By Kay Bretz
Throughout my life, I learned that being rational was paramount. My parents taught me how to make fact-based decisions; working for McKinsey took problem-solving to the next level. Yet, I barely developed any capacity to trust my gut-feeling and mostly disregarded my intuition; it appeared to be too ‘fluffy’.
It was in my mid-thirties when I took a coincidental right turn at my garden gate and realised that what got me here wouldn’t get me much further. It was at a junction where I had always turned left, and I began to realise that I was closing myself off to unpredictability and unfamiliar territory. There was an exciting world right at my doorstep waiting to be explored. Metaphorically speaking, I kept ‘turning right’ and discovered the power of our intuitive capabilities – first through sports, then in business.
The power of intuitive decisions
My well-measured, fact-based approach had gotten me to a decent hobby runner, yet it was learning to trust my intuition which catapulted me into becoming one of the best ultrarunners worldwide. When I represented Australia at the 24-hour world championships in 2019, I was in peak fitness, but the pressure of performing on the big stage almost destroyed my race. It was my intuition that saved me multiple times.
We had to run for 24 hours around a 1.5-kilometre loop, covering as much distance as possible. Smart pacing was the key to success, and I relied on my GPS watch to guide me. From the very start, my watch malfunctioned, and I was staring down the barrel of having a terrible race. All problem-solving efforts failed, including restarting the watch. It was not how I had pictured my debut of wearing green and gold, and I could feel my anxiety rising. Out of nowhere, an inner voice claimed that this was a huge opportunity: ‘Switch off the watch and run freely. This is just another right turn.’ Instead of controlling my pace, I opted to trust my pacing abilities. Consistently, I ploughed through the field and made my way from 102nd position to finish as 11th male and get awarded the Australian Ultra Performance of the Year Award.
How to strengthen our intuitive abilities
The good news is that any of us can develop the ability to tap into our intuition. Especially in business, many of us spend a lot of time overthinking and worrying. We are run by high-frequency beta brainwaves, which allow us to apply logic, solve complex problems and multitask, but they can also result in stress. To develop a high-performance mind, it is essential to also access lower-frequency brainwaves: alpha waves are present during one-pointed focus, theta allows creativity and ‘aha moments’ and delta accesses our intuition.
Through regular mindfulness practice, such as meditation, we can learn to slow down our minds and access different levels of consciousness. While the practice is not difficult in itself, it does require discipline and consistency. For beginners I recommend starting with 5-15 minutes per day; keep the entry barriers low. Whether you use an app to guide you or join a course, practising regularly will lead to your inner wisdom emerging more often.
Possibilities opening up through intuition
Completely new possibilities open up when we widen our consciousness. Leaders who master not only the skill of problem-solving but who also allow breakthrough ideas to emerge can lead their teams and organisations to new heights. We are capable of so much more when we slow down our minds. Unexpectedly, my running performance over the 24-hour format improved by 22% within an 18-month period: from 212 to almost 260 kilometres. It happened after two decades of long-distance running and was certainly not the result of physical running training. It was the result of training my mind to deal better with the unexpected.
Any major challenge, whether in sports or business, will throw the unexpected at us, asking us to deal with much more than we seem to be capable of. When reaching the limits of traditional problem-solving, it is time to take our leadership to the next level. By practising stillness and becoming more present we will find a better balance between fact-based and intuitive decision making. Then, it is only a matter of time for the seemingly impossible to unfold.
Kay Bretz, author of Turning Right: Inspire the Magic (Major Street Publishing, $32.95), is a facilitator of transformation, executive coach and inspirational speaker.