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Published on September 19, 2018

How to Listen to Your Inner Voice

How to Listen to Your Inner Voice

Five years ago, my husband Jake was training for a triathlon. He had just purchased a new road bike and woke up one sunny Saturday morning to take it out for its first spin.

As we were lying in bed, he looked at me and said, “I don’t have a good feeling about this; I hope something doesn’t happen.”

I suggested if he had a bad feeling, maybe he shouldn’t go. He thought for a moment, his logical mind kicked in, and he replied, ”Of course I should go, it’s fine. I need to train. It will be okay.”

Fast forward two hours later when I got a call from an unknown number. I answered with trepidation, knowing exactly what this call was going to be. A man told he had just found my husband in the middle of the road. He had an accident and the ambulance was on its way. He would stay with him until it was there.

Turns out, he was lucky to have just broken his femur and hip. Jake knew that morning that something wasn’t right. But instead of trusting his intuition and listening to that inner voice, he went anyway. It happens to all of us.

You often hear people say, “Go with your gut”, “Trust your instincts”, “Follow your intuition” and “Listen to your inner voice.” That all sounds great, right? If only it were that easy.

With all the external noise and internal conflict, how do we listen to our inner wisdom?

When you can tune in to that inner voice, you can make better and faster decisions, solve problems with greater ease, and live a more fulfilled and happy life.

But HOW?

I’ve worked with thousands of people over the course of my career and have learned that while this inner voice shows up in a variety of ways for each of us, we ALL have it.

In this article, I’ll outline some tips and strategies for how to identify and listen to your own inner voice. If you can find that voice and truly listen, it can save you a lot of time, energy, angst….and perhaps even a broken hip along the way.

I understand this might be easier for some than others. But regardless of who you are and how you’re wired, I just know, in my gut something will work for you.

What is our inner voice?

Call it Gut. Knowing. Insight. Soul. Innate Wisdom. That’s the voice we’re looking for.

The dictionary defines intuition as, “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.”

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It’s a hunch. A feeling. An inkling. A sense.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”, he explores the inner processes of intuition and instinct, examining how we make snap decisions and judgments. He has numerous examples of people having a hunch, feeling or intuition and how, while there was no hard evidence to back them up at first, science and data eventually backed up what they knew to be true.

Did you know that 95% of our brain activity happens at an unconscious level? Studies from numerous cognitive neuroscientists show that only 5% of our cognitive activity (decisions, emotions, actions, behavior) comes from our conscious mind.

We are taking in information through all our senses all the time – and processing it at an incredible speed. So that intuition, hunch, inkling, sense, voice, is coming from masses of information we can’t even cognitively or consciously process.

Then there’s cognition. “The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.”

This is more about understanding. Problem solving. Discernment. Organizing.

This is the logical, thinking part of your mind. Weighing pros and cons; coming to rational conclusions based on data or other factors. These are the voices of reason which often try to override your instincts.

But I don’t hear ANY voice.

Your inner guidance and wisdom aren’t always a voice in your head. Often, it’s a feeling, a sensation, image, energy or emotion. You might notice it your body. There’s no one best or way to experience your inner voice. The important thing is to identify when and where you feel it.

Is it a feeling in your gut? This is true for many of my clients and for me, personally. You may have heard the gut being called our “second brain.” This is because of the enteric nervous system (ENS). It can operate independently of the brain and spinal cord, and the central nervous system. We really can think with our gut![1]

Celebrity therapist and pioneering hypnotherapy trainer Marisa Peer has this to say: “The stomach is the seat of all emotions and your feelings are the most real thing you have; so the trick is to listen to your feelings. If something feels wrong, your inner voice is saying it is not right for you. If you get the horrible lurch in your stomach, your inner voice is telling you ‘this is wrong’.”

Perhaps it’s in your heart. When I asked a Jessie Gardner of HeySoul.com, a friend and colleague known for her acute sense of self-awareness where her inner voice resides, she said, “My heart for sure. Always my heart.” That’s no surprise, our hearts are very intelligent organs.[2]

“Most people don’t know this, but the heart can feel, think and decide for itself. It has around 40,000 neurons and whole network of neurotransmitters with very specific functions, which make it a perfect extension of the brain. It’s automatic, almost instinctive, as if a mysterious, primal voice were telling us that the center of our true being, our conscience, is located right there.”

Maybe the voice is in your head? When I talked to my Dad about his inner voice, he balked at the idea of feeling it in his gut or heart. Instead, he shared about the voice that comes from the back of his head that talks to him not with him.

Try this: Look, Listen, Feel.

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We experience inner wisdom in different ways. Maybe you relate to one of my examples? Maybe you “see” a picture, vision or image that comes up in your head. Perhaps you feel sensations in your body – energy, emotions or feelings. As we go through examples of how to listen, pay attention to how and where yours shows up.

If this inner voice is so powerful and effective, why don’t we listen?

Logic or reason takes over.

We often have a feeling or a sense of something, just like my husband did, but very quickly, our logical mind kicks in to try to understand and comprehend what we feel. This especially happens when we don’t have data or information to back up our hunch or inner voice. We, and of course, others believe it’s not valid if we can’t justify or explain ourselves. So we push our instincts aside.

A recent client told me about how he ignored his inner voice not long ago. He dropped off his 16-year-old daughter at the mall. As she got out of the car, he thought, “I should tell her to make good choices.” But, because her friends were in the car and he didn’t want to embarrass her, he decided not to. His logic, reason and social graces took over. A few hours later he got a call from the mall police. His daughter had stolen a ring. “I knew I should have told her to make good choices.”

We often override our instincts with logic, reason, desire, and, in this case, societal pressure or social graces. But we don’t have to.

We don’t like the answer.

Sometimes we know what we need to do, but don’t like the answer. This happens with clients all the time when I ask what they sense they should do. They answer, but then reply, “But I don’t want to do that!”

Once, a client told me the story of her wedding, and a knowing that she simply ignored. As she walked down the aisle, she knew that she should not marry the man standing in front of her. Truthfully, she knew long before that day. But she didn’t want to hurt his feelings, call off the wedding, let friends and family down. So, she went through with it. Inevitably, that marriage ended in divorce – and this story is all too common.

We don’t know how to distinguish, hear or listen to it.

That’s what the following strategies are for! Let’s dive in.

Here are 9 different ways to tune into your innate wisdom and inner voice:

1. Find Quiet.

“Be still. The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” – Ram Dass

There are lots of ways to find quiet in the busyness of life. Turn off the phone, shut off the TV. Get some time and space to yourself.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you? Yes, I’m going to recommend you meditate. I know meditation seems to have become the panacea for everything that ails you, and there a good reason for that: it works. It’s one of the fastest, easiest and most effective ways to tap into your inner voice. Meditation aides us to connecting with our true self. Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati said “If you quiet the mind, the soul will speak.” I completely agree.

Another great way to find quiet is to be in nature. Why? Because there’s a connection. It’s grounding. You’re able to tap into the “oneness” of everything. This can shift things energetically. Want the double whammy? Meditate in nature.

You might find your quiet in nature, meditation, yoga, exercise, prayer. Whatever it is, find your quiet.

    2. Push Pause.

    Most of us are running a hundred miles an hour in every direction. It’s hard to hear anything at that pace. Have you ever been driving down the freeway with the windows down, listening to music, when the person next to you starts talking. Can you hear them? Of course not. It’s too loud. There’s too much going on. You need to roll up the windows, press pause on the music and stop.

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    Our inner voice is speaking to us all the time, but sometimes it’s just too loud or we’re too busy to hear it. Pressing “pause” allows to tap into our innate wisdom.

    When I was studying Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Mike Bundrant at the iNLP Center gave me a fantastic tool that I share with almost every client. It’s called the AHA Solution.[3] It’s often used to identify patterns of self-sabotage, but in this case, we can use it to listen to our inner voice.

    Next time you have a feeling, a sense, a hunch or intuition, follow this protocol.

    A. Aware: Be aware of what you are feeling. Pay attention and notice.

    H. Halt: This is the pause button. Think about the ways you can respond to what you’re hearing or noticing. You could listen to your inner voice, ask more questions and seek to hear it further. Or, you could choose to ignore it completely and let your cognitive mind take over and convince you it’s okay.

    A. Act: Now that you have options, decide which action you will take.

    3. Invite your inner wisdom to show up.

    If you want someone to come to your house, you’ve got to invite them over, right? Try taking this approach with your inner voice. While it’s always running in the background, it may have taken a backseat because it can’t seem to get through all the noise. It’s going to speak up more often when it knows you’re open and listening. Take a moment now and invite your inner wisdom to show up. Let it know you are ready and willing to listen. Wait to see what happens.

    4. Ask your Body.

    I love this one; our bodies are so dang smart. They will tell us if we ask and listen. But too often we have disconnected from sensations in our body to push through in the interest of productivity.

    A few months back I was working with a client who came to our appointment with a massive headache. She stopped midway through our session and asked if I would mind if she went and took a couple Advil. Of course I said it was no problem, but asked if she was interested to understand the cause of her headache first. She nodded.

    I had her close her eyes, take a couple deep breaths and ask her head, “What do you need from me right now?” The answer? “I need rest.” She burst into tears. She was exhausted but felt she couldn’t stop. She was leaving for a trip in a couple days, had her son’s birthday coming up and felt completely swamped. However, when she asked the question, her inner wisdom knew what she needed.

    Try this at home. Next time you get something that’s bothering you physically, stop and be still for a moment. Ask that part: What do you need from me? What’s this about? Or What’s going on? And then wait and listen for an answer. This might sound a little out there, but trust me, it works.

    5. Put it in your ‘slow cooker’.

    When my Dad has a big problem he’s trying to solve or an important decision to make, he thinks about it before bed. I realize this might go against all advice regarding thinking about stressful things before bed, but that’s just the thing. He isn’t thinking about it or trying to solve it. He just puts the problem in the back of his mind for the night.

    In the shower the next morning, solutions start bubbling up. These are usually spoken to him as if someone is talking to him. “What about this? Why don’t you do this?” It’s usually a very simple answer he hadn’t yet considered. And his response back to himself is frequently, “Why didn’t I think of that?” But he did!

    This goes back to the 95% unconscious part that’s running in the background. When he stops thinking, his mind stops racing and puts the problem in the back of his mind, the unconscious part of him comes up with all sorts of great solutions. A colleague of mine used to refer to this as putting things in her ‘slow cooker’.

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    6. Flip a Coin.

    Have you ever flipped a coin, only to decide to do the exact opposite of what the coin said? Flipping a coin instigates our instinctive response because it gives us something to react to. When writing this article, My 7-year-old daughter was sitting at dinner one night, deciding who she wanted to put her to bed. She started doing the game, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.” Each time she finished, she landed on my husband. So, she went again. And again. Until six attempts later when she landed on me and replied, “I choose Mummy!” When a decision is taken out of our hands and happens to us, it gives us something to react to.

    Try this with a decision you’re trying to make. Flip a coin. Are you happy and ready to go with that answer? Or do you want to go against the decision and try again? Well then, you already know what you want, don’t you?

    7. Eat the decision.

    I just had to include this one. I know it might sound a bit odd, but bear with me. Years ago, I read about a CEO who made all his big decisions this way. Let’s say he was considering acquiring another company. He would sit down and imagine he was eating that decision. Then he would stop and wait and see how he felt. Did he feel energized and alive or sick to his stomach? I love this idea and have tried it myself. It allows you to get out of your head and go into your body to make the decision. This might not be for everyone, but maybe it’s for you!

    8. Take a step.

    Sometimes you don’t know until you’re “in it.” When you’re faced with two choices, make the best choice with the information you have and what you feel is best, and then start moving. You’ll know if that choice is really right for you as you’ll feel good as you move forward. You’ll know it’s wrong if you continue to feel heaviness or resistance. The more you move forward the clearer the signal will become.

    9. Get some help!

    Whether it be a best friend (who knows how to listen and ask the right questions), a coach or therapist. Having scheduled time to tune in and having someone ask the right questions allows you tap in to what you already know. You already have the answers within you, sometimes you just need a little help to uncover them.

    Now what?

    Like with anything in life, practice makes permanent. It takes time to grow and nurture your inner voice, especially if you’ve ignored it or pushed it to the side for some time now. The more you listen and hone your skills, the better and faster you will become at hearing and listening to your intuition, your gut, your innate wisdom.

    Play with the strategies above and see what works. Better yet, as you read through the ideas, identify which ones you felt or sensed would be good to try. Try those first.

    Practice on small things first, like what you want to eat, what to wear or whether you want to attend that party Saturday night. You don’t have to start with major life decisions, whether you should buy that house or if you should take that job.

    Then:

    • Notice when and where your feel your inner wisdom.
    • Notice when you feel a pull, have a hunch or instinct about something.
    • Notice when you have that sense and your mind tries to override it.
    • Notice when you start talking yourself out of something or start talking yourself into something.

    Need more evidence that this will work for you? Think about a time in your life when you recognized and listened to the inner voice – what was the outcome? Now, think about a time when you heard that voice, but for some reason, ignored it or pushed it aside. What was the outcome then? You, know, that time when you felt like you shouldn’t do something, but did anyway? Or had a bad feeling but kept moving forward?

    One last thing…

    Pay attention. Next time you have a bad feeling, a sense that something isn’t right, an inkling or a pit in your stomach, pay attention.

    Following your inner voice will lead you to the truth of what’s best for you. Tuning into your innate wisdom will help you make better and faster life decisions, solve problems with greater ease, and live a life of greater happiness, success and fulfillment.

    In the words of Madeleine L’Engle, “Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.”

      Featured photo credit: hiva sharifi via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Scientific American: Gut Feelings
      [2] Exploring Your Mind: The Heart Has Neurons Too
      [3] Mike Bundrant: The A-H-A Solution

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      Tracy Kennedy

      Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

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      Last Updated on June 13, 2019

      How to Attain Self Realization (Step-By-Step Guide for a Better You)

      How to Attain Self Realization (Step-By-Step Guide for a Better You)

      Chances are, you’re busy hustling between the 40 hours a week you need to work, the family you need to provide for, and the bills that need to be paid.

      As the years pass by, you’ve begun to feel the burnout from all the needs and expectations required of you. You don’t feel like you are in control over your own life. In fact, it feels like the circumstances in your life are controlling you.

      What if there was a way for you to be able to have better control of your life and create all the positive changes you’ve been aching for?

      This can be done through self-realization.

      You’ve probably heard of this concept before, but you’re not really sure what it really is or how it can help you.

      I’m going to dive into what exactly self-realization is and the exact steps you can take to attain it for yourself. Read on if you want to learn how to unlock your potential and find a way to decrease your stress and anxiety, and gain crystal clear clarity about who you are and what you’re capable of.

      What Is Self-Realization?

      Self-realization has a few big definitions. In the Western world, it’s generally defined as the activation of one’s full potential of talents and abilities.

      How Psychologists Define Self-Realization

      Humanistic psychology also follows a similar train of thought about self-realization.

      Psychologist Abraham Maslow has named people he considered to have reached self-realization such as Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to name a few. His famous hierarchy of needs theory states in order to achieve self-realization (or in this case, Maslow uses the term “self-actualization”),[1] one needs to have a certain set of needs met before achieving it:[2]

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        For example, self-realization cannot be achieved if you are struggling financially and too caught up in worrying about how to pay for the rent and provide food for your family. Unfortunately, this is usually the case for many people, which leaves little opportunity for them to maximize their abilities.

        How Religions Define Self-Realization

        In religions, the concept of self-realization is taken from a different perspective altogether. Connecting with your truest self has a lot to do with transcending your own mind and body. This self is often considered as an eternal being that is not confined to the physical space that your mind and body take up. Many recognize this part of yourself as the soul.

        To put all of these definitions together, self-realization is ultimately learning the answer to the foundational question, “Who am I?”

        The answer lies from understanding that you are not your emotions or your thoughts. Who you really are is not even your body or your mind. These are all things you as a self experience, but they are not you.

        And when you are too caught up in these things that are not yours, that’s when you fall victim to and get stuck in your negative experiences such as stress, anxiety and fear.

        While your thoughts, feelings, and physical body always changes, you do not.

        I know this concept can be a bit confusing to understand, so here’s a great video that explores who you really are explained by Prince EA. It was a video made in response to a bizarre interview session with Comedian Jim Carrey at the red carpet interview at the 2017 New York Fashion Week.

        Here’s the video:

        Why Self-Realization Matters to You

        How often are you distracted, lost in your thoughts, or overwhelmed by difficult emotions?

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        Being in the present is more difficult than ever with the technology today. People are often buried in their smartphones or laptops while others around are craving their attention.

        Most people spend so little time in the present. They’re usually either hurt and having trouble letting go of their past, or busy worrying about their futures:[3]

        “People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.”

        Here are some amazing benefits to self-realization:

        • The ability to monitor your emotions. Rather than being controlled by your emotions, you can now use your observations about them during the experience to learn how to effectively handle things like fear, anxiety and stress. Self-realizations helps you do this by giving you the skill of letting go of debilitating feelings and taking hold of the empowering ones instead.
        • Improved focus and concentration. Guided by your own inner goals and values, self-realization helps you easily identify when you are entering into distractions and eliminate them. By getting rid of the meaningless things in your life, you stay committed to what matters most and you begin to see real results as you reach your fullest potential.
        • Increased confidence, self-awareness and self-esteem. By being connected deeply to your truest self, self-realization frees you from any insecurities, worries, and low sense of self worth that you feel tangled up in by helping you really grasp the truth that you are not defined by them.
        • Becoming more accepting of yourself and of other people. You are able to be more authentic and express emotions freely and clearly. As a result, you are able to form deeper relationships and spend more time connecting with people rather than trying to impress them.

        When people don’t have a strong sense of their own self, they get easily swayed to live life the way other people tell them to live it.

        The truth of this has been shown through Bronnie Ware’s famous work, which has shown that one of the top regrets of people who are dying was:[4]

        “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

        There can be tons of pressure whether it’s from work, society, and even friends and family for you to be a certain way. Maybe your rough upbringing instilled a strong need for other’s approval in you so you do what others expect of you. Maybe you’ve stopped trusting people because of your struggles with letting go of the thoughts and experiences that hurt you.

        Whatever the situation, self-realization gives you the safe space you need to heal and grow.

        How to Start Developing Self-Realization

        1. Start Meditating Regularly

        Aside from all the scientific evidence that shows the health benefits of meditation, it is also a prime way to achieve self-realization.

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        One of my favorite apps that guide you through meditation is Headspace.

        I particularly love this app because it is very straightforward without all the woo-woo types of things you normally associate with meditation. It does a great job of demystifying what meditation really is and how it can benefit you to achieving self-realization.

        Here’s a great explanation of what meditation does for you:

        You can get the basic meditation guidance for free or pay for a premium version for access to more specific meditations that improve things like self esteem, creativity and relationships.

        In case you don’t want to download the app, here is the simple meditation practice you can do right now:

        1. Sit comfortably on a chair.
        2. Start by leaving your eyes open with a relaxed soft focus.
        3. Take about a minute to take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
        4. After a few deep breaths, gently close your eyes while you are breathing out.
        5. Resume normal breathing.
        6. Take a moment to pause and enjoy being present in the moment with having nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to check.
        7. Take a moment to feel the pressure of your body on the chair beneath you, the feet on the floor and the hands and the arms just resting on the legs.
        8. Gently bring the focus back to your breathing.
        9. As you sit there beginning to notice the breath and the body with its rising and falling sensation, don’t try and stop your thoughts. Simply allow them to just come and go.
        10. At this point, the only thing you need to do is when you’ve realized your mind has wandered, gently bring the focus back to your breath again.
        11. Gently bring the attention back to your body, back to that feeling of contact to your chair and the space around you and when ready, gently open your eyes again.

        Even if it’s only 5-10 minutes a day, learning to train your mind to be present is so important to your journey towards self-realization. You need to take a step back from the craziness of life and recompose yourself to be present for the things that matter most.

        Another great method that can be used to achieve self-realization that involves a bit more body strength is yoga. While there are many variations of yoga and has also become a very popular form of exercise in western culture, its original purpose served as a meditative practice to achieve the higher level of consciousness that comes from self-realization.

        You can access plenty of free Yoga channels on Youtube or join a gym to get started.

        2. Make Time for Self-Realization Every Day

        I know what you’re thinking.

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        “I don’t have time for this!”

        I beg to differ.

        About 40 percent of the things you do in a day don’t involve you actively making a decision. Instead, it is actually a habit.

        Out of all of your habits, there are probably a handful of bad ones. If you can observe your daily routines, there is a simple way to change a bad habit into a good one, which is to start making changes to your environment to make it easier for you to change your habits.

        The idea is rather than trying to squeeze in more time to do something, simply alter a daily habit you have into something else.

        For example, let’s say you start your morning by brewing your coffee and sitting down on the dining table for 20 minutes to browse the internet to catch up on the news.

        The news is usually full of negative information, so why not spend those 20 minutes in meditation instead?

        One easy way to make this change is to change your environment up by keeping your laptop and phone in a different room so you don’t have immediate access to it when you sit down on the dining table. You make it easier on yourself to spend time meditating rather than staring at a screen.

        Want some more great tips on breaking bad habits? You can try out Lifehack CEO’s secret Control Alternate Delete method, which was the method he used to break 3 bad habits in less than 2 months.

        Final Thoughts

        Self-realization doesn’t happen overnight. It will take some time and practice, but if you turn the practices into a habit, you’ll be guaranteed to get there. Once you do, you’ll finally feel like you are in more control over your life and be able to get yourself to the next level.

        Now that you have a better understanding of the importance and benefits of self-realization, why not take a moment to put everything down and give it a try?

        More About Self-Realization

        Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

        Reference

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