When Your Inner Voice Speaks Do You Listen?

your inner voice

In the mid 1980’s the sport of hang gliding was at its zenith. Adventurous pilots were flying 100-200 miles at a pop while reaching altitudes of 20,000 feet and more. An amazing feat when you consider that they launched from the top of mountains without an engine or tow plane. This is the power of rising thermals and pilot skill.

How do I know about this? Because I was in the thick of it. For several years hang gliding was the central preoccupation of my life. It was an exciting and exhilarating time that I will never forget.

How I got involved

I was growing bored with flying small planes when a friend gave me three free Hang Gliding lessons as a gift. That was all it took, I was hooked. No, actually I was obsessed.

Within a year I owned and operated a hang gliding flight school and flew in every contest that came along. I truly felt that I was born to fly and within a short time I was competing with the best pilots in the country.

Too much of a good thing?

There is a danger to being too good at something, especially something so potentially risky. We called it the 200 hour syndrome. By the time you have logged 200 hours of air time in a hang glider, you have pretty much seen it all.

Too much experience can easily give birth to a sense of overconfidence, which can spell disaster in this particular sport. Even though turbulent air is invisible, it can be extremely powerful. I have been in thermals (rising columns of air) that were climbing at a rate of 3500 feet per minute. It was literally like falling up.

My flying partner and I were expert pilots with potentially lethal cases of overconfidence. We would risk it all to win a cross country race, and somehow we always managed to pull it off. Well, almost always.

The inner voice speaks

One day when I was not flying, my partner had a strong negative feeling. As he surveyed the weather conditions, he announced to a group of eager pilot friends: “I am not going to fly today. I have a bad feeling and a little inner voice telling me – don’t do it.”

So his mind was made up, he was not going to ignore his inner voice. For him, there would be no hang gliding that day. Instead, he volunteered to drive everyone else up the mountain to launch, so they could avoid the inconvenience of having to leave a truck at the top.

Maybe it’s not so bad

One by one, all the other pilots launched and then rode the thermals higher and higher. So there he was, all alone on the top of the mountain watching while everyone else was having a great time overhead.

He began to think that perhaps his feelings were misplaced. Perhaps he was just paranoid. Logic chipped away at his resolve to listen to his inner voice until he convinced himself that everything would be fine. He quickly set up his glider and flew off to join his friends.

After a few hours of fun, he decided to call it a day and headed for the landing area.

What goes up…

Conditions in the landing area were scary. The wind was blowing hard and it kept switching directions. It was like a rodeo ride trying to lose altitude and set up an approach. But this had happened many times before and his exceptional skill had always prevailed.

Not this time. Everything went wrong at the very last moment and he ended up in an ambulance on his way to the emergency room. It was a day that changed the rest of his life.

He didn’t listen to his inner voice

No one else had any problems that day. They all had safe landings, packed up, and went home. But then again, none of them had ignored their inner voice.

Sad to say, my friend spent the rest of his shortened life paralyzed from the waist down. It was a tragic event that taught me a valuable lesson. I retired from hang gliding a short time later because my inner voice was getting rather protective.

Have you been there?

Have you ever heard that inner voice telling you not to do something that you really wanted to do? Have you ever defied that feeling of “not today.”

Call it intuition, or instinct, or whatever you like, that voice and those feelings are there for a reason. My friend spent the remainder of his life regretting his decision. He knew better, but he did it anyway.

How about you?

Are you tuned into that little inner voice in your head? If so, have you learned to pay attention to it? Are you convinced that such feelings serve you for your own good?

Just because we have ignored those feelings in the past with no adverse consequences doesn’t mean that our intuition isn’t worth following. As in the case of my friend, we can see that it only takes one bad experience to change your life forever.

The missing clincher

This is the point when I would normally switch gears and focus on the obvious positive benefits of paying attention to your instincts. The problem is, I can’t do that.

You see, most of the time you will never know for certain whether you avoided some catastrophe or not. If you listen and everything turns out fine, there is simply no way of knowing what might have happened if you had chosen a different course.

That’s not how prevention works

For example: I have been health conscious all my life and I am in excellent health. Have my efforts saved me from some loathsome disease? There is really no way to know, one way or the other.

What I do know is that I am healthy now and I value that. As far as I am concerned, not having a problem is worth the effort to prevent one, with or without conclusive evidence.

Listen to your inner voice

When you feel uneasy about some course of action, don’t be embarrassed to go with your feelings. Do not let logic or group pressure talk you into something that doesn’t feel right. Trust your instincts and listen to your inner voice. We all have levels of knowledge that cannot be explained by logic or science, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

The more you listen to that little inner voice in your head, the clearer it gets. Instead of ignoring this unexplainable sense, develop it by paying attention and acting accordingly.

When we ignore a warning and have to pay a high price for our decision, that’s called regret. On the other hand, the absence of a problem is the same as a blessing.

How do you feel about intuition or instinct?
Has your inner voice ever helped you?
The lines are open!

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  1. Stephen April 7, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan, what an interesting and sad story at the same time. I think we should all pay attention to those gut feelings. Whatever you believe about those feelings, and I believe they are the accumulated experience of your life and your super subconscious mind, they are generally correct. I go with my gut unless I have a powerfully rational reason to override it.

    I’m so sorry about your friend. I wonder if somehow his bad feeling somehow put the wrong pictures in his subconscious and indirectly led to the problem. You know? It’s the same principle we all talk about. You get what you think about because your subconscious mind helps create the situation you pictured.

    Thanks for sharing this. I can’t believe you were such a daredevil!! I am scared of heights to some degree and it would take enormous courage for me to do something like hang gliding.

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Stephen, I know what you mean, which came first? Was the bad feeling a warning or did thinking about it create the problem? I think these type of feelings are some sort of premonition. Like an advanced warning system based on information the flies under our conscious radar.

  2. Rocket Bunny April 7, 2009 Reply

    Great article and I have ignored my inner voice and she could have said “I told you so” but she impressed upon me that it was a life lesson I needed to get me where I am today.
    I am sorry to hear about your friend’s unfortunate accident.
    I am competitive but take things into consideration. Hang gliding is something Thumper and I have said we would love to try and will.New and different things are always good.
    Thank you for sharing this.

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Bunny, It is pure flight, quiet and awe inspiring. There is an extensive training and certification process involved before you can go altitude. The insurance underwriters actually rate hang gliding as the safest form of private aviation. (as long as you don’t push the envelope too hard)

  3. Mike King April 7, 2009 Reply

    Certainly a thought provoking lesson (if you can call it that) and an interesting story even with the sad result. I love the adventure hang gliding offers but I’ve investigated the time required, not sure if I’ll get to it or not. As for that voice, I can’t say I’ve had any memorable experience where I didn’t listen to that voice but I’ve certainly listened a number of times where I felt afterwords that it may have even saved my life. It can’t be proven but the reinforcement that feeling gives is something that always helps me to listen more in the future. I’ve never regretted listening even when I seemed to have missed something as the feeling has always been more powerful than what I missed out on. Great topic!

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Mike, I am sure that you have saved yourself many regrets by being aware enough to go with your feelings and listen to your inner voice. It’s commendable that you have an appreciation for this subtle but powerful intuitive sense.

  4. Robin Easton April 7, 2009 Reply

    What an remarkable man you are. I am a slow reader and chewed through this, tripping over myself. I couldn’t read it fast enough. It was so gripping.

    Lawrence Gonzales, talks about this very thing in his book DEEP SURVIVAL, the over confidence of experts. So many accidents happen because expert rafters, pilots, skiers, etc. become familiar with their skill.

    Years a go I became so at ease in the rainforest and even handled some highly deadly snakes — was very curious about them. I didn’t want to live in fear of their deadliness. so I learned to better understand them. BUT over and over I had to remind myself NOT to be become over confident, lax and so forth. I learned that I had to stay in survival mode. All the time. One slip and I could be bitten by a deadly snake, stung by a deadly jelly fish, a stinging tree, grabbed by a croc in the sea and any number of other accidents. I took a lot of risks to push the envelope on my fear as well as my understanding and relationship with life. But I always tried to check in with myself.

    It was these potentially deadly creatures that forced me into awareness. I’d reentered the food chain, so to speak, and had to be aware like all the rest of life in the forest. I grew to deeply appreciate the survival skills of other species.

    Please forgive such a long comment. This post is topic dear to my heart. My dad always to told my 4 brothers, my sister and I to “Listen to your inner voice.” I grew up hearing that and never forgot it. Thank you Jonathan.

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Robin, like Mike, I am sure that you too have no doubt saved yourselves many regrets by being aware enough to go with your feelings and listen to your inner voice. It’s also commendable that you both have an appreciation this subtle but powerful intuitive sense.

  5. Seamus Anthony April 7, 2009 Reply

    Yes. It is tricky. My ‘inner voice’ tells me not to get on the airplane every single time, of course they always land safely so…

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Seamus, sometimes, when fear is involved it can be tricky to tell the difference.

  6. Dragos Roua April 7, 2009 Reply

    Wow, thanks for sharing this personal story. I know it was pretty difficult for you to share it, I can feel sadness and regret all over. Flying is one of the things I would like to do someday and is something really high on my list.

    I had similar experiences with intuition or “feelings”. What I can add is that intuition is not always in the “protective” mood. Sometimes I have this “resolution” feeling that tells me everything is going to be allright. Of course, the environment is trying to tell me the opposite but I don’t listen. Or at least, I don’t listen as carefully I did in the past.

    The inner voice is in fact the inner light. It shows you how you can unfold your life.

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Dragos, That’s an excellent point about protective or resolution mode. I have the same thing but had never connected it to the same intuitive sense. Thanks for that insight.

  7. Mark Lewis April 7, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan, two questions:

    Why was your friend’s life shortened as a result of paralysis?

    What’s the difference between your inner voice and fear?

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Mark, good questions. 1) His aorta was ripped and eventually (two weeks ago) the patch failed suddenly. 2) Sometimes they are the same, but when there is no fear involved (he had zero fear of flying) and the voice or feeling just happens out of the blue we can assume it’s origin is from some other source. Like

  8. Kikolani April 7, 2009 Reply

    I can’t remember a specific time my inner voice told me not to do something, but I can think of many times it tells me to do something.

    It’s usually little things. Most recently, it was that maybe I should start carrying my camera around with me to work. I did, and two days later, I found the hummingbirds at my office, something I might not have noticed as early on if I didn’t have the camera. Other times it has been things like take my cell charger to work, and when I didn’t, my phone would die at an inconvenient moment.

    ~ Kristi

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Kristi, it seems you are really tuned in to your inner voice Kristi. I think the positive messages tend to be whispered while the warnings are much louder.

  9. harvey April 7, 2009 Reply

    Sorry to hear about your friend. After watching a documentary on Patrick de Gayardon (RIP) I craved parachuting, but never got around it. Those must have been great times. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Harvey, they were awesome and exciting times. I have actually played flying games with hawks at a mile or two above the ground.

  10. Daniel Brenton April 7, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan, good reminder.

    Sorry to hear about your friend, but if nothing else we might all profit from his experience. Oddly enough, a couple of folks close to me are in law enforcement, and I’ve been told in their training they are actually encouraged to “listen to their gut” — that if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. What surprises me about this is that an institution essentially supports the use of intuition.

    All the best, Daniel

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Daniel, that is surprising. Thanks for sharing that.

  11. Mark Lewis April 7, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan, I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s death; I thought you were implying life was over for him as a result of paralysis – when I first posted.

    You make a great point that overconfidence and fear are mutually exclusive. Perhaps the difficulty is realizing overconfidence. I’m not sure giving up something you love is the best answer, however.

    Maybe you’ll have a different opinion as time passes?

    Great post.

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Mark, actually I had a number of reasons for feeling like it was time to move on. For one thing, hang gliding is very time consuming and I indulged myself for five years. The other reason was, I found myself pushing the limit too often. I was constantly thinking about doing loops and other crazy stunts. I figured that it was better to retire while I was still on top of the game.

  12. Alik Levin April 7, 2009 Reply

    Sorry to hear about your friend…
    Good reminder. I like risks but i like it being calculated…. If i cannot calculate the risk I usually stick with the worst case scenario – call it “listening to my inner voice”. I had few situations when my little inner voice has told me “do not do it” or “keep your big mouth shut” which saved me big time.

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Alik, good to see you and I totally agree about calculated risk. That’s one of the problems with overconfidence, it distorts our ability to calculate objectively.

  13. Annette Colby, PhD April 10, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    Thank you for sharing such a poignant and heartfelt story. I am truly sorry about the loss of your friend.

    For over eight years I rode a Harley Davidson Fat Boy. It was an amazing experience. There were days where everything was perfect – the air was warm and I felt as if I was one with my bike. I rode thousands and thousands of miles all across this gorgeous United States. Wind, rain, sunshine, and unexpected hail – I encountered it all without incident.

    One day, my inner voice kept telling me to quit riding. Not just for a day, but to give up riding altogether. I ignored it for awhile, but it kept getting louder. One day, I lost control of my bike on a patch of gravel. Nothing was severly injured, except my pride was bit bruised. But I knew that the voice I was hearing and this fall were related. The fall wasn’t a warning, but more of a precursor. I knew for sure it was time to give up my beautiful Harely. Maybe one day I’ll ride again, but not until I hear the okay from my true inner self.

    That’s the thing about our inner knowingness or intuition – we don’t have proof that it’s right. We just KNOW. Self Love is our ability to stay true to ourselves without going to heads and analyzing the situation or overiding our knowingness.

    We’re all glad you are here with us, reminding us to listen to our true selves, and inspiring us with your writing.

    • Jonathan November 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Annette, well you just never know what paths others have walked. It is so amazing to gain a glimpse into those events and experiences that contributed to the people we became. Thank you for sharing that story, I never would have guessed. We’re all glad that you are here with us also.

  14. Angela April 11, 2009 Reply

    Powerful testimony to the importance of listening to the Voice. If we could all discern and consider that inner whisper of truth, we could not only avoid personal catastrophe, but perhaps also make wiser decisions to improve our world together.

  15. Steve August 9, 2010 Reply

    Intuition is such an important life skill to cultivate, and it cannot happen when we are unaware, over-busy, and distracted. That’s why journaling, reflection, and self-examination are so important. Jonathan, thanks for sharing such a riveting and poignant story.

  16. Sandra Hendricks August 10, 2010 Reply


    Essentially, you are expressing that your friend thought that he should do something, and he listened. It wasn’t as much about what he should avoid as it concerned what he should do. This is why I believe that the word should can be worthwhile. It could benefit us to reevaluate our outlook concerning this word. Doing what we think we should do with unbridled enthusiasm is dangerous. However, if we do more of what we think we should it could benefit us in most cases.

    I used to buy into the theory that the word should is one that causes us to procrastinate, feel guilty, etc. One day I recognized it as a form of intuition and began to examine the favorable aspects of this word, of which there are many!

  17. jazmin June 10, 2011 Reply

    This was really interesting, he has acquired something out of it even if in the end he was paralyzed. I’ve got my inner voice like all of you but it speaks rarely and whatever it says becomes true. It is an unexpected revelation to me but I don’t understand it sometimes. Last time I got a feeling that something wrong was going to happen, in fact this inner voice or instinct had said something that I tried to ignore, I didn’t even let it surface. And that day something things could have gone very wrong except that a friend came to my rescue. That’s the last time I choose to ignore that feeling.

  18. Angela December 23, 2011 Reply

    Yes, you must listen to your inner voice. Absolutely! It is there for a reason. I’m so glad you shared this article with your readers. Wonderful!
    All my best to you, Angela

  19. Wout Wynants March 23, 2012 Reply

    Hey Jonathan,

    Very interesting article. I have similar experiences, all of them while flying small planes. On two occasions I listened to the inner voice. A friend an I were about to take off on a night flight in a Cessna 152 and as we were doing our ‘run-up’ before takeoff we sort of looked at each other and agreed something just wasn’t right. It was a gorgeous night for flying, but we just taxied right back to the ramp and drove home.

    Second occasion I was supposed to fly that same Cessna down to Cincinnati, Ohio with a friend. There were thunderstorms on our route but overall it didn’t look too bad. I then remembered John & Martha King’s saying ‘a superior pilot is a pilot who uses superior judgement to prevent having to use superior skill’. I figured something just didn’t feel right and disappointed (actually quite annoyed) as my friend was, I didn’t do the flight.

    The one and only time I didn’t! listen to that inner voice (while flying at least…) was on a flight home from Chicago Midway in a Piper Cherokee. I had a feeling our fuel burn had been higher than it should have been but didn’t pay too much attention to it. It didn’t feel ‘right’, but we were eager to get home. I had the aircraft fueled and with two friends (including another pilot) we took of at dusk for our flight to a small airfield near Ft Wayne IN. Fuel burn was even worse and we were now in a bad situation. At night, low fuel, strong crosswind, short runway with trees at the other end. With the fuel gage effectively reaching zero I got it to a stop with about 10ft of runway remaining… We were very lucky not to crash. Turns out the fuel burn was due to a crack in a rubber component in the fuel system. About half the fuel was going into the engine and the other half was being sprayed and vaporized around the engine. Why we didn’t simply blow up that night is quite the mystery :-)

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