Do you trust your gut instead of rationalizing your way through problems? Are you likely to stick with your first instincts about people rather than waiting to make character judgments? Do you ever question the beliefs of others because you had a hunch that you were right?

If you answered yes to two or more of the above, chances are, you're an intuitive person. And according to experts, understanding how you use intuition can improve your decision-making skills, enhance your interpersonal relationships, and even boost your health.

What Is Intuition?

Intuition has been linked to a greater psychological awareness and compared to a sixth sense; often, it's something most people feel but frequently ignore. Intuition is that first inkling of doubt, apprehension, or excitement that you can push away or replace with reason. And in some cases, it may provide insight that's more helpful than the knowledge attained through rational thought.

Anthropologists believe that intuition may have developed as a survival mechanism that enabled humans to survive during prehistoric times; for example, a strong intuition would allow a person to decide at a glance if a stranger was angry or friendly. However, others have spiritual explanations for its existence. Some people think it's a psychic ability. Some believe it's a message from a higher power. Others just chalk it up to gut, instinct, or luck. But whatever the cause, intuition is rooted in the subconscious mind and can be helpful in our daily lives.

The Benefits of Intuition

Several studies have shown that if we deliberately think about our preferences and decisions we can actually make them worse. So while it's good to contemplate choices, it's just as important to trust your inner voice.

Although intuition can help you to see the big picture in situations, experts are quick to point out that this doesn't mean you should act impulsively. The best approach is to balance your intuition with a healthy dose of reason. To get started, rely on a combination of the two to navigate your way through the following situations:

  • Your health: People often visit their physicians knowing that something is wrong, only to have tests results that indicate everything's fine. You know your body better than anyone so if you feel your doctor's assessment is wrong, be proactive and ask for more tests, or seek out a second opinion. Digging deeper could save your life. In fact, a 2005 study published in a nursing journal found that even health-care professionals rely on intuition. According to the study, experienced nurses often use past circumstances and their perception of a current patient's symptoms to help them make split-second, sometimes life-or-death decisions. The nurses didn't have time to a rational decision and had to rely on their intuition to provide appropriate care.
  • Your career: Your intuition could help make your career more successful and financially lucrative. In a study conducted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, hundreds of business managers were tested for intuitive ability. Of the managers who had doubled their company profits in the last five years, more than 90 percent had high intuitive ability. In another study of managers at several leading U.S. corporations, researchers found that top managers in every sample group tested higher in intuitive skill than middle- and lower-level managers.
  • Your social life: When it comes to people, it's important to focus not only on what they're saying, but also on body language and other nonverbal clues. If your intuition tells you that something is wrong, proceed with caution--doing so could help you avoid a sticky situation later on. Often our first reaction to someone is indicative of our long-term relationship with that person. A Harvard University study asked students to view three 10-second videos of professions speaking to a class and then rate them on confidence, energy, and warmth. The researchers found that the students who viewed only short clips gave the professors almost identical rating as students who had completed an entire semester-long course with the same professors.