How Your Intuition Can Help You Make Smart Decisions

An expert weighs in on when and how to trust your gut instincts.


When times are stressful, every decision can seem monumental. It can be challenging to make large choices, like whether to leave a secure job for a risky one, but also to make smaller decisions, like whether to have chicken or fish for dinner. “Often we intuitively know what we want to do, but we end up overthinking and get stuck in uncertainty,” Inna Khazan, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, tells Thrive. The best thing to do in those moments, Khazan says, is to use your knowledge, experience, and yes, your intuition, to make a firm decision and trust that it’s the best one you could’ve made at the time. 

But this is easier said than done. Here, four actionable tips to help you access your intuition and make decisions with less stress: 

Make big decisions when you are relaxed

It’s never advisable to make important decisions when emotions are running high, Khazan, author of Biofeedback and Mindfulness in Everyday Life, says. When we’re anxious, angry, sad, or worried, our instinct is often to get rid of the feeling right away, but the short-term solutions we find don’t always benefit us in the long run. Instead, we’ll get the best intuitive guidance when we’re relaxed. “Taking a few slow, easy breaths will help your nervous system settle and if the answer is there, it will reveal itself,” Khazan says. 

Write down the pros and cons

“When you can’t make up your mind about what to do, jotting down the pros and cons can be helpful as a visual guide,” Khazan says. “It will allow you to look at the decision more objectively — what could go right, and what could go wrong. It allows your mind to take in the full picture.” Having done that, just trust your gut.

Do your research

Contrary to how it’s sometimes portrayed, trusting your intuition doesn’t mean abandoning your critical thinking skills. If you’re unsure about your gut instincts, you can seek out advice from trusted friends, family, or professionals, Khazan suggests. But while taking their perspective in, be sure to remember that your opinion is the one that matters most. After all, the decision you make will primarily affect you. By doing your due diligence, Khazan adds, you can feel confident that your intuition is guiding you towards an informed decision.

Practice using your intuition 

You can hone and strengthen your intuition by practicing with small decisions, like which restaurant to eat at. “Give yourself permission not to overthink small decisions and go with what seems right at first,” Khazan suggests. Try not to worry about whether you made the “right choice,” and just accept the choice for what it is. If that feeling of worry does come, simply sit with it, and practice becoming comfortable with the uncertainty. Once you’ve had practice trusting your intuition in low-stakes situations, you’ll feel more confident harnessing it during monumental moments.

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