Intuitive thinking, commonly known as “Gut feelings” is an undervalued thought process in today’s society. I say “thought process” because despite the nickname, and common perception as a potentially reckless motivation to action, it comes from your brain just as much as analytical thinking does. Even though it gets a bad rap, intuitive thinking is often the first indication that something is wrong, or will soon be wrong, in the world around you. Listening to gut feelings might force you to behave unusually in public, but if you’re weighing “someone I’ll never see again thinks I’m strange/rude/stupid” against “I really think something bad is about to go down”, it should be pretty obvious which direction is the wisest. But lets get back to thought process, and how that gets us to decide whether to act on feelings in public.
First, lets define the two channels of thought: Intuition is a much more ancient process than analysis, a valuable remnant of our evolutionary past that nearly all animal life shares with us. It rapidly and subconsciously processes incoming information, comparing it to all of your collective life experience, and any instinctual thoughts or feelings you might have, then uses that to predict what is most likely to happen next. Because of this, things you are more experienced with will grant you stronger gut feelings, and will usually turn out to be correct more often. Usually intuition presents itself to you not as a conclusion you’ve arrived at, but increased muscle tension, a sudden sense of unease, or a burst of anxiety. In this way, intuitive thinking is the keener, wiser end of the “Fight or flight” knife that cuts through all the BS and gives you a direction. This presentation as a literal feeling has led to both the name “gut feeling” and the disrespect it’s acquired vs analytical thinking.
The downside of intuition is that your life experience may not have prepared you for the exact situation at hand, or your own cognitive biases may jump into the middle, and dilute your intuition to a degree that limits its usefulness. Imagine seeing a nervous, shifty guy who is well-groomed and wearing a $5,000 suit at Safeway, fidgeting with his waistline and looking around anxiously. Your intuition may tell you in less than a second that he’s behaving strangely, and might present a threat, but then maybe your brain jumps in and reassures you that dudes who wear suits that cost more than your mortgage aren’t violent in public. In this way, your life experience and both cognitive and cultural biases are working against you trusting your intuition that this guy might go all “Falling Down”.
Analytical thinking is a slow, deliberate process that takes in all available information and presents it to you for you to mull over, compare various elements for competing validity, and consciously arrive at a conclusion. In the above example, someone with a lot of experience with criminal offenders, or just an active self-defense mindset might observe the fancy man pacing around, fiddling with his belt for a minute or two, and through active situational analysis, arrive at the conclusion that the guy is seconds away from mag-dumping in the cereal aisle.
The reality may just be that this poor bastard just lost his wife in a car accident and he’s losing his shit while trying to make sure his kid has their favorite breakfast tomorrow, but the takeaway here is that moving away from him, perhaps behind cover, or exiting the building entirely, is not a crazy move. Your intuition can clue you in, but it can also be wrong. Your analysis might derive the truth, or lead you away from it by leaning on conformation bias like “nobody shoots up a Safeway, least of all a rich guy”. The decision is still yours to make, no matter what thought process leads you to it, and if you are more worried about seeming rude, or weird yourself, you won’t actually make a decision. Instead you coast through alarm bells that could just as easily make random strangers think oddly of you, or wind up saving your life.