Instinct vs Intuition: The Art of Making Real-Time Decisions

Last Update:

Instinct vs Intuition

I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am. – Albert Einstein

There’s a particularly satisfying feeling about knowing something will happen in a certain way, feeling it strongly, and seeing it come to pass. This isn’t magic; it is merely your instinct and/or intuition.

Instinct vs Intuition has been commonly misunderstood by many. Some even use them interchangeably due to this misunderstanding. Seeing as both of them can be incredible tools for making real-time decisions, it is crucial to get both phenomena straight.

On the basic level, though, instinct is a natural tendency we all have to respond to certain situations in a particular way. Instinct is hard-coded in our being. 

Intuition, on the other hand, is an unexplained conviction we have in certain situations. We can’t tell how we are so convinced about it. There are no conscious reasoning or train of thought. We are just sure.

The Psychology of Decision Making

psychology of decision making

Instincts and Intuition are both valuable tools not only when we’re making decisions, but particularly important for real-time decisions. Many have had to make difficult decisions within a short window of time, and the only thing that got them through was their instincts or intuition.

○ Instincts are Innate; Intuitions are Cultivated

As mentioned earlier, instinct is a natural tendency to react to situations in a particular way due to innate information stored in our DNAs.

Intuition, on the other hand, can be considered as knowing something on the surface, having great conviction and confidence in what you know, but not quite being able to explain what is behind it.

In short, a significant distinction between instinct and intuition lies in the fact that instincts are reactions that are hardcoded in our DNA right from birth. In contrast, the tools to master intuition are acquired slowly throughout our lifetime.

While both are valuable, they are ignored in situations which needs professional advice and is not time bound.

○ Confidence and Calmness

Another essential thing to note about both terms is that while they both involve unexplained knowledge about specific events and situations, they usually vary in level of certainty.

Generally, decisions we make through intuitions tend to be calmer and more confident than instincts

This is because despite the fact that they are both unexplainable to an extent, our intuitions can still be traced back to some of our prior experiences in life (which we may not remember at that moment, but have a feeling at the back of our minds that they’re there), whereas instincts are usually hardcoded in our DNA and are powered by things that may not even have happened in our lives, but passed down through evolution.

Of course, humans are always scared of what they can’t explain, and that is why intuitions, being a little more explainable, are usually calmer and more confident than instinctive actions.

The Four Types of Instincts that Shape our Lives 

Different types of instincts that shape our life

Generally, there are four types of Instincts noticeable in our daily lives. We take a deeper look at them below.

○ Fear

Fear is perhaps the strongest and most famous of all instinctual drives. We have all heard about the fight or flight principle, which is our immediate reaction to environmental stimuli, either go into the offensive mode or run when faced with danger.

The fear instinct is a very common human trait that we all have. It is a struggle to keep from taking decisions based on fear as opposed to logic. When faced with a decision or change, it is important to listen to conscious thought and not fear instincts at the same time.

It goes without saying that fear can be overcome, and we should all endeavor to do so.

○ Greed

Greed is an ugly and powerful thing. It can drive people to do things out of character and not in their own best interest. It can also cause people to think unethical thoughts.

Greed pushes many people to make immediate decisions without much thought. As much as we all like to deny it, greed is one of the primary drivers of human actions and, if not put to check, can dictate the majority of our decisions.

Just like fear, greed is a generally accepted to be a negative instinct that should be kept in check as much as possible. With the right mentality, of course, this is a completely achievable goal.

○ Desire

Desire instinct is a state of mind that is created by the insufficiency of one’s primary needs and feelings. Desire is felt more strongly in instances where the individual feels more powerless and has less control.

The decision-making process is difficult because it often entails weighing options which are often not clear-cut. When people feel like they have no power or control, they tend to make decisions based on their desire instincts.

Some of the decision-making processes that are influenced by desire instincts include: self-sabotage, eating disorders, and addiction.

○ Hope

“Hope was an instinct only the reasoning human mind could kill. An animal never knew despair.” – Graham Greene

Hope is an instinctive emotion with a very powerful effect on how we make decisions. People make decisions based on hope instinct as it is a necessary part of human nature.

When faced with decision making, many people’s hope instinct tend to imagine the best case scenario and wait for what might happen before jumping into action. This has been shown to actually help people reach their goal faster than those who don’t use hope as a motivator for making decisions.

There are numerous ways in which hope instincts can be used positively. From using it as motivation for personal projects to using hope as an asset when making significant decisions in work, there are many ways you can use this instinct without resorting to desperation or relying on luck.

Instincts & Intuitions in Real-Time Decisions

instinct and intuition for real time decision making

Speaking of real-time decisions, it should be obvious now that instinct vs intuition can play a significant role in making real-time decisions. They don’t require much thought and, as such, take up less time. This can be valuable in a host of scenarios based on environmental stimuli.

○ Recognizing When to Call on Instincts or Intuition

There is a similarity between instinct and intuition that has led to many confusing them for each other. This similarity also makes it hard to know whether to call upon instinct or intuition in some instances.

Luckily, knowing which to use for certain decisions is usually a choice we make sub-conscious mind

Instinct is excellent for situations that require a natural response, while intuition is excellent for situations that require a little bit of logic to get to the correct answer.

○ Understanding & Overcoming the Shortcomings

The shortcomings of both instinct and intuition lie in the fact that we are at risk of becoming overdependent on them in making all our decisions.

> Excessive Reliance on Instinct and Intuitions 

Trusting our instincts and intuitions is great. As we’ll see below, they offer myriad advantages that can be put to great use.  Sadly, they may also foster overdependence and lead to laziness. Instead of calling on rational thought, structured reasoning, we become addicted to calling on our instinct and intuition even for professional advice.

So much so that in the end, we are unable to tell them apart from guesswork and blind decision making. It is up to us all to ensure we never fail prey to this tendency.

> Separating Intuitions from Fear

Some of us are great at making intuitive decisions and trusting our gut feeling. For instance, we can see things in our relationships, identify signs and come to the correct conclusion thanks to our intuition.

For some, though, we let fear and paranoia influence our decisions and call it intuition or “gut feeling”. This is why to take maximum advantage of our intuitive capabilities, we must be able to separate them from baseless fear and paranoia.

Our Gut feeling isn’t always right, and when mixed with fear, they can cause terrible damage.

The Importance of Instincts and Intuitions

Once we understand the shortcomings of instinct and intuition, we can begin to take advantage of their vast benefits. Below are some of the things to gain from mastering our instinct and intuition.

○ Faster Decision-Making

Faster decision making

The truth is, there is usually no amount of deliberation at all in the conclusions we make through intuition. We don’t think long and hard about them, but we are generally sure about the outcomes.

This is why they are vital for making fast decisions. Unlike guesswork and blind choices, intuition is based on something remarkable – our past knowledge base.

The only difference is that when we think deeply with conscious mind, we try to recollect our past knowledge to make a decision, whereas when we make an intuitive decision, we don’t have to think about stuff consciously; we just know.

> Trusting Instinct and Intuition

For some, it is effortless to trust their gut feeling. For others, it is a little more complicated. The truth is, when the stakes are high, we won’t have the time to start overthinking, so ultimately we are forced to go with our instincts or intuitive feelings.

The only reason to not trust our intuitions is when we find out they are powered by fears and insecurity.

○ Generally Leads to Better Decisions

Studies have also categorically shown that instincts and intuitions do lead to better decisions. Many do not trust these mechanisms because they believe that they are based upon no solid base. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Instincts are based on primordial data and information, while intuitions are based on certain things we have come across in the past. While they both may sometimes fail for several reasons, it would still be wrong to believe that they are baseless when they are not.

Both are known to objectively lead to making significant decisions. At any rate, they are known for much better outcomes than thinking in circles or wasting time trying to come up with a structured train of thought in situations when there is practically no time at all to do so.

Ultimately those who learn to make their instincts and intuitions work together, making sure to eliminate fear and insecurity from the equation, will have a more substa ntial chance of making better decisions in high stake scenarios.

○ May Lead to Stronger Relationships

Strong relationships

Intuition is seeing with the soul. – Dean Koontz

Mastering instincts and intuitions give us a much better shot at having better relationships. First off, we can tell whether or not feelings are genuine.

Second of all, through instincts and intuitive analysis, we can react to situations immediately in the best possible ways, making us a better all-round companion to our partners.

All of these have a way of strengthening relationships and ensuring we never find ourselves in situations where we get exploited. Of course, it also goes without saying that in relationships, more than anything, it is very, very important to not conflate gut feeling and intuition with fear, insecurity and jealousy.

Doing this will lead to the exact opposite of a healthy and robust relationship.


When it comes to Instinct vs intuition, we can safely say that they work together to give us a lot of advantages in making difficult decisions. We will not always have ample time to make the correct decisions, and what’s more, important decisions in life tend to come at inconvenient times.

In situations like this there is usually a split second to make life-changing decisions. This is where instinct and intuition come in.

Those who have mastered them would have all it takes to make fast, accurate decisions from their gut feeling that open up the path to unprecedented success in other areas of life.

To master them, however, we must learn discipline. Discipline to never rely too much on our intuition, so much so that we become lazy and forget how to think and meditate on things. We must also ensure to never fall into the trap of mistaking our fear and insecurity for intuition. 

Instinct and intuition are extraordinary abilities. Once we can master their shortcomings and use both to their full potential, our potential for overall success is virtually limitless.

Photo of author


Suranya is an writer, lifestyle designer, and nature enthusiast. She is passionate about life, and everything it has to offer. She shares musings on philosophical insights, popular psychology, and holistic wellness.
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Posts

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x