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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 UNREASONABLE.is.

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

About the author

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 UNREASONABLE.is

  • 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!

  • http://unfilteredagency.com/ 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 :)
    Thoughts?

  • 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).

  • http://www.expat-journal.com/ 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!

  • Garrett Nelson

    Those are all great strategies, thanks for sharing! I personally like the coin flip one and beer drinking one, as they include an internal component to them that really determines what your gut feeling is. I have used these strategies before in my own life, even for simple decisions such as choosing between restaurants to eat at or what I should get my siblings for Christmas. In these situations I used the coin flip strategy, which seemed to help guide me toward my gut feeling. As for the beer drinking strategy, this is useful for situations to figure out who you really trust and who you put your faith into. A question for the author, what do you personally believe is the most effective way to follow your gut feeling? Is it always a good thing to follow it? Thanks again for the post!

  • B Keng

    I like this article. Sometimes the best thing to do is listen to your gut no matter what. It can end up saving your life or breaking you but its a risk you have to take.

  • Mitch Sween

    Thanks Danial Epstein. I love the idea and simplicity of your 4 strategies. If you don’t want to “hang” out with the people you’re doing business with then you’d better check out if you really want to do business with them.

  • Kyree Brooks

    I agree with eating dinner to better listen to your gut. My answer would be “no” to my preference of sitting. I am the character that will share how I feel about you at start rather than not settle my differences with a person. I believe firmly that your preference of sitting during dinner is the perfect judgement of listening to your gut. My question is why wouldn’t you sit next to the “others”?

  • Chris Williams

    I catch myself doing similar things when I am trying to make tough decisions. I
    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 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.

  • earose14

    Going with your gut always seems like the hardest but easiest thing to do. Deep down your gut is telling you one thing but for some reason you dont want to trust it. During different situations where I dont know what to do I would never use the coin method. The only method I would think about using is surrounding myself. Usually I can go with my gut but theres a lot of times I honeslty have to tell myself to just go with it! Do what your gut says and most the time it ends up alright! What are some other suggestions you could use other than the ones listed? Thanks for sharing!

  • Kenzi Weidman

    Such a great article! I especially love the “drink beer” section. This is absolutely true! Why would you want to work with someone that you wouldn’t even want to socialize outside of work with? Such great points you addressed, definitely tips that I will keep in mind for my future HR career.

  • Kenzi Weidman

    I like the perspective you have on “listening to your gut”. It could be a breaking point for you. I firmly believe that I am the only person that truly knows what I want and how I feel. I don’t let others make decisions for me, unless they are pointless ones that I don’t care to argue about. So if my gut ever tells me no, I don’t even analyze the situation, I just say no right away and don’t look back.

  • Kenzi Weidman

    I like that you used the “flip the coin” tactic. I personally have never done that, and I will be honest, people can usually persuade me to do anything (as long as it is within my values). I live by the phrase of “You don’t want to look back on your life and wonder, what if…”. I do what makes me happy and I follow my gut more than I ever follow my heart. Your gut knows best, or so at least that I what I believe.

  • Amanda Wood

    LOVE this article! So down to earth and realistic. #4 – surround yourself was my favorite! I have learned over my college career that friends come and go and sometimes the ones that mean the most are the ones you have to let go of. I have finally realized there is some people I have held onto that just hold me back and I have learned from it.
    Overall, this article is amazing. Hands down!

  • Charles Fischer

    I like the ideas, it helps you get off the fence if you are not sure what way you or your business is going, make a choice if it feels good go with that otherwise do what your gut says.

  • Skowronssj06

    These strategies are great! I have used some of these in the past that really helped me! I am one of those people that can never make a decision or has it down to 2 choices. For anyone struggling to make a decision- either flipping a coin, drinking beer, eating dinner or surrounding yourself with friends or family should help immensely.

  • Taylor

    Over the last couple of years I have come to realize that I need to trust my gut more than I do because it is right more times than not. I really like the coin flipping strategy, it is one that I have personally used and I can tell you it really does work. The second you look at the coin you really know what you want. You shouldn’t overanalyze your first reaction, I did that the first time that I tried this strategy and I learned to just go with it because my initial reaction was correct.

  • Aarynn Bosshart

    These are awesome/out-of-the-box ideas. I think the four frameworks that you give here are great reflectional tools as well. I was continually putting myself into hypothetical scenarios to test out your methods as I read, and I think they are all really helpful. You asked us to share any additional methods… I know that not everyone practices a religion, but I’m a Christian and have found prayer to be a very useful tool for decision making. I continually pray for wisdom and guidance so that I can confidently make decisions trusting that they will lead me to God’s will for my life.

  • Travis Mattice

    I really like this article. These four simple things are a good way to make a decisions and or make yourself a better person. I really like that you refer to the step of drinking beer. It is really true though, if you would enjoy a beer with someone why would you invest or even be friends with that person. great way to look at it. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kelly Martin

    I really enjoyed this article. It is such an easy yet helpful concept! If you do not feel comfortable with the person, why hire them or work with them? Thank you so much for writing this.

  • Caleb Franklin

    I really like this article, the coin flip reaction is a fantastic idea that I haven’t heard before. I think that going with your gut is great because it is generally how you genuinely feel about something with no other influences on the subject. I will definitely be using this in the future and hopefully it works out to my advantage.

  • Tom Ashmus

    I like the coin toss idea. I have personally tried this with people. But instead of looking at the coin, I would take the coin away and ask what they think. Usually the response is utter confusion, but then I explain it to them. Once I took the coin away, they instinctively knew which one they wanted the coin to land on, now it is up to them to say it out loud.

  • Tom Ashmus

    I agree, the beer idea is a good idea. It is almost like the front porch test. This is wheather or not you can imagine yourself with someone in 60 years sitting together on your front porch.

  • hirthjp18

    These are some really solid point to give to someone who is struggling with this problem. The people you work with are more than just workers. If you are able to a friendly relationship with the people you work with the outcomes are usually positive. I’m a big fan of tip number 2, Thanks again for this great article.

  • Luke Drumel

    Daniel, what a great article for it’s short sweet and to the point for decision making does make us all crazy here and there but the four examples you provided truly will make a difference in decision making. I truly will take these examples upon myself and use them whenever necessary and see if they work which I have no doubt they will.

  • shackletka05

    Thank you for sharing! You have made many great points that I definitely agree with. I do believe you should be able to go to dinner or have a beer with the people you are working with because it is a way to build on relationships and your comfort level with those individuals. The only thing I would probably hesitate to do would be “flipping a coin” to make a decision for me. If I was between two options I would want to choose more of what my heart leans most towards and what makes the most sense. I do also agree it is so important to surround yourself with people that are going to build you up and encourage you. You want to be around people that are going to move you forward rather than tear you down or hold you back.

  • Dannielle Wagner

    I love the flip a coin idea because when the coin is up in the air I know I always hope for one side more than the other. This brings to light what I really want, and what decision I want to make underneath all of the bullshit I am telling myself.

  • Jack Delabar

    Both of these ideas are awesome and can be super useful. This article remains one of my favorites on this whole site. The beer test is one of my favorite ideas to share with people who aren’t sure whether or not they are working with the right people in whatever it is they are doing. It can be applied in other situations, too, not just professional ones.

  • Steffiheuer

    Thank your for this fantastic article! I am huge for using your gut-instinct. That is truly something I rely on when making a decision about something. I honestly had a gut-instinct about my grandfather a couple weeks ago that turned out to be true. To me he did not seem write and my gut was screaming something was wrong. The next day my grandfather had to be rushed to the hospital because he was internally bleeding from his stomach. Crazy, I know, but it did help me out in this case. I am glad to say he is doing well now. I loved all the examples that you gave in the article and to be honest I probably would use these when deciding something. I have used the coin trick many of times before.

  • Steffiheuer

    Thank you for sharing Dannielle, I would definitely have to agree with you. I like using the coin trick for this same reason. You never know what your really want till the decision is not really in “your hands”. I feel like right when you flip it you have a great idea of what your decision is and then after that it does not even matter what the coin says; you already have it figured out.

  • Dannielle Wagner

    exactly…its one of the best tricks in the book. The coin might not know all, but the moment its up in the air trying to make the decision for you…you suddenly realize what you really want. Its a great way to make you decision clearer to yourself.

  • Camillewuensch

    This is a wonderful article! I loved the coin toss, that’s I think one thing I would do if I ever need help in choosing for a decision. I think that coin is probably one of the best ways to decide something, the saying is when it’s in the air you have in your mind what you want it to land on. I never heard of the example of drinking a beer or dinner before so I will have to try that out