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Intuition: Taking a Big Step : Trust a Hunch? Go With Your Gut? Many People, Some Very Successful, Do It. But Few Talked About It. Now, Experts Are Gaining Valuable New Insights Into 'Right Brain' Thinking.

August 19, 1990|KATHLEEN DOHENY

Margaret England, a Century City Hospital physician and UCLA clinical professor, was startled from a recent sound sleep not by noise but by a strange feeling of "absolute dread." She feared that a loved one was ill, although there was no logical basis for her anxiety. She began calling family and friends long-distance, then her sister telephoned with the bad news: Their father had just suffered a heart attack.

A dozen years ago, Jeff Stein had two careers going, as an independent film producer and founder and owner of a sportswear company. For a year, he had been torn between the two, until early one morning he got a sudden, strong "gut feeling" to abandon movie producing. He was standing atop a staircase, he recalled, with pleasant music playing, when suddenly he knew what to do with his life. He quickly finished three film projects and plunged into his chosen career. Today, he heads Camp Beverly Hills, a successful manufacturing and retail sports apparel, fragrances and home furnishings company.

Journalist Laurie Nadel also has experienced powerful inner voices. She once was on her way to a job interview in San Francisco and had forgotten a map and was unfamiliar with the city. But as she neared the downtown, she got a strong feeling about which freeway exit to take. Then she got another strong feeling about which way to turn. For 20 minutes, she let her "internal radar" guide her, weaving her borrowed car in and out of traffic like a native taxi driver. Suddenly, she began to doubt her hunches and slammed on the brakes. She pulled into a gas station to ask directions and learned that her destination was in the next block.

Not so many years ago, intuitive people like Nadel, Stein and England would have kept their hunches under wraps, fearful of ridicule or being labeled weird.

Today they talk openly about their feelings. (Indeed, Nadel has written a book about the subject.) Scientists and scholars are even trying to study the phenomenon, to determine what intuition is and how it works inside the human brain. Intuition often has been often defined as knowing without knowing how you know. It is that flash of knowledge that underlies race-track jackpots, business successes and the "aha!" of many scientific discoveries.

Until recently, intuition played second fiddle to "rational thought," a cooler, more methodical approach to solving problems, one which seems to improve with education and experience.

Now experts say that intuitive and analytical thinking styles aren't really on opposite ends of our mental spectrum, and that intuition, too, can be honed and strengthened.

Intuitive and analytical thought not only can coexist peacefully but can work together more successfully than alone. "Being intuitive does not rule out being analytical," said Robert Chard-Yaron, a San Diego clinical psychologist who has studied intuition in students.

As proof of this new respect, advocates point to the growing acceptance of intuitive thought in the business world. "The Intuitive Manager," a book published in 1986, describes how business leaders use intuition to raise a bid, start a business or develop a new concept. Business magazines are filled with articles, such as "Intuition: What Separates Executives From Managers" and "Stimulating Intuitive Thinking Through Problem Solving." A recent five-day conference in Arizona on intuition attracted professionals from fields as diverse as music, medicine and architecture.

Interest in intuition has become keen in the academic world, proving popular as subjects for dissertation theses and other research studies.

These scholarly works are yielding practical suggestions. Researchers find, for instance, that understanding intuition--and how a partner uses it--can be just the ticket to smooth interpersonal relationships. It also can facilitate classroom learning and other everyday tasks.

Intuition can even be important to those who do not think of themselves as intuitive, who don't ever recall having had a "gut feeling" or "hunch."

In fact, most experts on intuition now argue nearly everyone is intuitive in one way or another. With help, almost anyone can tap into his or her intuitions, and, as with many other skills, improve upon them via simple exercises.

Intuition is a natural mental ability, said Nadel, whose 1990 book is "Sixth Sense: The Whole Brain Book of Intuition, Hunches, Gut Feelings and Their Place in Your Everyday Life" (Prentice Hall Press, $18.95).

"Intuition gives you the whole picture, but not the steps it takes to get there," she explained in an interview. "People who are very logical, who can only see things in steps, have a harder time being intuitive."

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