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Four Strategies for Listening to Your Gut

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I recently wrote this post on how we need to rebrand the notion of a gut-instinct as being an individual’s “faster intelligence.” This gives gut reactions the credit they deserve (speed, accuracy, and moral astuteness). Rebranding the expression is only the first step, though. We need to develop mechanisms to make this faster intelligence louder, more lucid, and more pronounced. There are likely hundreds of ways that we can better listen to our more intuitive self. That said, to get the ball rolling, below are four examples of how to liberate your faster intelligence.

1. Flip a coin.

Need to make an extremely important decision that could change the course of your life for the months or years to come? An easy way to help make that decision is to simply flip a coin. Sound haphazard? Well, I’m serious. Teju Ravilochan, the fearless leader of the Unreasonable Institute, is the one who first led me to this decision making strategy. If you are torn between a binary decision (i.e. trying to decide whether or not to do something), flip a coin and assign tails to “yes” and heads to “no.” Then, when the coin lands on either side, listen to the immediate gut reaction you feel to the results of the coin toss. If you feel a sense of sadness or disappointment, then you know that you need to do the opposite of what the coin told you. Conversely, if you feel a sense of relief with the results of the coin toss, then you should go with what the coin demands. In short, that immediate internal reaction is your faster intelligence telling you which way to go.

We need to develop mechanism to make our intuition, louder, more lucid, and more pronounced.  Tweet This Quote

2. Drink beer.

The Foundry Group in Boulder has a simple value that I love. Before they will invest into a prospective startup, they ask themselves if the team they are going to invest in passes the “beer test.” In short, is it a team of individuals who they would enjoy having a beer with. If the answer is yes, then they move forward with looking at the deal; if the answer is no, they won’t place the investment and they discontinue exploring the opportunity. It’s a simple framework that I believe allows the partners at Foundry to easily listen to their faster intelligence when placing an investment.

3. Eat dinner.

An incredible team leader who I’ve became close friends with on Unreasonable at Sea, Caroline Whaley, once told me a simple framework for knowing if you are working with the right team or not. She asked me to consider that if I went to dinner with my team, are there people I’d rather sit next to and others who I’d hope I didn’t get sat next to? If the answer here is yes, that likely means you need to have a serious heart to heart conversation with the people you don’t want to sit next to as something is clearly off.

4. Surround yourself.

There’s a saying that you are the amalgamation of the five people who you spend the majority of your time with. If this is true, then I highly recommend ensuring that you spend a great deal of time with the type of people who will help give you permission to follow your intuition and listen to your faster intelligence. If none of the people you spend the majority of your time with encourage you along this trajectory, then I suggest seeking out a new friend or two, or immersing yourself into a new community, in addition to your current friends. Maybe you will even be able to find that community here, at

If I can point to these four frameworks so quickly, there are likely many more out there. I’m excited to hear if you have any methods or have heard of any additional frameworks that help make your faster intelligence louder, clearer, and more grounded. Please feel free to brainstorm in the comments section below.

Daniel Epstein

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Daniel Epstein has an obsession. He believes to his core in the potential of entrepreneurship to solve the greatest challenges of this century and he has dedicated his...

Daniel Epstein has written 21 articles for

  • http://Unreasonable.Is/ Cat George

    the beer test= brilliant. Fellow readers, any additional suggestions for strategies to effectively listen to your gut? Would love to know!

  • Rustin Sage Coburn

    Love this !
    So it may sound pretty cliche, but I find that the more present I am in a situation…. I mean really being in the moment and listening…. my “gut” speaks out very loud and very clear. My ” faster intelligence” is cranked way up when I am fully present. Now to be more present, a few simple tricks are focus on your breathing and give the people you are with, or the parameters of the situation, your undivided attention. Rest, food, and exercise help too :)

  • Hanna Boyd

    The importance of “surrounding yourself” resonates with me the most. When family, friends and co-workers encourage me to “go with my gut,” I instantly feel supported. But perhaps even more importantly, I feel trusted. They trust that the life experiences I’ve had so far give “my gut” and “faster intelligence” the credibility it deserves. So, if I find myself questioning whether it’s irresponsible to make one decision over another, I’m not afraid to check in with my “faster intelligence” and know that if the decision I make feels a little irrational, I need to trust it (just like those who surround me do).

  • Rob S

    I often use the coin flip method. In fact, I keep coins from different countries on my desk for that very purpose. I don’t use them often, but when I do, tossing a coin gets me unstuck very quickly.

  • Michelle Miller

    Based on results, I’ve found that the opportunities that arise spontaneously, my gut embraces the most. Trusting my gut is key as it has never let me down. Because even if things don’t “work out” as intended, I trust I’m capable to make it happen. Gut+Trust =Unstoppable

  • ryanhaberer

    Very interesting read. I find myself doing similar things when I am trying to make tough decisions. I often ask myself if I would feel comfortable meeting certain people in a social setting. If you aren’t comfortable with a team member or a particular person in a social setting you sure aren’t going to be comfortable with them when it comes to making serious decisions and you are going to doubt your decisions even more. I often like to exercise right before i have to make a big decision. Not only does it seem to relax me and calm my nerves, but it helps keep me more focused on that particular situation and help me think more clearly rather than having my thoughts scatter elsewhere.

  • atozzi

    Listening to that inner voice or instinct is very important. Very interesting techniques on how to tap into that little voice inside though. I thought they were very intriguing and interesting. I may have to put some of them to use, that is if I am at a stalemate. But that inner voice never steers you wrong so as long as you listen close enough you are in very capable hands.

  • Glassborow

    Thank you for writing this article, I actually found this more useful than I thought it would be! I’ve used the ‘flipping the coin’ strategy before and I know it’s definitely helped me make some tough decisions, you realize what you want when the coin is still in the air. I think these strategies are very effective and also convenient if you are in a situation with people and decisions need to be made quickly. My favorite strategy was the final one, I really liked how you said that you are an amalgamation of the five people you spend the majority of your time with, it made me think about who I am as a person and the type of people I am surrounded by. Do you ever think that your gut instinct could be wrong? Or do you believe that you should always stick by it?

  • Dena Keizer

    These are some good tips i think i will use in the future when dealing with people in my profession. My boyfriend is in the business world and i think this is some useful information i could pass on to him!

    Thanks for the four strategies!

  • d_millyy

    Thank you for this post, two of the four ways to listen to your gut I really agree with. I also agree that your gut feeling is the most powerful feeling and when we actually do go with it, I believe we find a sense of happiness and control in our life because we are making our OWN decision. However, I can not agree with the drink a beer and eat dinner strategies. My reason is because it’s too bland and doesn’t really incorporate ever example of people you may cross. Like there are going to be people in your life who impact your greatly and help make choices for you but you would never have a beer or dinner with them for maybe countless reasons. However, the flip a coin strategy is the most accurate and powerful strategy in my opinion. I believe that one really brings out your true emotions, and emotions are very powerful.

  • Evan Hibbs

    Thank you for the blog Mr. Epstein, this is very useful information that I never thought about. I consider myself to be very friendly but there are always certain people you have a better with than others. This blog makes that very true, why would you want to work with someone who you don’t feel all that comfortable being around? Have you ever worked with/hired anyone you had bad chemistry with?

  • Evan Hibbs

    The beer test was a great idea! I know it’s similar but asking yourself if you were trapped in a room with someone you work with, would it be horribly awkward or would it be a fun experience?!

  • altruax0

    This was a great read. I didn’t think of making discussions that way. It defiantly helps those who are indecisive and can potentially save time. In the future I will use this method to help decide on a few things that are a little hard to decide on. Thanks.

  • sgawinski

    I really like the idea of flipping the coin. It is a great way to really find out what you truly wanted deep inside. I think it’s a good idea to follow our gut sometimes rather than over-thinking things in our head and making a choice that we knew deep inside we probably shouldn’t have done all along. Flipping a coin also gets that result/answer right away and prevents taking forever going back and forth between the options. Great article

  • Theresa Fitzsimmons

    Thank you for giving me four very useful strategies for allowing me to listen to my gut. I actually have done the coin flipping technique before. It has been very useful to me when making decisions about work and school. Although I have already used one of the techniques, the other advice about beer, dinner, and who is surrounding me is also very helpful. Which one of these strategies have you used the most?

  • C. I. Alsept

    Ahh, never heard of the beer test, interesting, I myself gut feeling kicks in when my hair stands up on my arms. I also practice the IChing, love it! Interesting what you wrote about the “Eat Dinner”, i just started working with teams and this would be fascinating to practice, so far I have been fortunate enough to have great team members, but I ever ever feel liked I’m pressed against the wall, will definitely consider all your suggestions, great reading and food for thought!

  • thomas kearney

    This posts was very intriguing. I never thought by the title “listen to your gut” that drinking a beer would’ve been in the same statement. I do agree with the surround yourself statement that you brought up though. I hang out with about 4 people consistently and they are all very supportive of what I want to do in life. What do you think out of the options you listed above is the most important in your opinion. Thank you for giving me a new way to think about this

  • http://Unreasonable.Is/ Cat George

    Either way, it would be a story for the books =)

  • danac501

    Thank you for writing this article! I have tried the coin toss method in situations like should I go out tonight and that’s when my gut tells me one way and brain says another so that’s when I go with my gut. I have done it where I say I will flip the coin again to make sure that is what I want to do. Why do you think I would do that because I didn’t like the result of the coin toss? or am I afraid to go with my gut. I love the dinner strategy one and will have to try it out! Also maybe another strategy is if you are stuck in the same room with someone all day with nothing to do but talk to the person could you sit and have intellectual conversations? I believe that’s a way you can find a true friend.

  • Ananda Conlon

    Those are surprisingly smart ways to make a decisions. I was slightly skeptical of these decision making tactics when I briefly scanned over the article prior to reading it. By placing the pressure off of your self and on to an object of situation, you are able to let your instincts take control. This is something I struggle with. I tend to really analyze a situation prior to making a decision. This puts a lot of added stress on the situation. Thank you for your simplification.

  • Jack Delabar

    These are fantastic. When the first thing I read was “flip a coin”, I was a little skeptical. But the outcome of the coin isn’t the important part! The important part comes when the coin is flipping in the air. That is almost as brilliant as the beer test. I think it can be applied in other areas besides making investments too. You will obviously work well with someone if you are comfortable enough to have a beer with them, even at a professional level. Thanks Dan.

  • Jack Delabar

    My most effective strategy for listening to my gut is Nike’s motto: “Just do it”. Just freaking do it. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong but I have enough trust in myself to believe that whatever decision I make is the right decision.

  • Jack Delabar

    I used to be the same way, Ananda. Over-analyzing can really get in your head and cause an uneasiness, even if you make the right decision. Now, I’ve found that just going with your gut can cut stress in huge amounts. Try it sometime!

  • karinaz10

    This was some interesting advice, in which to my surprise, I unknowingly participate in. I love the “Flip a coin” method. I think this is effective because deep down you truly know the answer, it just takes a little coaxing of the gut to bring the right decision out. I don’t physically flip a coin to make decisions, I mentally talk my way through it, but the effect is the same.

  • knapprl17

    I think all of these are great ways to listen to your gut. My favorite is the coin toss. I actually used it in the past to decide which soccer team I should play on. As soon as the coin was in the air I knew which one I wanted it to land on. The one about dinner and surrounding yourself definitely got me to start thinking about the people I surround myself with and if they are truly getting me to where I want to end up in my life.

  • JeremyWahl

    Good article Daniel. i hear the saying all of the time “go with your gut.” I like the coin flip part the best. I recently used this method to decide if i really wanted to go out and spend money when i could hangout with my friends. I knew what i wanted to do when i flipped it and while in the air. It landed on staying in but my friends and I wanted to go out so i had a little extra push. I also like the surround yourself method. this made me really think why i hangout with some of the people i do currently.

  • Natasha Tynczuk

    This article is brilliant! Of the four strategies, the one that stood out to me was the coin toss. I have actually used the same idea in different ways numerous times. It helps me so much when I can’t decide on something, and I’m dwelling on it way longer than I should be.

  • evillarr6

    I think both the coin toss and the dinner ideas are genius! I’ve never thought about making big decisions like this. I usually don’t have too much trouble following my instincts, but I’ll keep these ideas in my back pocket.

  • mankobj22

    My friend once told me to do strategy number one. She said that whenever you have a difficult decision to make, flip a coin because as soon as its in the air, you know what you are wishing for. I have to admit that so far, this has been a very effective strategy for me. I am confident that these other strategies would prove just as effective and I will practice them as well, but I can personally speak to the coin flip. Its may be a common joke to make – hey, just flip a coin, but it works! Its not the actual result, but the feelings that it creates that answers your question for you.

  • Nathan

    Thanks! I have heard flipping a coin will tell you what to do because when the coin is in air you will want it to land on one side or the other. I really do like your way but I feel like they are similar. I think the eating dinner one is good because people need to eat, and eat regularly! How do you think we can convince people to adopt these things?

  • LeiderGM20

    Along the same lines….write a pro con list. If you find yourself I got placed at badger for student teaching!!!!! ( : best news of my daydesprately trying to find more pros, it might be something you really want to do. And vice versa, if you are finding every stupid con out there to write down you probably dont want to really do it

  • Trista Radloff

    This is an awesome idea!!! It reminds me of an episode of friends. The character Rachel had taken a pregnancy test, her friend read off the results. Her friend said it was negative. Rachel we extremely disappointed…it was really positive.

  • Ananda Conlon

    I feel like that is definitely easier said than done. I think I could use this with smaller decisions, but with larger decisions, it can be hard to jut go with your gut rather then do ample research.

  • amberbrandimore

    These are all great ideas! I love the coin flip one! Anytime I cannot make a decision and someone picks for me I can tell which one I actually wanted to choose depending on whether I’m disappointed or relieved. Thanks for the post!

  • Kaylie Mae Kuhnke

    the beer test is brilliant and i feel it would work with all aspects of my life and making choices. the other ideas are also great strategies. this article is perfect and as an all around awesome idea.

  • Jessica White

    I’m definitely going to use the tips discussed in the article but I had to comment with LeiderGM20 because I’m a person that writes pro – con lists. I’m a very visual person so writing out a list helps me see which side I should lean to. Even if I have more cons than pros, I am able to weigh the pros over the cons if something is more important to me than the small consequence. By then, if I’m weighing the importance of something, it usually gives me a clear picture of what my decision should be regardless of how the list turns out.

  • Alise Brown

    This is a great article and it brings a lot of truth. You can really tell your gut is right when you listen carefully

  • Alise Brown

    I definitely agree with the beer test! And not just because I’m a college student, but anyone you can’t relax with and have a normal conversation is someone that will always have you on edge

  • Alise Brown

    Oh I love that thought! I can definitely picture some people that would be excruciationly awkward to be left alone with, and others we would have the time of our lives in an empty room.

  • Hannah Leggett-Hintz

    Over the past couple of years, I have figured out that my gut is a fricking GENIUS! Seriously you would usually just think that life will figure itself out and what not. But honestly, EVERY time my gut has thought something, life has proved itself that there could be nothing more true. I love each of these tips, and although I’m not a drinker, the beer theory seems to be the absolute most popular. Not too surprising because I live in Wisconsin and I know my state. Personally I’m a foodie so the dinner one had me at eat. Either way, I found great advice through this article.

  • Leahrebout

    Such a cool article! I am one of those people who have a gut reaction and then over think it and end up changing my mind about it. I need to learn to trust my gut and follow it. These ideas of how to do that are good ways to know how you truly feel about something. I will have to test some out thanks for posting!