Is it fear or is it intuition? How to tell the difference.

You’re standing in line to board an airplane, headed for a long overdue vacation, when you suddenly remember the old Twilight Zone episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” where a leering, evil gremlin perches on the wing of an airplane in mid-flight, taunting a nervous passenger while it’s dismantling an engine.

You shiver, and your body recoils. You begin to worry.  Is this a premonition that your flight will have trouble?   Should you get on the plane?

Your mind races between the fear of getting on the plane and the fear of not getting on.  You’d be pretty upset if you missed your flight and delayed your vacation for no good reason. The line begins to move forward and you panic, not knowing what to do.

Is this fear or is this intuition?

If we want to rely more on our intuition, we need to understand the difference.   And it’s tricky, because intuition can provoke a thought that provokes fear.

By definition, intuition is a direct perception of Truth. It’s knowing without knowing how we know.  The mind’s logic and reasoning processes are not involved.

Fear, on the other hand, is a distressing emotion of a real or perceived danger.  It can be true or false.  A false perception or memory can provoke fear, like when we see a paper fluttering in the shadows, and startle because we think it’s a spider.  Or when we remember a creepy television show

We all know what fear feels like—shaking, sweating, churning, burning, gnawing, hand-wringing angst.

But what about knowing without knowing how we know?  What does that feel like?

For starters, fear screams at us.  It won’t leave us alone until it’s convinced we’re safe. Intuition whispers, and stays indifferent whether we heed it or not.

Intuition gets our attention if we’re listening. Fear gets or attention no matter what—it’s a survival mechanism, intended to override everything else.  After all, if we’re in danger, nothing is more important than our immediate safety.

Intuition is not only beyond explanation, it’s beyond fear.  It speaks mysteriously, sings to us, tosses us tidbits and synchronicities.  We suddenly remember a person, a song, a bird.  Or a gremlin.

Intuition pops into our awareness, but after that, it doesn’t seem to care what we do. It’s detached, content to let us choose whether or not to heed its messages.

And intuition doesn’t rattle your bones.

Fear is a two-by-four that smacks right between the eyes.  Intuition is a poet.

So how do you untangle them?  How do you know whether to leave your marriage, your job, your city?  How do you know whether to take off on an adventure, or whether to board a plane?

Start by getting your fear out of the way.  Get to the calm, peaceful core within yourself.  It’s always there, waiting for you.  That’s the place of Truth.  Go inside to the place that’s beyond fear.

But how do we do that?  How do we get to the place beyond fear?

Here are some tips you can experiment with:

Remain silent as you allow yourself to feel the fear in your body. Just notice it without trying to change it or make it go away.  Then, with curiosity and compassion, gently ask it what it believes, what it’s come to tell you, and what it needs.

Take several soft, breaths all the way down through your belly.  Then, allow your breath to become even and regularized. Keep breathing like that.

Let go of needing to find an answer. Trust that it will come to you.

Try my Heartbreathing Exercise. Drop an email to with “Heartbreathing Exercise” in the subject line, and I’ll send you an mp3 and worksheet with a guided exercise you can practice.  It will help you get calm and in touch with your intuition.

Soften your gaze and expand your field of vision. Fear causes the eyes to sharpen their focus to a single point.  It’s a survival mechanism designed to keep precise tabs on gremlins.  Widening our field of vision signals our brain and body that the gremlins are gone.

Be here now. Practice mindfulness. Practice stillness.  Practice yoga. Practice staying connected to your body.  Practice laughter.  Practice anything that helps you learn to stay in the present.

Be a witness and an observer. Observe your thoughts, rather than debating with them or analyzing them.  Just notice how they bubble up, but that they are not you.

Remember that coaching ourselves out of fear is a skill. It takes both practice and permission to make mistakes. With patience, you can learn to let go of your fear, efficiently and effectively.

And there, in that place beyond fear, you will find your answer to whether you should leave your marriage or your cushy but soul-sucking job.  Or whether you should jump on a sailboat with that pirate of the Caribbean you met on vacation.

When we can step into that place beyond fear, we can sense, see, hear, notice intuitive messages.  Decisions and answers reveal themselves there.  Your path may not be easy, or even completely revealed, but your direction will be clear.

And when you get to that place, you’ll know–without knowing how you know–whether or not to get on that airplane.

21 thoughts on “Is it fear or is it intuition? How to tell the difference.

  1. Deb

    Terry, I love this explanation. The knowing without knowing how…and the indifference of intuition…of course. I’ve had my share of fear shouting at me. I really don’t need to shout back, do I? 🙂

  2. Kimberly Dawn

    This is so true Terry! The more I work through my fears, concerns, and anxiety feelings the more I can really get in touch with the truth my intuition wants to tell me. Like you always say…once the layers of fear or questioned and worked through then we can get to that still place of peace. When I am in that place of peace is when I hear the clearest intuitive voice. It always guides me in the correct direction! It is that ever still place that knows more then I know. Like a calm friend who is very neutral. Great post! xoxo Kim

  3. Janelle

    Thanks for this Terry. I’ve been going through fear lately, especially in the morning when it seems to be at its peak. I’ve done many of your suggested exercises and they have been helpful. I’ve also tried getting into a place where I felt safest, getting grounded through breathing, and then allowing myself to intensify my fear to its highest point by deliberately imagining all the images and words that I’m fearful about. It’s very painful, but it allows me to feel the feeling all the way through and then just release it.

  4. Sara

    Beautiful post, Terry!

    I’ve been exploring this a lot more as a mom lately, and it’s amazing how being willing to just engage and experiment in the process, rather than worrying about whether my intuition is “correct,” has made all the difference in the world.

    Letting myself sloooow down in the moment so that I can really hear what I’m saying to myself – and perhaps projecting on to my children – it’s becoming easier and easier to feel when I’m in ego-land and how incredibly different that is from the singular, decisive clarity of intuition.

    Thank you for expressing this so clearly!


  5. rebecca @ altared spaces

    “Intuition whispers.”

    Of course intuition is polite! I hadn’t thought about this before. I have the whisper voice all the time, but because that voice is quiet, it’s also easy to give the brush off.

    I’ll be listening with same poetic intention as intuition whispers. Softly I will let my eyes gaze.

  6. Debee DiMenichi

    Oh, Terry how your words speak to me! How many times I hear the whispers of my intuition when doing Inquiry with you. I’ll be meditating on the distinction between the gentleness of intuition versus chaotic crazy making fear, listening for the still quiet whisper. Paying more attention.
    Thanks for all you do to bring healing to my world.

  7. Jill Winski

    This is such a wonderful reminder, Terry. Again and again I need to be sure I am not mistaking fear for intuition. It can be tricky to tell the difference, but you make it very clear! Thank you.

  8. Amy Steindler

    I LOVE it when you talk about intuition–you have such a clear understanding of how it presents itself. I am grateful for the explanation of the signs that mark the inner voice as intuition vs fear. So helpful!

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  10. Rebecca Pena

    I absolutely LOVED this, Terry! Thank you for putting to words what we already know but don’t realize we do…

  11. SYD

    This is a great written piece and really answered my question about the difference of intuition vs. fear. It’s sometimes so hard to distinguish but the main message is loud and clear. Intuition speaks to you, fear is physical reaction. Thank you.

  12. Terry Post author

    They both can be a physical reaction and both can come in a spoken form inside our heads, but intuition is subtle and lacks the urgency. It metaphorically whispers, but might come in the form of a sensation. Fear really grabs you much more powerfully. Again, it can be fear caused by thoughts, or a physical sensation. And fear can sometimes really be a warning that there is danger. When my car engine caught on fire and I felt fear, it was real and I needed to move quickly. When I’m afraid because I see hear a rustling in the bushes outside at night, it is more likely an imagined fear.

  13. Beth

    Love love love the specifics you share here. So much like the quiet, compassionate, observant state of readiness that best helps one to desensitize and train a frightened horse.

  14. Terry Post author

    I think it’s exactly the same state as we use to effectively connect with frightened animals or frightened people, for that matter. I think that in the case of intuition, we are connecting with ourselves. Thanks for your thoughtful remarks Beth!

  15. Deborah(MB Coach Training)

    Terry, this explanation is very helpful. Thank you for directing us to read it this week for more clarity. It is helpful even if we already “get” the difference. Less words and more connecting with our inner selves, silencing the mind, allows us to know the truths of our being and our individual beliefs. Thanks for this.

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