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The Value Of Instinct

“Women’s intuition.” People love to celebrate this, and make fun of it, as well. (“How do you like it now, gentlemen?” Hemingway would have said. Guys, you don’t even get a chance at a designation.)

The concept is a basic one: women will roar off half-cocked, not because the facts support their decisions, but because they ‘feel’ it’s the right thing to do. This could apply to everything from a sudden decision to head to a favorite store (“Ka-ching – I needed underwear/coffee/a replacement cellphone, and it’s on sale!”) to picking up a friend or the kids five minutes later than usual. (“Whew, I missed that accident. If I’d come along at my usual time, I would have been right in the middle of it.”)

Sometimes this impulse to act is based on what can be verified. Cold, hard facts, we call it. Take the ‘sudden’ rush up of Apple stock (AAPL) in recent years. Apple was still reeling from the shock of Steven Jobs’ illness and death. (His disease was, after all, one of those with few cures, even with medical advances in treatment.) Apple also was sitting on a pile of cash, had a reasonably low P/E ratio and few publicized lawsuits or other legal problems. Its iPhone and iPod were both unqualified, if early, successes.

So was investing in Apple stock at this point an intuitive thing? Yes…and no. All information that could be publicly verified pointed to an improvement in Apple stock prices. But it wasn’t a sure thing. A flaw in the iPhone (or iPod, for that matter), suddenly publicized or admitted, could have taken Apple’s stock down the financial rollercoaster faster than you could say, “Hold on – there’s a correction coming.”

The value of instinct

Sometimes your impulse is not as easy to verify, given the facts. Case in point: a family vacation to Canyon de Chelly, taken when our kids were little. In the weeks before we left, I kept dreaming that our youngest had fallen off the canyon edge. Every night, I would ‘see’ her fall, lie motionless on a rock outcropping…then wake up. By the time we left, I dreaded going to sleep at night (same dream, same results), and worried more than a little about our daughter. But I told no one except Husband about the dream.

Shortly before we left, my mom called. “I hate to say this, but I keep dreaming that Angel will fall off the canyon edge while you’re on vacation.” She then described the same circumstances I’d ‘seen’ for the past month.

Fortunately, neither of our dreams came true. Not because we didn’t go to Canyon de Chelly – we’d always wanted to see it for ourselves, and we did. (It’s beautiful, unsettling and fascinating, all at the same time. It’s a long, hot drive out to the middle of nowhere in Arizona. But don’t miss the chance to view it for yourself.) And Daughter #2 did not take a header off the cliff. I grabbed her hand tightly the moment we got out, and wouldn’t relinquish it until she was safely back in the car. (“Mom, I want to run around – let go!”)

Why did my instincts focus on Daughter #2, when her older sister could have been in just as much danger? Was I wrong?

  • My dreams forced me to prepare for a “worst-situation” scenario.
  • Daughter #2 tended to be more impulsive than her sibling. She enjoyed zipping around…and didn’t always pay attention to where she was going.
  • It didn’t hurt me to think through the possibilities – and plan responses for each one.

(I should also mention that the women in my family have an interesting habit of dreams that tend to come true. Call it a blessing or a curse…but it happens.)

The point here: Listen to your instincts. It might be a situation that comes up quickly, and you must respond. Or you have a strong impulse to act on information you’ve been patiently collecting over past months or year. It may be your subconscious processing information it’s been mulling over on your behalf…and coming to a swift conclusion. Or it may be a sudden clarity. A God-thing, if you will.

I’ve acted on impulse — and set it aside a few times, as well. Sometimes it kept me from starting a dangerous friendship that would have hurt not only me, but my family. Once it prevented me from starting a business partnership with a close friend. (Later events proved it would have been a disaster.) In every single case, if I did what my instinct said, it was the right thing to do.

Where were those instincts coming from? Training? Collective analysis? Actually, I’d bet on the God-thing.

Now, if I’d listened to my instincts and kept all of my Apple stock for a longer chunk of that upwards run…

6 Responses to The Value Of Instinct

  1. If this will make you feel any better: I wanted to buy 100 shares of Apple stock, back in 1998/1999 for $13 a share, which was around the time The Wall Street Journal gave Apple Computer three weeks to live.
    My husband screamed and yelled and carried on for me NOT to buy such a loser. So, I secretly bought 50 shares, which split to 100 shares, which split to 200 shares. When Apple was priced at $720 a share, my $600 investment (based on my instinct) was worth $144,000. If I had followed my true instinct and bought the original 100 shares I wanted to, my portfolio would have been worth $288,000.
    It still doesn’t matter to me that my Apple stock is only worth $90,000 today because it is still based on a $600 initial investment. Duh?

    Follow your own guts and never mind what others say. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. Either way, we don’t live with regrets.

    Good luck and good fortune to you! Keep listening to your own soul.

  2. Following your instincts is a huge part of getting ahead in life. I am a firm believer that we all have instincts, we’re born with them. The problem is we don’t live in a society that promotes following them, it promotes being consumed by everything that is going on around you. Worrying about money, paying attention to commercials and being materialistic…all things that distract you from developing your ‘sixth sense’. It’s natural and a part of all of us, we just have to learn to develop it instead of pushing it down. What I’ve found is that when you pay attention to it, good things tend to happen, almost as if by magic.

  3. The hardest part is not listening to the naysayers who announce that intuition isn’t to be trusted…

    And Cindi, I noticed that Apple stock prices leaped up 11% in the past few days!

    Thanks so much, all of you, for writing.

  4. I don’t really believe in trusting my instinct (or as well say in the investment industry, our “gut feeling”). It probably has a lot to do with my job. In this industry, those who rely on their instinct (a.k.a. succumb to their emotions) financially die early.

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