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Unstuck and on purpose: Understanding ego versus intuition

coaching purpose Nov 20, 2023

Published in Expert Profile Magazine Summer Edition 2023.

Life is not a Disney movie, or is it? I experienced a profound realisation watching the animated children’s movie “Inside Out”...perhaps life is exactly like a Disney movie! There are several voices in my brain, some of which I should pay close attention to and some I should ask to keep the racket down!

The family film tells the story of a 12-year-old girl, Riley, and the characters living in her ‘Headquarters,’ each representing one of her emotions. Joy, Sadness, and others help her navigate complex life experiences—a concept I find useful in identifying my internal voices. I would like you to meet ‘Intuition,’ a short lady in radiant yellow robes and spectacles, and her counterpart Ego, a muscly man with tattoos and a heavy-set jaw (Yes, I’m a big kid who likes the idea of cartoon characters inside my head!).

Inside Out 2's New Emotions: Full List of New Characters

You will have your version of Intuition and Ego, cartoon or not. It is important to understand their differences to begin to recognise them. This will improve your decision-making, self-awareness, and personal growth and is a crucial step to ensuring your life is not stuck in a cycle of fear; instead, you are acting upon inner guidance and purpose.  


Let’s explore your Ego. 

When faced with a threat to self-image, Ego jumps into action. Often the loudest voice, booming over others, wanting to be heard, and acting in self-preservation.
Studied by neuroscientists, the amygdala, a region in our brain, is triggered when we are under threat and initiates Ego driven behaviours. Have you ever felt the need to be superior or prove your point, camouflaged parts of yourself to be liked, or gone out of your way to not make a mistake in public? These are all Ego driven behaviours. 


Now meet your Intuition. 

Somewhere, deep inside, you have a knowing. That is your Intuition. Described as gut feelings, hunches, or inner clarity, it is often the quiet voice that whispers to you. It is your innate ability to subconsciously work through information to make a judgement despite the limited cues you may have available. Nowadays, there’s even proof it exists. A ground-breaking experiment involving blind participants proved that despite their lack of sight, they could intuitively identify the emotion on a person’s face without seeing it. Other studies have produced further evidence that sayings like trust your gut, heart over head, sleep on it, or use your powers or perception, are good advice.


Let’s revisit Riley in Inside Out. There’s a moment in the film she decides to run away from the new home her family has moved her to and return to a place she 
felt safe. While not in the script, her inner dialogue might have sounded something like, “Run, get away! Quick, go now. Get back to our old home and everything we will better.” It is pushy, urgent, panicky, and desperate. The body will also respond physically in these moments by increasing the heart rate, sweating, or becoming tense. These signs can help you discern fear from gut feelings. 

Lined with a vast network of 100 million neurons, your gut works in tandem with your brain to recall past lessons and plays an important role in making intuitive decisions. In Riley’s case, her gut is intuitively sending her to a place of happiness but also working to keep free from the fear of a new home. It can be confusing to decipher! 

When 'Ego is the Enemy' becomes 'Egos [plural] are the Helpers'… – Better &  Betterer

You can use some key practices to hone your ability to live intuitively and avoid fear-driven ego responses. First, I suggest watching Inside Out; aside from being a big kid like me, it will drive home the need to listen for and reframe the conversations your emotions are having upstairs. Meditation and spending a few moments in stillness can help you tune in to the words and sensations within your body and help you to become aware of the driving force behind these. For an approach that requires a little more time, you can always sleep on it. Intuitive hits, downloads, and answers to your daytime problems often play out in your dreams.

Finally, my favourite approach to understanding, if I am acting in Ego versus Intuition, is to imagine the tattooed man and the short lady in yellow robes and ask myself which character is yelling at me, which character makes me feel good, and which character will help me to live unstuck and on purpose. 

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