Sometimes you just know something’s not right.
Or do you?
Listening to your intuition is a hot topic for everybody from artists to CEOs, but since it’s really hard to define it can leave even the most emotionally connected people feeling uncertain.
Like most of the abstract terms we routinely throw around, it becomes a little shy when you try to pinpoint it:
Is this love … or is this person mirroring some deep psychological need?
Is this the end of love … or is this just me creating psychological distance?
Is this guiding intuition … or is the situation just satisfying a subconscious longing?
Is this protective intuition … or is it fear?
If only we had a crystal ball.
Welcome to transition
As I write this I’m knee-deep in disarray. After over a month in hotels and a 1,700 mile road trip, we’re finally moving into our new home in Colorado.
We couldn’t wait to get into this house! We searched for it, chose it among all others, negotiated for it and even pleaded just a little. We waited not-so-patiently. And now it’s ours…
But when we actually moved in, things just didn’t feel right.
We couldn’t get comfortable. If it made sense to sit facing one direction, our furniture would only allow us to face the opposite.
Every room seemed awkward, and it wasn’t just frustrating … it felt awful. Just like when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and tell you to slowly back away.
Had we made a huge mistake?
And then the shift happened
But we kept at it. We kept unpacking boxes, trying different arrangements, and making sure we got lots of sleep.
And pretty soon, things began to shift. A flash of inspiration here, the mundane removal of a rug there, and before we knew it, it started to feel … good. The feng shui realigned and the house started becoming our home.
I’m sure you’ve experienced energy shifts like that in your life, too. The question is, what causes the shift? Luck, perseverance, mindset? Maybe all of the above?
In my opinion, the most important variable is time.
When you’re transitioning, time is what allows the more reactionary parts of your brain to chill out. Time is how you naturally reconcile the way things used to be or how things should be with how they really are … and eventually realize that despite feelings of fear or resistance, you’re ok.
Mindset work, affirmations, and looking on the sunny side are all extremely powerful, but none of them have the special properties of time.
Let’s break it down
When we moved into the new house, we were facing two mental incongruities:
Our old house, our “home,” felt and looked different. This wasn’t that, so it wasn’t home and therefore possibly would never be home.
When we looked at pictures of the new house and walked through its empty rooms, we projected a rosy vision of our future that contrasted sharply with the reality of moving-box-overwhelm and funky furniture proportions.
Neuroscientists have a name for the brain activity that occurs during this disconnect between expectations and reality: “prediction error.” (You can read more about it in an earlier post, The Brain Science of Being Uncommon.)
It’s inherently uncomfortable – more so for some than for others – and in simplest terms its functions are to keep us safe and help us learn quickly.
When we experience this kind of discomfort, but then eventually see that our worst fears never came to pass (no tiger jumped out of the bushes to pounce on us), we relax out of the stress response. We’re able to take in more information and open ourselves to new possibilities.
What we thought was a pair of tiger eyes is actually just a funny looking leaf, and before long we’re passing by that bush on the daily and even sampling its juicy, sweet berries.
Why time is so magical
Time is more effective (but also frustratingly slower) than many other interventions because the fear mechanism is located in a part of your brain that can’t process language or logic. It responds only to direct experience.
That’s precisely why so many of the most effective relaxation techniques involve sensory experience (such as breath work, meditation and mindfulness, and somatic experiencing).
However, when your brain is screaming, “This is wrong!! Run!!” it can be really difficult to fully enter into a state of relaxation, no matter how hard you try. (Think about it. When you’re faced with an existential threat it would be counterproductive, to say the least, if your brain were able to switch off the fear response like a light switch.)
But what we CAN do is … wait. (In stress-response language, we can “freeze.”) We might not shake the creepy crawly feeling right away, but we can force ourselves not to run.
And by waiting, we can confirm or deny our suspicions.
If it’s not meant to be – if you’re not meant to be in that house or continue with that business or if you’re not meant to gorge on berries because there’s a freakin’ tiger in the bush – your intuition will be confirmed.
And if it’s actually ok, that too will come to light.
So the next time you’re at a transition crossroads and it feels off (or awful), before you throw everything away remember this: All will be revealed in due time. And by then, you'll feel much more certain about your decision.
Here’s to a measured response to your intuitive hits,