How to Differentiate Between Your Intuition and Wishful Thinking

HJ: One of the main things that people learning to rekindle their relationship with their intuition struggle with is differentiating between what is a genuine intuitional message and what is simply wishful thinking or the ego in disguise.  While the entire article below is dedicated to thoroughly answering that question, I will offer a couple of pieces of advice based on my own experience.  For me, intuitional messages always have an intensely physical/emotional component, where as wishful thinking/ego is generally confined to the mind/intellect.  When I am receiving guidance from my intuition, I feel it — if the intuitional message is a warning, I get a sinking feeling along with a sudden mental flash and if it is a clarifying intuitive message, it tends to produce elation and inspiration in whatever direction is needed (in addition to the sudden flash of thought).  That brings up another point — my intuitional urgings always come as flashes of insight and this definitely differentiates them from the normal, more ‘logical’ thought processes I may otherwise be engaged in.

Another key factor in receiving intuitional messages successfully is overcoming any self-doubt.  If you doubt yourself, you will doubt the messages you are getting and will remain perpetually confused in this regard.  This is a critical key to the receiving and acknowledging your intuition.

- Truth

Intuition Versus Wishful Thinking

By Heather Self | Small Change Life

I’ve talked in other posts about the importance of listening to — and acting on — your intuition. That tapping inside that’s telling you to go left when you’re certain you need to go right. And to do it, even if you don’t have a clear reason for what it’s telling you to do, or why.

Some sources will say that your intuition and gut instinct will sometimes lead you astray and into poor decisions. I disagree, and friends I know who are very comfortable with their intuitive hits (personal and for other people) will say the same thing I do: It’s never wrong.

When we wind up in a mess, it’s because we overrode it. We let the snooty, holier-than-thou, I-know-better-so-neener-neener-neener part of our ego take over and make the decision for us. The reason people wind up distrusting their intuition and the tapping information it brings is that they’ve never trusted it in the first place. Maybe occasionally they’ve acted on it, but generally it’s been the, I-know-better choice that winds up dumping them in some fix or a moment punctuated with a forehead slap and the thought of, “Dang it! I knew I should have _______!”

“So how do I learn to trust my intuition?”

That’s inevitably the next question I get. The simple answer is, Always act on it, even if it doesn’t make sense. Last night, as I sat in traffic, looking way ahead at nothing but a stream of red bumper lights, I neared an exit. That Little Voice in me said, “Take that exit. Don’t go to your usual one.” I started to, but was blocked by other cars doing the same thing. I decided to let it go. And then it came again, but pushier. “Take this exit. Don’t go to your usual one!” And right then there were no more cars blocking me. So I did.

Why did I get the gut feeling I needed to? Who knows. Sometimes you get an answer, many times you don’t. But the more you act on those random things, the easier it will be to hear that voice and act on the others. The clearer that voice comes in, and  fewer and fewer times will come when you have that forehead slap of a moment.

But when it comes to intuitive hits that are connected to something more personal, especially if it’s about “knowing” something that’s coming up, it gets trickier. Then it becomes all about telling the difference between intuition and wishful thinking.

You can always have a preferred outcome. Here’s what I’ve learned that discerns intuition versus wishful thinking for me: It’s the becoming attached to a specific out come and forcefully making yourself believe it will be so is when you’re in the realm of wishful thinking. Intuitive hits or no, it’s always good to not become attached to a specific outcome and to, instead, couch it around, as Joe Vitale says, “This or something better.”


I should point out here that intuition/intuitive hits can, by some, be translated as psychic activity and that may not be something you’re willing to accept. That’s okay if you don’t want to define it as such. But I should point out that many people, even those who scoff at (generalized) psychic ability (precognition, whatever) do believe in their intuition. I’ve heard Navy SEALs talk about being able to literally hear each other’s thoughts and know what someone was going to do or say, all without the person even moving, and without having spoken for a very long time. Intuition, whether aimed towards you or towards someone else doesn’t involve flowing robes and a crystal ball.

Intuitive suggestions or guidance generally comes in a very soft, but clear, way.

It comes without attachment. It doesn’t care if you pay attention to it or not, it’s just saying, “Hey, dude. I got some info for you here.” And while it doesn’t care one way or the other, it is the voice you later hear that says, “I told you.” At the core, it’s about trusting yourself.

But, still. What if it’s fanciful? What if it’s something that seems far-fetched and unlikely? What if it’s something you’d really like to have happen? What if it’s something that’s down the road, not immediate like take this exit?

Yes, then it gets a little amorphous. Especially when it’s really personal. And especially when it seems rather fanciful. What then?

Well, then it’s about paying attention to how those images/feelings/thoughts are coming and how you’re reacting to them. Are you grabbing onto them and trying to steer them in a specific outcome of a direction, or are you just letting the hits come and you’re remaining unattached to them? If you’re forcing them, you’ll feel a sensation of suffering and enormous frustration.

Now, this doesn’t mean what you’re sensing won’t happen. Sometimes it means you’re trying to force it into being before it’s time. Never force. Force isn’t power or empowerment in this type of case; it’s coercion. Here’s the definition of coercion, given by Dictionary.com:

  1. The act of coercing; use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance.
  2. Force or the power to use force in gaining compliance, as by a government or police force.

If you’re doing that with what you’re sensing, then you’ve stepped into the realm of wishful thinking. But, again, that doesn’t mean it won’t come true. And, sometimes, it’s a representation of an ideal for you to achieve and aim for; forcing the specific ideal into being isn’t what your intuition is telling you. Force equals suffering and frustration and therefore wishful thinking. It also generally involves you deciding what the hits mean when you don’t really yet; at least not in full. That’s also the I-know-better side of your ego again.

Intuitive hits can come in all sorts of ways. Dreams, especially recurring ones, and especially if they carry a message of taking a certain action, is you trying to tell you something. It can come in flashes of images, sensations in your gut or forehead, even a string “coincidences”, especially if they’re serendipitous and/or connected to something you’re wanting to achieve. Yes, that can seem a little magical, but, another way to look at it is you filtering those happenings into the forefront of your thoughts because you’re on the lookout for information (“proof”) in connection to something that’s coming at you very strongly through your intuition. It doesn’t have to be about mysticism. It’s about your inner truth speaking up and trying to get your attention, so it filters in very key information.

It’s easy (very easy, sometimes) to swing from non-attachment to a specific outcome to forcing the issue. Especially if it’s something that seems very desirable. That’s when mindfulness is needed. That’s also when you have to just accept you don’t (yet) know what it all means. Maybe it’s a guidepost, not a specific outcome you’re seeing. But it can still be confusing.

I’ve recently been wrestling with this myself. There is something I’ve been sensing coming my way (what it is doesn’t matter) for a very long time, and it feels very close. The images/sensations/hits feel like my standard intuitive hits that play out if I go with them (either personally or with a client); I don’t really have an attachment to a specific outcome (I really don’t), but, the thing is, the hits are around something that also seems rather fanciful and in the realm of wishful thinking. But I’m not forcing it.

So which is it?

I don’t know.  I’m leaning towards listening to the Little Voice of information coming, because it keeps coming, and not listening to it, telling it to shut up and forcing that into non-existence (meaning, doing the opposite of forcing the niftier hit in to being) creates suffering and frustration. But I don’t know what it means, exactly. I won’t. Not until I’m in the middle of it.

When I sit with this Whatever-it-is that’s continually flashing at me with the steadiness of a lighthouse beacon, I always get the same batch of information, over and over and over again. I’ve even meditated on it to see if I can gain more insight (hoping to deconfuse myself, if you will) and the same batch of information comes over and over — and over — again. And I realized last night I was meditating to try to convince myself the information was false.With that kind of repetition, especially with that kind of consistent repetition (it never alters), I know that’s me telling me something, my own truth. Whether someone else believes it or sees it as truth doesn’t matter.

I’m really close to finding out what it means (or “means”), but I’m not there yet, so I can’t really know exactly what it’s like. It’s somewhat like seeing what you know is a big house looming at you in thick fog; you can tell it’s a house, and a large one, but the details are still obscured. You can guess what it might have, but you won’t know until you’re closer and/or the fog lifts. It could be exactly what it looks like, or it could be something totally different (and better!). Right now, I’m just going to act on the steps I sense I should take and let the Whatever-it-is meet up with me.

So to know the difference between intuition and wishful thinking, pay attention to how you feel and what you’re (trying) to do with the information. If you’re letting it be whatever it will be and you’re going with the flow, then you’re getting intuitive guidance; if you’re trying to direct that pesky river North when it’s set on going West so you can find a shortcut to Whatever-it-is, then you’re in the realm of wishful thinking. (A great book that is really helpful in learning how to listen to your intuition is Power vs. Force, by Dr. David R. Hawkins).

And so you also know you know, and you know what you know (way down inside, tap tap tap tappity tap). Just listen, and act, let go of “figuring out” what it means, and be mindful of how you’re acting both towards and with what you sense coming.

Know what I mean, Vern?

Heather Self is a yoga, nutrition, CrossFit and body-weight workout enthusiast. Those loves and my decade-long career as a Life Coach for a personal growth company in Portland, Oregon has helped me to  continually push myself out of my comfort zone so I can grow and change. Email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org or drop by my Facebook page and leave me a message, leave a comment below or feel free to start up a conversation in the discussion forum. Visit my website: Small Change Life


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  1. A practical, down to earth intuitive person… I love it!

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