wisdom of surrendering control over my instinct to decide and instead, to slow down and listen. I tended for years to edit out the "sounds" of my intuition. I sought logical explanations and a reasoned model for decisions. Over the years I learned to relax into my decision-making, to listen to a still voice that, when I get out of the way, almost yells at me. As I learned to trust the "voice" I began to recognize its signals and signs. My intuitive sense has a gentle urgency about it, if I allow myself to surrender to it. Under stress, I shut it down. It is silent. And I am usually "wrong."

In our culture, men tend to repress their feelings. This socialized control can inhibit the role intuition can play. Men tend to dismiss their intuitive thoughts and repress them. It is assumed that women seem better at processing emotional information. Brain research suggests that brain lateralization, the way the two hemispheres of the brain are connected--may provide another explanation, says Dr. Jerre Levy, a University of Chicago neuropsychologist. In his studies, Levy discovered that women's brains are less lateralized than men's, allowing more closely connected hemispheres of the brain to communicate more efficiently enabling women to assess and incorporate more details and nuances than men.


-Give yourself a moment, a deep breath, before leaping to a decision. Suspend your sense of urgency, your judgment, and listen to your inner voice. (It's your own voice)

-If time permits, walk away from your question/problem. Ideally, sleep on it.

-Write down what enters your mind. (I keep a pad by my bedside, for example)

-Try learning and practicing daily meditation. It tunes your "receptors"

-Keep a journal.

Listen, trust, test and explore the wisdom and wildness within.