intuition planning & productivity

Overwhelm, intuition and thinking

January 27, 2017

thinking and intuition

You can get overwhelmed when the intuition is firing and there’s an abundance of creative inspiration. Whilst it’s a good problem to have, without balance it can lead to inaction. Here are some thoughts on how to manage this.

As an INTJ Myers-Briggs Type Indicator type, Introverted Intuition and Extraverted Thinking preferences play out to a large extent in my life. They are my dominant and auxiliary preferences respectively. There’s a frequent tussle going on between intuition and thinking over which takes the lead role at any particular point.

Being the dominant one, intuition often leads, coming from an interior and quiet place. It’s an inner voice or a flash of insight, a mystery I don’t fully understand and possibly never can. It’s taken me a while to begin to understand this part of me even though it’s the preeminent piece.

Thinking then is not far behind, connecting the ideas that come from intuitive inspiration, shaping them into an argument or a project, a strategic plan or a blog post. It links symbols in poetry more overtly or plays the role of editor, cutting back, refining and polishing.

When our intuition is switched on and we learn to tune into it more, suddenly so much comes in. That big picture becomes huge and threatens to overwhelm. Our to-do lists that involve crafting that inspiration further become enormous. It feels like all that creativity is going nowhere, just spinning round and round our head.

The Seven of Cups tarot card from the The Fountain Tarot recently captured this for me so well.
7 of cups

So many ideas, so many options, so many projects, so many plans. I can relate to the look on the woman’s face. The first time I drew this card, on a day of particular overwhelm, I laughed out loud. It just captures the feeling so perfectly, a state of being stunned into inaction by the options.

And the upshot of all this? Nothing much gets done except a lot of brainstorming, scribbled notes of potential and words of promise. We need to learn how to bring the intuition and thinking functions together to ground ourselves more into action in the external world.

Coalescing intuition and thinking

So if your interior world is running hot and your to-do lists are longer than your arm, here are some suggested strategies based on my experiences to focus energy and attention into action.

1 Practise rest and self-care

Ironically, I am finding that rest and self-care is fundamental to coalescing intuition and thinking to get action happening. Self-care is fundamental to all things, but it’s a special consideration here.  Like self-care in emergency situations so we can be of service, we need to ensure our buzzing intuition and sparking ideas don’t drive us into an energy tailspin where we are of no help to anyone. As Amber Adrian, intuitive and energy healer reminded me, “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” Wise advice.

And lo and behold, when we do rest and practice nourishing ourselves, the well-springs fill and the right ideas burst forth. Suddenly we know the answer or the next best thing to do.

2 Capture ideas and work in bite-size chunks

One of the big issues with creative overwhelm is that it’s all so exciting. We can feast on that emotion and not much else happens. I’m working to focus on specific aspects of projects within the time available each day. My Write Your Own Adventure planner, with its open and spacious approach, is helping to make every day a creative step in the journey. It’s easy to document progress and it’s showing me where my energy is going and where it’s dissipating.

I’m also working on breaking things up more: time into chunks and words into achievable targets. I’m starting to work with Scrivener  more to shape writing drafts and manage inputs. I’m using tools to capture ideas and connections so I don’t lose them. I’ve been a long time user of Evernote for gathering ideas, references and images and tagging them to bring together later.

I’m exploring time management and productivity techniques like the Pomodoro technique. Linked to self-care, it’s all about short bursts and writing sprints plus getting up, walking and keeping refreshed instead of sitting for hours. This is something I need now.

In a Secret Library podcast interview with Caroline Donahue, Scott Carney explains his formula for getting writing done which combines these techniques. He explains how he uses Scrivener and writes 500 words a day, 5 days a week and that over eight months, this ends up the length of a book manuscript. Or it could be a lot of blog posts. Either way it’s a great practical way to focus effort into chunks and get the writing done.

3 Realise the benefits of strategy

Sometimes a combination of intuition and intellect can lead to ‘analysis paralysis’ and over-thinking, especially when combined with introversion.

At our best, however, we can bring these three orientations together to create visionary plans, then work out the logical steps and goals to get there. We can identify the measures that help us achieve the plan and we can define what success looks like. And we can leave room for the unexpected.

Strategy is elegant clear thinking, being confident and assembling what we have logically. As Colette Baron-Reid says in relation to the ‘Thinker’ card from the ‘Wisdom of the Oracle‘ deck, when strategy is calling…

Things are exactly what they seem. You have all the information you need. Keep it simple and you will win the game of life you’re playing now.


Joanna Penn is my role model in this respect. Her webinar on how to achieve your goals in 2017 is a valuable example of strategy development in creative spaces. Joanna’s achievements over time exemplify how to work with both intuition and strategic thinking goals to make excellent progress.

Like any journey, knowing the destination helps with managing the steps to get there and avoids the wasted time of going down wrong paths.

4 Keep showing up

The overwhelm of so many creative ideas can make us feel that we are not getting anywhere compared to our aspirations. Consequently, we get discouraged and do nothing or not as much as we had hoped.

So it’s important to keep showing up to write the words, get the blog posts published and focus on the inputs that will help manifest our vision.  It’s vital to keep learning the skills that will help us do the work of our heart. But it’s achieved little by little as we show up each step of the way to bring that effort to bear.

Sometimes it’s hard to see where it’s all leading as an intuitive creative. But just ‘doing the work’ in line with our vision and plan is the way to take it forward.

Steven Pressfield is the best person to read about showing up and doing the work. His work has clearly shown us that the ‘not sitting down to write’ is resistance and ultimately, fear. We need to break the impasse and show up to find the intuitive mystery of the words as they unfold. In Turning Pro, Steven reminds us:

That place that we write from (or paint from or compose from or innovate from) is far deeper than our petty personal egos. That place is beyond intellect. It is deeper than rational thought.

It is instinct.

It is intuition.

It is imagination.

So the plan, the strategy, the structure, the formula are all valuable, but the heart of the work and the journey is at that space where the pen hits the page or the fingers hit the keyboard. It’s when the instinct, imagination and intuition find form.

And we only make that journey by showing up and writing, unfolding the mystery of our intuition, word by word.

Making the connection between head and heart

So my reflections on this have led me to realise that intuition leads the way, being the inspiration and destination. The intellect is there too but its role is to shape the map, plan the timeframes, create the doable list or corral the effort into something manageable. It has its place and its ultimately about keeping things simple and on track, not over complicating.

But the intuition, the active imagination comes first. It’s not so neat and time-sensitive nor is it predictable, but it’s the heart of the effort, the raison d’etre.

We need both. Without intuition, we wouldn’t have the creative imagination to start with. Without thinking, the inspiration wouldn’t see the light of day in a practical way.

In comes the Queen of Swords

I left this piece open-ended overnight as I thought how best to finish it. And in the night, the Queen of Swords came like a flash, her sword glinting in the darkness.

Queen of Swords

And this brought all the pieces together. You see, the Queen of Swords has been my poster girl for a while. She sits at the front of my Softly Wild  journal, guiding this piece of my life, where it says: “I dedicate this notebook to making the connection between head and heart.” I am on the last page of that book now.

And only yesterday as I work through Susannah Conway’s fabulous 78 Mirrors course, I discovered that the Queen of Swords can be seen as the court card for the INTJ type. Cutting through, clarity of thought and commitment are her specialty. I’ve recently completed my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification so this link holds special meaning as I seek to take this work into the world.

So in the end I find that I have the answers within me. That intuition is the heart and conduit to feeling. Thinking is the sword to cut through to the essence and bring it to light for me and others. It’s time to finally commit and do the work, given that I already know the strategies to get there.

I hope the spirit of the Queen of Swords and these ideas can give you the courage to face the overwhelm and get on with your work in the world too. Because we so need to see its refined shining light.

This piece is written for #IntuitiveFriday – you can find more about this initiative celebrating intuition here.

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Featured image from Shutterstock via Pixabay and used with thanks.

Queen of Swords image is from the Sakki Sakki Tarot deck.

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  • Reply Tami February 2, 2017 at 1:04 am

    Thank you, I love writing and comes in moments of inspiration. I am the ENFP and when the intuition kicks I find myself with a pocket full of paper with my thoughts jotted down. I found this article inspiring and filled with hope that I can get myself organized so my writing can make sense. Thank you.

    • Reply Terri February 2, 2017 at 8:42 pm

      Thanks for your feedback Tami – I’m glad you found it helpful! I imagine, like me, you would get lots of bursts of inspiration and see connections between things, being dominant in the intuition area. So I can understand all those pieces full of paper with thoughts jotted down – I have them too! I did a follow up piece on the blog with more information on Scrivener as a tool to capture ideas. You might find it helpful too if you haven’t already read it! All best wishes with getting organised with your writing.

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