Keeping In Touch With Your Intuition: Lucia Kanter St. Amour of UN Women USA On How To Get In Touch With Your Intuition And When To Trust Your Intuition When Making Decisions
An Interview With Maria Angelova
GET OUTSIDE: We can’t just engage our eyes and mind with audio and visual digital content. Being human is a multi sensory voyage. We need touches, smells, sensations in our body. Scaffolding from my previous tip: get outside for a trail walk! You might just be amazed at how it loosens your mind and frees your creativity and intuitive prowess. Pro tip: you can meditate outside (Thor does)! What do you hear? What do you smell? Can you feel that breeze tickling your skin?
Intuition is defined as the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning. Where does intuition come from? Can it be trusted? How can someone tune in to their intuition? To address these questions, we are talking to business leaders, coaches, mental health experts, authors, and anyone who is an authority on “How to Get In Touch With Your Intuition And When To Trust Your Intuition When Making Decisions.” As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lucia Kanter St. Amour.
Lucia Kanter St. Amour is a VP for UN Women USA, attorney of 25 years, international negotiation superhero, and bestselling author of For the Forces of Good: The Superpower of Everyday Negotiation. Lucia dedicated a full chapter of her book to “Spidey Sense” as a critical and stealth negotiation tool. As a special needs parent, executive director of a nonprofit organization, law professor, and recovering CEO, she has traveled broad and deep territories calibrating intuition with cognition in decision making and strategy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Maria, it’s my pleasure. Well, I’ll tell you what: I was the physically awkward kid with the lazy eye and eye patch, evading my childhood bullies on my second-hand bicycle growing up in my small midwest town. I was conditioned as a girl to be compliant, cooperative and unquestioning. Looking back now, I recognize the many times my intuition was telling me that something wasn’t right, that I was being treated badly — including by adult teachers who should have known better — but was taught to be silent and not rock the boat. So, I quieted my intuition starting at a young age — learned to cast it aside.
I continued to grapple with heeding versus dismissing my intuition as a fledgling attorney. One of my early experiences was a meeting with the Longshoremen’s union. I was the only woman in a room with a bunch of tough guys with no necks. One of them wondered aloud “who invited the president of the lollipop guild,” and they all got a good chuckle out of it. Then he pointed to a chair in the corner and told me to sit there. It was so huge for my small frame, my feet didn’t quite touch the floor and it seemed to swallow me. I looked and felt ridiculous. Having been told I was invisible and to stay that way, I leveraged the tools I did have at my disposal (and powerful ones at that): listening, observing — and tuning into my intuition. Those very tools led me to noticing something that day that no one else in the room noticed (because they were too busy talking and posturing), which transformed the whole discourse.
Fast forward more than two decades and I became the president/CEO of a very male dominated sports organization, following 94 years of men in that position. By that time, I’d earned quite an illustrious and international career (often as the only woman in the room and trying to perfect a just-so formula of cognition and intuition, with the latter getting the short end of the stick so that I could fit in with the big boys). That position ended up being a highly organized and prolonged group bullying campaign that actually put me in harm’s way, and that I just couldn’t seem to turn around because I was outnumbered by a viciously motivated group. My intuition sounded alarm bells for me to jump ship, but my executive cognition admonished that walking away would set back progress of women in male-dominated sectors of leadership — and I felt really stuck.
I now understand I wasn’t ever stuck. I had options and it was just a matter of summoning the courage to act on them. I should have been listening to my intuition a lot sooner. So today I’m hoping we can choreograph this dance between intuition and rational analysis!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a few faves, and here’s one:
“Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out yet, then it’s not the end.”
When my first-born son was 15-months, he still wasn’t crawling or vocalizing. We started down a thorny path of early intervention that grew to a team of fourteen professionals once he was officially diagnosed at age two. In the meantime, I had my second baby on my hip. I could no longer work at the type of demanding law job that I had. I was forced into a time-critical and high stakes world of therapies to help my son; and inventing some new way to engage in my profession. Those early intervention years were grueling, and I reached a dangerous state of insomnia that culminated in hypnagogic hallucinations. The life and career I had envisioned for myself went up in smoke. At one point I actually said out loud, “I’ll never be happy again.” I think that was maybe the most wrong I’ve ever been about anything.
In fact, I flourished — including building my own nonprofit organization for other families raising special needs kids. To this day, I reconcile myself to the fact that my first-born son will never be able to live an independent life. He will always need supervision. And, the perspective I’ve gained raising such a son is absolutely stunning. I take NOTHING for granted and celebrate the smallest of victories. Did he just use a new word (a boy who, I was told, may never speak at all)? Rapture! Also, the ways I had to get creative with my career took me international, and put me (somewhat) in control. It also made me notice needs and voids for meeting those needs for others — and to do something about it. Raising both my sons has expanded my world view, and my whole multi sensory experience as a human in ways I would not have planned for myself.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
“The Count of Monte Cristo,” by Alexandre Dumas. I have a gorgeous two-volume gilded and illustrated edition of it. I first read it in high school and still consider it the greatest book, with Amor Towles’s “A Gentleman from Moscow” a close second (which is very Count of Monte Cristo in its own right!). I basically consider it an early superhero character and story. It features classic themes: love, friendship, betrayal, grief, revenge, justice, and shifting identity. It’s got mystery, sword-fighting, treasure hunting and retribution. The protagonist Edmund Dantes learns a bunch of languages, skills and strategies while imprisoned in the Chateau D’If that he then carefully and oh-so-patiently deploys over a course of years — coordinated with acutely developed INTUITION; and it boasts possibly the most suspenseful and thrilling escape scene ever. The original text doesn’t offer a perfect ending, either. The movie versions always have Edmund and Mercedes reunite in the end (and make Mercedes’s son Edmund’s son). That is not the case in the book where Edmund, once he has exacted his personal justice, has to then figure out how to go on with his life.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s begin with a definition of terms so that each of us and our readers are on the same page. What exactly does intuition mean? Can you explain?
I think what we’re really talking about is interoception, which is the internal state of the body — both conscious and unconscious. You might even call it your “Spidey Sense.” Interoception encompasses visceral signaling projected to the brain via neuropathways and typically manifests in the cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. Ever seen a dog stand stock still with its hackles raised? That’s the stuff.
How would you define common sense? Are intuition and common sense related?
Oh they are siblings — vying for mom’s attention. Common sense is unspoken knowledge and sound judgment in practical matters that we take for granted, such as the fact my chocolate Labrador doesn’t drive a car, or that mothers are older than their children. I think the distinction is that common sense relates more to reasoning, whereas intuition relates more to our visceral sensibilities, our instincts.
What are the positive aspects of being in touch with your intuition? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
Fuller, deeper awareness! Cognitive processing is just part of the information our brains supply us, while much more “thinking” is emanating from within the body and unconsciously. I read about a study that monitored the body receiving some of these unconscious processes in a pattern recognition card game that was actually fixed; at some point along the way, the study participants sensed which deck was “bad” and instinctively stopped drawing from it. Other studies of Wall Street traders identified those who seem to make more money when they’re more interoceptively attuned, that is better at reading their own body signals. When our nervous system is aroused, it’s feeding us information. Ignoring these sensations as simply “fear” or “anxiety” or inconsistent with “getting out of our comfort zone” for a “growth mindset” is no different than dismissing evidence consciously driven by the executive functioning of the brain.
Are there negative aspects to being guided by intuition? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
Over-relying on intuition can have drawbacks. You might not have fully considered all the facts, risks, and alternatives and stopped seeking another solution. You might base the decision on inaccurate or incomplete information or prejudices (or wishful thinking) that have clouded facts. The most vivid example that leaps to mind is Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s trust of Adolf Hitler to be a man of his word and allowing him, in 1938, to expand German territory unchecked.
Can you give some guidance about when one should make a decision based on their intuition and when one should use other methods to come to a decision?
It’s not an either/or proposition. The bottom line is we need to use both in partnership and I won’t pretend to offer a magic formula — you’ll need to revisit your favorite “Harry Potter” title for that. These days, we are bombarded by catchy pseudo-psychology marketing phrases that tell us to “get out of your comfort zone [the topic of another provocative interview we’ve done together, which published on 1/1/2023]; “conquer your fears;” “do something that scares you everyday” [an Eleanor Roosevelt quote that has become a vapid buzz phrase].
But ignoring your “gut” instincts can be a huge mistake — as is negating facts and reasoning. Your body is transmitting information and it is every bit as important as the cognitive information your brain is channeling to you. Don’t dismiss either, but don’t over-rely on either one! Knowing when to tap into your intuition and your cognitive signaling at appropriate moments depending on the unique context and the players at hand is truly next-level communication, strategy, and decision-making.
From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common barriers that hold someone back from trusting their intuition?
(1) THE MYTH OF RATIONALITY. I have long cautioned against hailing rational analysis as the best or only method of decision-making or discourse. Human behavior and circumstances are, instead, predictably irrational. Coming to grips with this reality can demystify how people (including you) behave. Even as an attorney and mediator well trained in analytical reasoning, I know better than to hail reasoned and analytical dialogue as the dominating mode to achieve agreement. Rational choice is one approach, and not necessarily the most effective one where emotions, distrust, and suspicions simply cannot be suspended even among people of goodwill and reason (p.s. Everyone believes they are a person “of good will and reason.”) You will not — I repeat will NOT — convince someone to abandon their facts and adopt yours. Our “wars” today appeal to instincts and savage emotions, not rationality. They are about identity, inequality, and exclusions. More important than rationality is a sense of belonging.
(2) THE CONDITIONING OF GIRLS. Worth highlighting is the pervasive barrier to intuition that disproportionately impacts women and girls. It’s our conditioning from an early age to cooperate, be helpful, to give and give and give of ourselves — and, at all costs, to FIT IN to structures that were not designed for us. As happened with me, this can lead us to dismiss our intuition when we are swimming upstream right in the belly of the beast of bigotry and assorted sketchy situations. I, for one, prioritized fitting in over psychological safety for far too long. Many of us have been ignoring our interoception / our “spidey sense” in order to “go along to get along.” If we do invoke our intuition, we are labeled as “emotional” “sensitive,” or “irrational” and summarily discredited. Even more insidious is how it leads to self-gaslighting (“it must be my imagination.”). It’s quite the crafty little trap!
(3) APPS AND EAR BUDS. Ok let’s address the pink baby elephant in the room: our hyper dependency on technology, instantaneous apps truncating our own creative discovery process, and even ear buds. I don’t wear ear buds. Ever. Cutting off one of my senses makes me nervous — especially when outdoors or on public transit. My auditory sense is dispatching information.
Here is the central question of our discussion. What are five methods that someone can use to become more in touch with their intuition?
1 . HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON: We move SO fast these days. We expect instantaneous results. slow down. In very few circumstances do you need to be rushed into a decision. Urgency is commonly manufactured as a pressure tactic. Don’t fall for it. How many times have you been casually browsing for an item on-line and you come upon a website where, coincidentally, everything is 20% until the end of . . . that day! Oh — how lucky you happened across this website at this serendipitous moment. You had just been casually looking, but now you’d better go ahead and complete the purchase before that deal ends! You have likely been drawn into a classic sales ploy of creating scarcity of time (“Act now! This offer won’t last.”) Well, maybe and maybe not. If that coupon vanishes tomorrow, another will probably appear soon enough. If you feel that heightened sense of urgency, STOP and assess if the urgency is real or necessary.
2 . RE-THINK ILL-FITTING METAPHORS: The long-standing and prevalent metaphor of the mind as a computer is faulty. Actually, it is a living organism that has evolved over millennia in many contexts — and mostly outdoors — and must be understood on its own terms. Get into a meditation habit (start with 5 minutes!) to quiet the monkey mind, take deep slow belly breaths, and be calmer and more in tuned to yourself and the sensuous world. Meditation is not some loosey goosey thing. It’s legit and backed by tons of science. Watch the Disney / National Geographic documentary starring Chris Hemsworth called, “Limitless.” If Thor meditates, so can you. And there are apps for this if you feel like you “don’t know how to meditate.”
3 . GET OUTSIDE: We can’t just engage our eyes and mind with audio and visual digital content. Being human is a multi sensory voyage. We need touches, smells, sensations in our body. Scaffolding from my previous tip: get outside for a trail walk! You might just be amazed at how it loosens your mind and frees your creativity and intuitive prowess. Pro tip: you can meditate outside (Thor does)! What do you hear? What do you smell? Can you feel that breeze tickling your skin?
4 . TAKE A BREAK FROM DISTRACTIONS AND EAR BUDS: I see people everywhere with ear buds lodged in their ears: running, hiking the trail, on public transit, even in their own home (my 17-year old son: I’m talking to you, buddy!) — absorbed in their own world. It distracts them from the immediate surroundings. Often times they are listening to podcasts or on a call. Being busy is overrated. Observation and deep attention is good for the soul. Take a break from the ear buds and your inner world, especially outdoors. Conduct a scavenger hunt when out and about to train your observation skills. Decide that you’ll look for and take note of something new each time: security cameras; flags; traffic cones; stray shopping carts; things that are the color teal; people holding hands; cyclists without helmets, etc.
5 . CHANNEL YOUR INNER CHILD: Ok, time for a bedtime story! With her now ubiquitous book Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown soundly rejected the dominant structure of children’s literature at the time and adopted an altogether radical approach (which meant it took 25 years for it to land on a library shelf, if you can believe that). She observed that young children connected with experiences that engaged the senses and that included objects and characters they could relate to. They didn’t care about plot. Instead: small animals — a bunny, a mouse — and everyday objects — a comb, a brush, a lamp. These familiar objects and animals, combined with the flat, saturated, primary-hued Matisse-like illustrations of Clement Hurd and a studied focus on the sound of the rhythmic, repetitive, almost hypnotic, words, all contributed to an experience that felt just plain good in children’s bodies. It felt comforting, safe — like a cozy blanket. And it was subversive at the time — you might even say seductive. Go back to that place yourself. Read aloud from a physical book, turning the paper pages. Reading to someone is also an act of bonding — not just a parent-child thing.
You are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I think I’m already doing that with my UN Women work and with my book. The theme is expanding equity and opportunity — particularly for those who have been left out.
The way we make progress in a big way is by doing it in the little ways. My own little nonprofit organization has helped about thirty families. You might consider that an insignificant number. But hey — it’s thirty families, including parents who threw their arms around me with tears in their eyes and sputtered, “this program has saved our family’s life!” Do what you can in your pocket of the world on a daily basis — without seeking recognition. If you’re waiting for your “big moment” on a national or international stage to make a “big impact,” you’re squandering opportunities all around you every day — the small stuff adds up. There’s a 17 year old woman I featured on my podcast who organized an inclusive dance program at her high school in San Francisco for students who had been omitted from traditional dance due to disabilities. NOTE: she tapped into something related to the body, not the cognitive mind! She got a grant, recruited five students with disabilities, and hosted a final 15-minute dance performance that I attended. That’s what I’m talking about — even five people. She didn’t say, “Only five? That’s not worth the trouble.” She understood that the status quo has left others out of discourse, decisions, and design. It’s episode 11 called “Negotiation is Danceable,” if you want to listen to it (20 minutes).
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Jon Hamm. We’re both midwesterners, born within days of each other in neighboring states (I know that from IMDB, not because I’m stalking him). Why? I have a shameless long-standing (perfectly healthy and not creepy at all) crush on him. Plus, I think he’s got a brain, a sense of humor and some humility. We actually have a number of common interests; I’m confident we could enjoy a sparkly conversation over grilled cheese and tomato soup while quizzing each other on “Anchorman” quotes and talking about our rescue dogs. I want to ask him if chasing fireflies after summer evening thunderstorms was as de rigueur for a boy in Missouri as it was for a girl in Illinois. And some other stuff.
You thought I was gonna say Thor, didn’t you? Chris Hemsworth is also acceptable if Jon is unavailable.
How can our readers follow you online?
Oh, I’m so on the internet, it’s exhausting. Just google me. I offer soooo many easy but transformative “Everyday Super Tips” (and original INTUITIVE art by ME!) in my splashy, stylish “best book on negotiation ever written,” “For the Forces of Good: The Superpower of Everyday Negotiation.” It’s not just for business; it’s everybody’s business. And you can find me on LinkedIn or pactumfactum.com
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule a free consultation, click here.