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The Difference Between Intuition and Instinct

Updated on April 5, 2017
Cristen Rodgers profile image

Cristen Rodgers is a spiritual author, blogger, and essayist at Journeys in Spirit.

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Intuition is like the north star of the human soul - an ever-present inner guide that helps us navigate the different landscapes of life. It’s that impossible inner knowing, that soft spiritual nudge, telling you to go this way, read that book, speak to these people, or follow that road.

It’s a feeling that sits in your gut like a well portioned homemade meal – complete, comforting, and so nourishing that you can almost feel the nutrients breaking down and getting sent off to various organs and tissues in your body. You know it’s right and that somehow it’s working in your favor, even if you’re not sure how or to what end.

Feeling that intuitive nudge is simple, unavoidable even, but actually following it requires at least a little bit of faith - faith in yourself, in divinity, synchronicity, fate, destiny, or some power greater than your conscious mind – because, though intuition might tell you which way to turn, it usually doesn’t offer you a glimpse of the entire map.

Frustrating as it might at times seem, there’s a reason that you can’t see the whole picture. There’s a reason that you’re only given a few, select dots to connect. You’re being offered a special kind of grace. Not seeing the whole picture allows you to make giant leaps in your development, awareness, and understanding, and to take shortcuts to your goals by bypassing the things that you don’t yet consciously understand or that you just aren’t ready or able to see, the things that would otherwise interrupt your progress.

All you really need is a bit of cognitive flexibility, a willingness to trust in things unseen and to act according to something less quantifiable than reason. If you heed that call, grace will lift you like an invisible upwind just as you step out over the unknown and it will carry you to precisely where you need to be – but it’s important to understand the difference between true intuition and simple instinct before taking that leap.

Although people often use the words interchangeably, instinct and intuition actually serve very different purposes and can lead you down very different paths. Differentiating between the two is important but it isn’t always easy, because they can feel a lot alike. Both instinct and intuition can rise up from seemingly nowhere and both can feel mysteriously urgent - as if there’s no way you should know whatever it is you’re picking up and the fact that you do know it means it must be important. That sense of knowing something but not being able to explain how you know it is probably the biggest reason that they can be so easy to confuse.

These similarities aside, the two couldn’t be more different. True intuition arises from within the depths of your soul. It speaks in the language of the spirit – the language of love, flow, hope, and forward movement. Instinct, on the other hand, isn’t a spiritual sense but a physiological one. It comes from and serves the flesh and speaks the language of survival – fight or flight, judgement, avoidance, aggression, and fear.

This key difference is how you can tell them apart. Whereas instinct speaks in terms of resistance, intuition speaks in terms of flow. Intuition will urge you to go this way, do this thing, or approach that person. If something isn’t right for you, intuition won’t push against it. Instead, it will simply redirect you towards something else. Instinct, on the other hand, pushes back. It resists, fears, or judges what you perceive as wrong rather than beckoning you towards what’s right.

It’s important to pay attention to these differences. While intuition demands courage and trust, instinct is best met with prudence. This is because instinct is little more than a hardwired impulse based on mechanisms, assumptions, and expectations learned early in life. It might lead you somewhere that feels safe, protected, and comfortable, but because it’s based on old information, it can’t take you anywhere beyond where you’ve already been.

Instinct also tends to be a bit short-sighted. While the world may look like it’s made up of matter, just beneath that outer surface are layers upon layers of information, energy, and activity. These layers are constantly interacting with one another, like the gears and cogs in an analog clock, to create the movements you see on the surface. Because instinct is a physical rather than a mystical sense, it can only react to whatever is happening on the surface without an understanding of the mechanics that put those things into motion.

Intuition is a more intelligent, more complete, broader sense. It doesn’t come from the mind or the body but straight from the spirit – and the spirit knows and can work with what’s happening beneath the surface. It lives beyond the limits of time and distance. It has no fear of the new, unknown, and different. When the spirit moves you, you can trust that all variables are already known and understood, even those you can’t see, so it can be trusted to take you to whatever is truly in your best interest, rather than just what feels or looks right on the surface.

Next time that you feel that sudden uprising of sensation, that urge to do something or go somewhere without reason, next time that you pick up a feeling about a person or place, stop and ask yourself if you’re feeling the flow of intuition or the resistance of instinct, are you hearing the whispers of love or are you hearing cries for familiarity and shrieks of fear?

If your answer is love, then by all means go forth with confidence and faith and follow that feeling – because when you place your faith in spirit, in the wisdom of your own soul, in the powers of divine synchronicity, that faith will be rewarded in ways that are so beyond your understanding it can sometimes take years to fully comprehend how they unfolded – but the beauty of those blooms will make the wait worthwhile.

If your answer is fear or judgment, take a minute to re-center yourself, relax into the arms of your greater essence, the spirit beyond the surface, and wait. Wait and allow your heart to lead the way – and you never know, perhaps you will realize that the right move is to overcome your initial instinct, to step through your fear rather than running from it.

© 2017 Cristen Rodgers

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    • sparkster profile image

      Marc Hubs 2 months ago from United Kingdom

      Great article, very well articulated. You have a good way of explaining yourself. Enjoyed it.

    • cheaptrick profile image

      cheaptrick 2 months ago from the bridge of sighs

      Intuition tends to whisper while Instinct has the habit of shouting.

      I agree with Sparkster;You are articulate and concise with a rather woolly subject...wish I could do that.Congrats

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