“Ok, from now on I won’t be angry at you about that.”
“I swear from here on out, I’ll be more appreciative.”
“Trust me, starting now I’ll stop being irritated all the time.”
In my experience, an increase in such pledges to feel a certain way “from now on” is a sure sign that a partnership is on the rocks. Such pledges are attempts to manually override intuition, and there’s only so much hope for overriding intuition.
The problem with manual overrides is that they require chronic, 24/7 will power, and will power isn’t up to the task. Let me explain with an obvious example first: If my gut intuition is to eat Oreos and I have a pack lying around, I might be able to override my gut early and maybe even often. And still, those Oreos will be gone in no time.
The Oreos beckon relentlessly: “Eat me C’mon eat me Oh do eat me Please You know you want to Come on!” Will power responds intermittently: “No…Absolutely not…Definitely no…OK one, but no more…Well, actually just one more, but then that’s it for sure…Except OK, one more…” and the Oreos win.
Compared to my gut, my will power is a weakling. By extension, in relationship if something is irritating me, then pledging to conscript will power to override my irritation is just not that promising. You can override all the gut impulses some of the time, but not all of the gut impulses all of the time.
You may wonder if the gut impulse to eat Oreos has anything to do with intuition. Some of us define intuition as our higher self, the almighty gut that knows the right thing to do all the time. By this definition, if I eat too many Oreo’s it’s because I’m ignoring my intuition, which knows better. I have friends who claim that the only time they make mistakes is when they ignore their intuition.
I don’t think that’s a realistic or practical definition of intuition. Sure, with selective recollection you can attribute all successes to listening to your gut and all failures to ignoring it, but really our guts, sixths senses or intuitions are a bit more unruly than that. Intuition is best defined as the source of our natural or spontaneous responses. They’re not God or God given sources of genius and perfection. Still I don’t mean to disparage them either. They’re actually admirably keen in their modest wisdom, honed by trial and error in the school of hard knocks–eons of biological evolution, centuries of cultural evolution, and decades of personal learning from direct and vicarious experience. Still, as any student of human folly knows, there’s room for improvement.
Malcolm Gladwell is one such student of human folly, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it judging his big book by its cover: Blink: The power of thinking by not thinking is an exploration of intuition. I suspect that a lot of people bought it because it promised to affirm their sense that their intuitions were God-smart. Their intuition told them that the word “power” in the subtitle was synonymous with genius, and Gladwell does indeed start the book with stories in which gut-sense proved right. By book’s end though, it’s clear that intuition’s test scores are mixed. Power in the title refers to tenacity. Intuition rules.
I respect intuition’s modest wisdom and its formidable tenacity. I think there are only two basic ways to reliably control a bad intuition. One is to steer clear of whatever triggers it. I don’t bring Oreos into the house, and to some extent I steer clear of things that persistently irritate or anger me.
The other is a slower process, not manually overriding intuition but retraining it with convincing evidence. The part of instinct I can retrain we sometimes call second nature. In other words, we can teach intuition-that old dog of ours–new tricks.
Retraining intuition is what clinical psychology has been mostly about all along, from addiction management to meds, from psychoanalysis to couples counseling. Before therapy, the main prescription was “By God, pull yourself together, man!” a call to action for will power as if it weren’t the weenie it is against the formidable power of intuition. Therapists know better. You can’t beat intuition, but you can train it.
In the next article, which is up at my site already, you’ll find a mercifully and uncharacteristically short article that’s a follow up to this one (I have this bad intuition I’m trying to retrain–a tendency to want to say everything possibly relevant in a single article.). The next article is on the process of retraining intuition, turning “know that” into “know how.”