Intuitive Choosing –
Emerson’s Solution to Indecision

All our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Intellect"
Schiffman-Picture 05

Each day we make thousands of choices. We choose to get out of bed. We choose what clothes to wear. We choose what to eat.

Most of these choices are trivial. If you make the wrong menu-choice at a Chinese restaurant, the consequences aren’t that bad. Sure, you might be stuck with an over-salted order of sesame chicken. But mediocre Chinese food probably won’t ruin your life.

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Then there are big choices.  What should you do with your life?  Who should you marry?  Where should you work and live?

You might get hung up for a few minutes on a restaurant order.  But you can spend weeks, years, or even lifetimes agonizing over these bigger choices.

Emerson has a radical solution to the problem of indecision.  It doesn’t involve a complicated cost-benefit analysis.  Emerson’s solution is far more mystical and simple:  stop trying to figure it out and listen to your deepest intuition.

For this week’s experiment, let’s explore this radical practice of intuitive choosing.

We usually ignore intuition.  We usually focus on what others want or what we think we want.

Choosing what others want is often a noble strategy.   It’s clearly good to help others in need.  But it also has its dangers.  The problem is that you often don’t know what others want.   For instance, you might think your friend in debt wants a loan.  But they might not – in fact, they might resent your offer.  Since we don’t have full information about the needs and wants of others, these decisions can often go awry.

A second strategy is to base decisions on what we think we want.  You have more information about your own needs and wants.  But there’s still much you don’t know.   Say you’re thinking about ending your current relationship.  It’s possible that this move would lead you to an amazing new partner – a soul mate – who complements you in every way.  But it might not.  You might end up lonely and bitter, wishing you had never left.

Enter Emerson’s intuitive choosing method.  He sees the mind as too fallible – too limited – to be trusted with these decisions.  Logic alone can leave you clueless about what others want and often even what you want.  “Life,” says Emerson, “is a series of surprises.”

The alternative is to look beneath logic and reason – to look for the deep wisdom of intuition.   “Trust the instinct to the end,” says Emerson, “though you can render no reason…By trusting…it shall ripen into truth, and you shall know why you believe.”

How can you practice intuitive choosing?  This week, Erich Schiffmann returns to share his insight on this practice.  For now, you can begin experimenting with the following steps:

  • Start Simple – It’s probably not the best idea to start with big life-changing decisions.  Before you quit your job or move to Hawaii, experiment with trivial decisions like what to wear, what to eat, or how to get to work.
  • Listen – We generally think our way through decisions.  But see what happens when you listen for the wisdom of intuition.  When you go to the store, for example, you might ask: what cereal do I really want?  Then listen for an intuitive answer.   It might come in the form of a sensation, a feeling, or some other deeper form of knowing.
  • Check It Out With the Mind – The typical objection to this kind of mystical decision-making is that it could lead to insane choices.  Think of the biblical story of Abraham, who hears the intuitive voice of God calling him to kill his son Isaac on a mountain top.  There’s an easy way out of this worry.  Use your mind as a check on intuition.  If your intuition tells you to eat nothing but donuts for the next year, your mind can exercise its veto power.

Please join us for my interview about intuitive choosing with the world-renowned yoga instructor Erich Schiffmann on Thursday. In the meantime, I’m curious:  what decisions have you made using this method?


Update: Erich Schiffmann on the Art of Intuitive Choosing
posted July 14, 2011 by Nate

World renowned yoga instructor Erich Schiffmann joins us to talk about the art of choosing on the basis of intuition instead of habit.


  1. Adela Warner says:

    Thank you for your blog. It is refreshing to read and feel the gratitude of the greatness listening and following my intuition has given me. Big things are coming ;)

  2. Brice Howe says:

    Hi Nate…I agree with Adela…’refreshing’ :)

    I practice often (because PRACTICE = RESULTS) letting my heart answer. I sit quietly and focus all my attention and breath into my heart; just sit and wait. The only ‘active’ thing I’m doing is ‘releasing’ any thoughts that pop up (the Ego) by taking another deep and conscious breath back into the heart.

    After a while an answer appears; the answer is always CLEARLY from my heart/Spirit and not my mind/Ego. What I’m noticing is that the sitting and waiting is becoming less and less.

    Thank you for your work…it’s valuable.

    All my best,

    • Nate Klemp says:

      Hi Brice,

      This sounds like a great method. I like the idea of using a more formal meditation to explore this more intuitive method of choosing.


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