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Why trusting your intuition may keep you alive

A good friend of mine who is incredibly highly trained in martial arts used to talk of the test he had to take in Japan. He was required to kneel in a hall, along with others taking the same test. Behind them was a person armed with a staff, whose job it was to strike the kneeling student at any point during the allotted time. The student’s test was to move at the appropriate time to avoid being struck. Move too early or be struck by the staff and you fail. The purpose of this exercise was to test how in tune you were with your intuition and whether you could trust it. He passed.

The purpose of the story is to highlight the importance of listening to our intuition. Intuition can be defined as understanding or knowing without conscious recourse to thought, observation or reason, and it may keep you alive. Interestingly the word Intuition comes from the word ‘tueor’ meaning to guard or protect.

So often in my career when dealing with a victim of an assault or sexual offence, I heard the sentence ‘I just knew there was something wrong about him/her’ What they were telling me was that their intuition was telling them there was something about the individual that stood out, and as such was an heightened threat…and had they listened to their intuition they may have avoided the harm caused.

The trouble is that increasingly we ignore our intuition, inner voice or whatever else you want to call it. The reason is often that we don’t want to appear rude and wrongly feel that there is no evidence for why the person is causing us to question their actions. This can happen when someone offers to help us with something, such as helping with carrying something, or is asking too many questions. What our intuition are screaming is ‘tell him thanks, but no thanks…and actually can you leave me alone’ However, as stated, we don’t want to appear rude, so we ignore all the signals and enable them to carry on.

In May 2010 Stephen Timms MP was attacked and was stabbed in his constituency surgery by Roshonara Choudhry, a British Islamic extremist, in an attempt to kill him. Interestingly, when she was invited into his office and Stephen held out his hand to shake hers, she offered her left hand rather than her right hand. The purpose was twofold, firstly to open up his body to provide a better target and secondly, she was holding knife on her right hand ready to attack. He strategy was successful. When I met with Stephen, I asked him about that specific action and he admitted that when she held out her left hand, he though ‘that’s odd, I wonder why she is doing that. However, not wanting to offend, he recalls thinking ‘perhaps it’s a religious of cultural thing’ and ‘maybe she’s hurt her right hand’ ‘It just didn’t seem right’ In fact, his intuition was screaming at him that she was a threat…and they were right.

Interestingly, women are far more attuned to assessing personal risk and their surroundings. This is because they live their lives very differently to men. They are always looking out for threats and with good reason. The problem again is that despite being much better than men at being aware they then dismiss what they see, hear and most importantly feel.

If, much like the character in ‘Liar Liar’ we said what we were thinking, if only to ourselves, we might find that we will be safer and correct more times that we are wrong. And for the record, better to be wrong and offend someone that dismiss our inbuilt natural alarm system and end up the victim of a serious crime or dead.

Animals don’t have the same problem. They either individually or as a group see a threat and give off a signal. They respond to that. The hair of their backs goes up and they take notice. We also have the expression about the hairs on the back of our necks going up but fail to take that seriously and listen or trust ourselves. I will let my old friend explain this better with the wisdom that a lifetime of studying ‘eastern arts’ has given him.

He told me ‘with regard to intuition, I suspect that many of these things occur through the agency of the limbic brain (sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain) and are an innate ability that all creatures possess. It seems like the trick is more unlearning what prevents us from doing these things, rather than having to learn to do them’

So next time something doesn’t feel right, the voice inside your head is trying to warn you or the hairs on the back of your neck stand up! Listen, reflect and take notice. It may just save your life!

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