The False Binary Series - #1
To be honest, I don’t know if this is going to be a series (so, I may delete this and the heading at some point).
It does seem, though, that there are a lot of false binaries in our world – which leads to a lot of oversimplification and wild inaccuracies.
Most of the time, things exist on a spectrum and where we are trying to find balance the balance is a combination of what people want to imagine are the 1’s and 0’s.
Today, let’s talk about the question – do we listen to our own internal intuition, or external expertise?
Are you listening to your intuition or to experts?
It’s often presented to us as if it’s one or the other.
If you’re listening to your own intuition, you’re not listening to outside sources.
Screw doctors or scientists, you know your own body better!
If you’re listening to external expertise, you’re placing other people’s knowledge as an authority over your own preferences.
Because we’re so unreliable, right?
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to find evidence of both of these things being problematic.
We hear of people engaging in really harmful or dangerous practices because they *intuitively* felt right.
Or, when people *feel* they’re knowledgeable about after having read one article or watched a few TikToks – because the information in them intuitively feels true.
On the other hand, one of the most consistent signs of a high control group is when you’re told to listen to an external authority and ignore your own intuition or body signals.
And of course, the gaslighting and mistreatment that happens to certain people in the medical community – people have trusted experts in the past and gotten misdiagnosed or incorrectly treated as a result.
Let me tell you what I think the ‘right’ way to approach this question is.
(I put ‘right’ in quotation marks because ultimately you have to decide if this feels right to you, but this is my opinion after working with many, many bodies, and people, over the years)
I’m a big believer in listening to your intuition.
On the one hand, it’s widely believed that what we call our intuition is actually our subconscious mind picking up on signals and putting information together that we aren’t consciously aware of.
On the other, there is something magical, in my experience, in the ways our intuition, and our body (because those seem to actually be two different things) can lead us to solutions that are perfect for us and yet completely illogical.
It’s why in my ‘How to Decide Whether to Work With Me’ video on my Work With Me page the #1 indicator to know if you should work with me is if you intuitively feel a pull, or that it’s right, to work with me.
However, our intuition doesn’t always give us a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
(Not to mention that what we call our intuition CAN be influenced by our biases, our preferences, our socialisation, and our trauma history…)
There's an 'I don't know' in our intuition
When I work with people and their bodies, we often start with ‘yes/no’ question.
It’s easier to perceive a binary than a full sentences if you’re not used to having a conversation with your body.
Sometimes, the answer isn’t yes OR no – it’s I don’t know.
And it’s the same with our intuition.
‘Should I do *this* or should I do *that*?’ you may ask yourself.
‘I don’t know’ or… a feeling of uncertainty, or a feeling of fuzziness may come back.
This is a sign that you need more information.
And more information comes from external expertise.
Using external expertise
Our bodies are very efficient when it comes to what uses calories – if the analytical, knowledge-collecting part of our brain wasn’t useful, we wouldn’t still have it.
Even amongst people who scoff at scientists and doctors, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t acknowledge the importance of expertise.
From knowing how to effectively bake bread and grow vegetables, to knowing the safest way to surgically repair a perforated intestine, expertise is all around us.
When my son had to have his surgery last November, I was in awe of the amount of expertise that existed simply in:
- knowing how to safely give him general anesthesia
- being able to take an image of the fracture in the bone behind the cheekbone and under the eye
- having a surgical technique to repair the bone and tissue with minimal damage (I’d give more details but I know not everyone loves them as much as I do)
- AND being able to do that without leaving a single scar on his face.
I mean, the hours, days, months, and YEARS of knowledge that had to accumulate to do that surgery.
And we have that in every aspect of life – from food preparation to engineering in our water system and electric and gas, to transportation in planes and cars, to construction of massive apartment buildings.
Whether or not you think these things are good or bad, you have to admit the amount of knowledge, the sheer volume of expertise, that exists in our society is astounding.
(If we could only use it to change the systems that perpetuate poverty and oppression… but that’s another topic).
Of COURSE it makes sense to go to people who have expertise in an area that you need support.
Ultimately, our aim should be to balance our own intuition and the resource of expertise that people around us have developed in themselves.
I wanted to share an example of what that might look like, from my own work with clients.
As a bodyworker, I have knowledge about the mechanics of our movement – e.g. I know that when one muscle is overworked, it’s usually because of x, y, or z muscle that’s tight or not working the way it should.
I know the functions of the digestive system and the organs in the torso and lungs.
I know common symbolism and places that people will store emotional energy from events in their life.
But I can never have the same connection to your body that you do.
When we start a session, I don’t ‘tell’ a client where we’re going to start.
The client tells me their intention for the session, and then we connect into the body and their body tells us where to start.
I’m holding space for them to listen to what their body is telling them, and then providing additional information that can fill in some of the gaps of why this thing is living here, or what connection it could have to their intention for the session.
I love my client sessions because I feel they’re a great example of the balance of getting support from external expertise and listening to your own internal guidance.
What NOT to do - the opposite of balance
On the opposite end of the scale, let’s talk about two tendencies I see where we may not approach these two resources (our intuition and others’ expertise) in a balanced way.
One: Complete surrender to external expertise
This happens a lot, especially in the coaching/online business space.
A person knows they need support, so they go get support and in the process completely abandon their connection to themselves and their own intuition.
Sometimes it originates from the service provider, in the form of ‘this is my system and you have to follow it to be successful, regardless of your personal circumstances’.
Sometimes it originates from the person – they have so little trust in themselves they throw themselves into whatever system or process is being taught. They treat every signal from their body as something to be ignored instead of listened to.
Some leaders or service providers or coaches or whatever are intentional with this – creating a hierarchy where the people they work with are taught that the leader/coach knows better for them than they know themselves.
In other cases, it’s completely unintentional and the people doing it just don’t know how to teach in a way that leads people back to themselves.
Two: Rejection of all external input and only listening to intuition
The other end of the extreme is when you reject everything that doesn’t fit with what *feels* right.
The problem is, not everything that seems obvious or intuitive is true.
One of my favourite examples of this is the sun – from our perspective it seems obvious that the sun moves around us – it comes up in the east in the morning and goes down in the west in the evening.
It seems like it’s rotating around us.
We can’t always know how much our intuition in a given situation is influenced by our socialisation, our biases, our lived experience, or our trauma history.
Which is to say, we don’t know how much our limitations are dictating our intuition.
There may very well be situations where our intuition is sufficient to guide us.
But to rely solely on intuition for every single situation in our lives can lead to a lot of unnecessary heartache.
So... what to do?
Hopefully, I’ve made the point that either end of the extreme can be harmful.
We don’t want to abdicate our own authority to external sources completely.
But we’ll miss a lot of helpful information if we never look to anyone outside of us for support.
So what to do?
Put simply, combine the two.
Check in with yourself, develop your connection to your intuition (and your body).
Learn to flesh out between the ‘yes’ the ‘no’ and the ‘I don’t know’.
Find people who know more than you do on whatever the situation is, and get some support – whether it’s simply reading the information they put forward, talking to them, or even hiring them.
As you collect this external expertise in whatever form, hold it up against your intuition.
What feels good? What feels like a missing piece of the puzzle?
What doesn’t sit right? What pings your ‘this feels off’ sense? Investigate what doesn’t quite feel correct to you to understand what your spidey senses are telling you.
And the next time you see or hear something that makes it sound like one or the other… remind yourself, it’s both.