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DUCKWORTH: Before we start today’s show, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the recent passing of Dr. Danny Kahneman. Danny was, in my opinion, one of the greatest psychologists all time — if not the greatest psychologist of all time. And what’s more, Danny’s character was without comparison. He was gracious and kind, quick to apologize, and loath to take credit. The world is not the same without his brilliant mind. We hope you enjoy today’s show, which — like so many of our episodes — relies heavily on Danny’s work to answer a not-so-stupid question about human behavior. He will be sorely missed. 

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MAUGHAN: Hey, wait a minute. You need to do something different.

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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.

DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: is your intuition leading you astray?

MAUGHAN: You think you’re trusting your gut but, really, you’re just panicking.

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MAUGHAN: Angela, I think we have a really fascinating question today from a listener named Rebecca. She says this: “My son has been having issues with sleep for months. We’ve tried various forms of sleep training, but I’ve never been able to fully commit to them. Sleep training often involves letting a baby cry for a certain period of time so that they can learn to fall asleep on their own. Listening to him cry like this has made me second-guess everything I read from pediatric sleep experts.” Angela, you’re a mom. I know your kids are in college now. But you’ve been through this. Is this resonating?

DUCKWORTH: Yes, a crisis of the soul. I remember when Amanda was sleep training. I must have lived in San Francisco with Jason at the time, and she was our first. So, I don’t know if Rebecca’s a first-time mom, but it sounds like it. And I go to this sleep-training class and we’re, like, in a circle of moms. And the sleep trainer is of course doing what sleep trainers do, which is she’s trying to get us to all let our kids cry more. They’re like, “Please don’t rush over to the crib and comfort your baby as soon as they cry, because they will never learn to sleep through the night.” I mean, it’s not that crying is a good thing, but they have to be left alone, and they have to teach themselves how to go to sleep. So, then one by one, the moms are asked, “How long can you listen to your baby cry before you rush over to the crib and scoop them up in your arms?” And so, the moms are going one by one — I was last — and it’s like, you know, “five minutes,” you know, like, “two minutes,” “seven minutes.” And it comes to me, and I’m like, “Five hours?” The moms look at me, and their jaws are, like, on the floor. And I looked back at them, and I was like, “Look, if they’re crying, they’re breathing She’s alive. Look at those lungs. Go, Amanda, go!”

MAUGHAN:   And she’s going to be a great runner someday, because her lungs are strong and powerful. 

DUCKWORTH: Yes. She does have great lungs, actually. She runs really fast. 

MAUGHAN: So, this question at its core — I’ll keep going — is about trusting your gut.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, there’s more to the question! Sorry, I interrupted Rebecca. Go on.

MAUGHAN: Rebecca says she felt the strong magnetic pull to run to her son and pick him up, even though she knew intellectually that it would interrupt the sleep-training process. So, she continues, “I ultimately fought these feelings with critical thinking and made myself stick to a sleep program. My baby is finally sleeping through the night!” Exclamation point.

DUCKWORTH: Happy ending. 

MAUGHAN: And she says, “I feel really silly for not following through with this earlier, but it’s made me think a lot about the concept of trusting your gut. If it’s the wrong thing to do in this context, when else might it be wrong? And when can this intuition help us, and when does it get in the way?”

DUCKWORTH: Mmm, such a great question. And not only for parents of newborns, right? 

MAUGHAN: Exactly. 

DUCKWORTH: Like, when do you trust your gut? And when do you ignore it completely and trust — I guess the opposite of your gut would be, you know, “trust reason.”

MAUGHAN: So, let me start by asking you a question. Is there a time that you’ve trusted your gut and either been really happy you did it? Or trusted your gut and thought, “Why in the world did I not just go with kind of the research or what else was out there?”

DUCKWORTH: Okay, a time in my life where I had a really strong, visceral intuition that didn’t feel like it was thoughtful, or deliberate, or calculated that went well was when I was in college, I volunteered in this — well, it wasn’t “volunteered,” I guess I was paid — in this summer school, and I flew down to New Orleans, and I was a teacher. I had these, like, middle-school kids. I remember thinking to myself, like, “I’ve never worked that hard in my life!” And I flew back to college, because I think I was about to start senior year. And I had a really strong intuition that I should completely detour from my plans to go to medical school and take the MCAT — I mean, I was a neurobio major. I had fulfilled all the requirements for medical school. Everybody, including my father, expected me to go to medical school. And I had a really strong gut intuition that I should completely change my plans and go into education and, in fact, start, like, a carbon copy of that very same program in my community then, which was Cambridge, Massachusetts. And that’s what I did.

MAUGHAN: Happy ending!

DUCKWORTH: I mean, not a happy beginning. So, my dad stopped speaking to me for months. Like, he just refused to talk to me — my mom would try to put him on the phone, and he would refuse. So, not a happy beginning, but it was a happy ending. So, I did start that program, which — later the name became and still is Breakthrough Collaborative, Greater Boston. It won the Better Government Award for the state of Massachusetts. And I think it just recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, and it provides free summer enrichment to a shockingly large proportion of students in the public schools in Boston and Cambridge and Somerville. So, I’m really glad I did it. I feel like it’s one of the few things I can point to, you know, when my days are done on this green earth that I will feel like I did the right thing — I really should just emphasize that, like, I had a gut instinct to do something that was not easily rationalized, honestly. I mean, my father was like, “This makes no sense.” And I was like, “I know.” 

MAUGHAN: And I was just going to say — and took a huge personal cost, right?

DUCKWORTH: I guess so. I mean, it was just, like, throwing away all of my pre-med training. It was like, “Why did I suffer through organic chemistry, and, like, you know, second semester of physics, and all of the bio, and all that, if I’m going to now become somebody in education who’s not going to use any of that training.” So, it wasn’t quote-unquote, “rational.” But I think that story would lead somebody like Rebecca, our listener, to think, “Well, you should always trust your gut then.” Right? But I have a story of intuition leading me astray, and I’m willing to share it with you. It’s like, “OMG, what an idiot.” And then, I’d love to hear you do the same, so you make me feel better. 

MAUGHAN: Yeah, no, I have one, too. Mmhm.

DUCKWORTH: Okay, good. I’m sure everybody does, and I think that’s what makes this question so — so great. So, I’m in San Francisco, and I’m there with Jason for my cousin’s wedding. And both of us had lived in San Francisco for years, actually, in a previous chapter of our lives. So, we were well-acquainted with the trolley cars — it’s kind of more of a tourist thing, honestly. You know, you get onto the trolley car, and it goes up these, like, really steep hills, and it goes down these steep hills, and they ring this little brass bell and it’s — it’s all fun. So, we decide to take a trolley car, despite having lived in San Francisco for many years and, so the novelty shouldn’t have been there. And then, the trolley-car operator, they warn you to not jump off the trolley car under any circumstances, because it’s extremely dangerous. They’re like, “Just to say the obvious, right? Like, just don’t jump off the car.” So, Jason and I are taking it up — I think it was on California Street — and it’s unclear to me how this happens, but, like, I dropped my wallet or something. I must have been fumbling in my purse, and intuition got me to jump off the trolley car. I literally jumped off the trolley car into traffic. It is quite a drop. Can I just tell you — like, it really hurt. Like, it’s, like, I don’t know how many feet but then it’s, like, concrete. And then, I find myself, like, in the middle of two-way traffic, and I’m scrambling to get my wallet. And the trolley car has to brake. My husband, Jason, is, like, staring at me in disbelief, like, “Oh my God, what an idiot!” And I have to say that I think that story could have ended very poorly. I think just by luck I didn’t die. But, yeah, gut instinct: not a good thing to follow in that case. 

MAUGHAN: So, there’s this Australian P.S.A. called “Dumb Ways to Die.” Have you seen it?

DUCKWORTH: No, but just that it was from Australia — it’s got to be, what, hysterical?

MAUGHAN: Oh my gosh, it’s amazing. It’s a rhyming thing that goes through like, all these dumb ways to die, like, “Taking your helmet off in space” or “Eating a three-week-old unrefrigerated meat pie. Anyway, it goes on and on. But the point is that it’s trying to say to people, “It’s really dumb to jump across the Subway tracks.”  

DUCKWORTH: Oh, that’s the P.S.A. “And yet another way to die.” This must be a thing in Australia.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, it’s a very catchy tune, “Dumb ways to die! So, many dumb ways to die!” Anyway —.

DUCKWORTH: Maybe if I had heard that little jingle, I wouldn’t have trusted gut intuition. I think one of the differences between my story and Rebecca’s is that I really didn’t think at all. Like, I wasn’t like, “Well, experts say this, but I feel like I should do that.” Like, it sounds like, for her, she was like, “I don’t know, my baby’s crying” — I mean, there was a lot more time there to make a decision. But I do think that’s relevant to all this, because scientists who study intuition will tell you that perhaps one of the reasons why we have this faculty of being able to make lightning-quick decisions without a lot of reasoning — without paper and pencil and, like, calculations — is because sometimes life makes you do that. Like, sometimes you don’t have any time.

MAUGHAN: Right. There are amazing videos — if you ever want to get dragged into the YouTube vortex — but amazing videos of people just reacting immediately with no thinking, no analysis to save someone who’s about to fall; to jump out of the way of some thing, et cetera. And so, there is this very clear immediate reaction — “trust your gut” in, in different scenarios. Let me tell you my story where I screwed up, and then let’s dive into this, because I’d love to —. 

DUCKWORTH: I know, I was going to say, like, we cannot continue this conversation — I’m going to boycott further conversa— until you tell me a story about a bad decision that came from gut intuition. 

MAUGHAN: Fair, I’m not getting out of this. Okay so, when you’re building a company, you can have equity in that company, right? And they call it “paper money” because it’s just paper. There’s no actual value to it unless you can sell that. And that’s if you sell your company — or you go public by listing on the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange. Occasionally, during a company-building process, you’ll get investment from some investors. And either they put that money into the company, or the founders can take some out, or maybe some employees can take some out as well. That’s called “secondary.” So, at the time of building Qualtrics, we have some investment coming in, and they’re letting us sell some of our shares for secondary if we’ve been at the company for X period of time. 

DUCKWORTH: It’s like cashing out a little bit, right? Cashing out your chips — or some of them.

MAUGHAN: Yeah. So, you cash out a little bit of money instead of just having paper money, because you don’t really know when the company will sell or when it will I.P.O. 

DUCKWORTH: Or if it will sell, right? 

MAUGHAN: Or if, right.

DUCKWORTH: Because it could implode or something. 

MAUGHAN: So, I do all of the analysis. I do a careful calculation. I look at, “Hey, what do experts recommend in terms of what percentage of available stuff should you cash out?” — da, da, da. So, I had used all my logic and reason. I talked to great people giving advice, and I had made a very calculated decision to sell X amount.

DUCKWORTH: Like, cost, benefits, probabilities.

MAUGHAN: And there’s a deadline. So, let’s say it was at 3 p.m. on a certain day. With, like, 15 minutes to spare, I thought I had some really clear intuition that was like, “Hey, wait a minute. You need to do something different.”

DUCKWORTH: Ah, you went against your calculated decision? 

MAUGHAN: I went against all of it. And it ended up costing me a large amount of money.

DUCKWORTH: That you’re not going to say because you just said, “a large amount of money.” That’s what people say when they don’t want to say how much. 

MAUGHAN: Correct. I made a really bad decision, because I thought I was following my gut.

DUCKWORTH: Well, you were following your gut. It’s just that you had indigestion. 


DUCKWORTH: Do you have any idea why your gut told you that you should do that?

MAUGHAN: I think that it was probably just panic on my part. I ran to our general counsel, and I just was like, “Blake, I have a gut instinct that I need to change this.” I don’t know why. I didn’t think through it. I just said, “My gut is telling me this. I’m going to change it all.”

DUCKWORTH: And the rest is history. By the way, you survived, but I’m sure it’s still a regret. 

MAUGHAN: Oh, no. It’s fine. 

DUCKWORTH: Well, this question of, “When do you trust your gut and when do you ignore it completely?” has been debated probably forever, but most I guess usefully debated by two great scientists. One you’ve heard of and one you maybe haven’t yet. So, Danny Kahneman and Gary Klein had this — what they call an “adversarial collaboration.”

MAUGHAN: I love those things! 

DUCKWORTH: It’s so great! It’s, like, one of Danny Kahneman’s many inventions. As you know, Mike, you know, the idea is: you have a topic, like, “Is intuition good or is it bad?” You know, “Should we trust our gut or should we not?” And there’s two sides of the debate. And these adversaries collaborate on — I think it’s usually with research when you collect data, but I think in this one they maybe just talked to each other to see where they disagreed, and what they came to is the surprising conclusion on when it is that we should trust our intuition. But let me tell you a little bit more about their friendship or their — I — I would call them “frenemies,” but they’re mostly just friends. So, Gary Klein was, like Danny Kahneman, a brilliant social scientist, but he has a very different background. So, he was studying firefighters and these, like, people who have spent their whole careers developing a kind of expertise where their gut instincts are better than most people’s. So like, firefighters, for example, when they are in a burning building, they are not like you and me in a burning building who are just, like, panicking and we have no idea what to do. We have no idea where to run. We have no idea what any of the signals are, like: what does it mean when the smoke is like this? What does it mean when you hear this cracking? Right? That kind of thing. So, when you interview an expert firefighter, they may not be able to tell you in words why they would want to run out of a building at a certain point, as opposed to stay in or, you know, make one decision versus the other. But they have a very strong intuition, and it’s just much better than your typical human being. So, Gary’s experience was that gut intuition is awesome. Like, experts have — in particular, because that’s what he was studying — great intuitions. Another example would be chess. So, in chess — you know how to play chess, right?

MAUGHAN: No, I do not play chess, but one of my favorite books is called, The Art of Learning, by one of the greatest chess masters ever. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, Josh Waitzkin. Yeah. Even if you don’t play chess, it’s kind of fun to listen to people talk about.

MAUGHAN: So fun to learn from.

DUCKWORTH: Anyway, in chess, there’s apparently this phenomenon where chess masters are sometimes able to tell you, like, why they made a certain move, but sometimes they’re not. They just have, like, a really strong intuition. So, there are lots of examples of gut intuition giving you the right answer. But Danny had spent his career up to that point, and honestly to this day, showing that intuition could lead you astray — that you can make mistakes when you go on intuition versus calculating and deliberating. So, you’ve got these two great scientists on either side of a debate. And what they came to was the conclusion that the answer to, “When is it right to trust your instinct?” has two criteria. And if either of these are not fulfilled, don’t trust your instincts. One of them is that the world has to be actually something that’s predictable. I mean, the reason they say that is, like, there are things, like the long-term prospects of somebody who’s drafted in the N.F.L. Honestly, that’s not very predictable, like, when you recruit somebody to an N.F.L. football team — you know this from working in professional sports — there are so many things along the way: injuries, who else is on the team, the chemistry with the coach, their family situation. It’s really hard to predict.  

MAUGHAN: I mean, some of the most famous examples of this are, like: Tom Brady. He was drafted 199th in the N.F.L. draft. Really late for the guy who becomes the greatest quarterback in the history of the sport. You look at Brock Purdy, who just led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl, and he was the last draft pick two years ago.

DUCKWORTH: Was he really? I didn’t know that. 

MAUGHAN: Yeah, that person — the final draft pick — is called “Mr. Irrelevant.”

DUCKWORTH: No! I love that.

MAUGHAN: And then two years later — or in his second season — he is playing the starting quarterback in the Super Bowl. So, I just think it’s this very interesting thing. To your point, in those instances, a lot of intuition fails. Whereas the example you’re using before — a firefighter in a burning building —.

DUCKWORTH: Right, because there are actual signals in the world that are going to predict whether the floor is about to collapse or it’s not — whether the fire is dying down or it’s about to become an inferno. Basically, like, short-term things where there is something to predict, that’s where gut intuition, you have a chance. But their second criterion is important, and that is that the instincts that you should trust are those that you’ve had a lot of practice with. So, like you said, these firefighters — I mean, I don’t know how often firefighters actually run into burning buildings — but, like, a lot more than the rest of us. And it is repeated, like there are a lot of reps. So, you could argue that the sleep expert who Rebecca was talking to — and definitely the sleep expert that I was talking to, like, the trainer — they’ve probably, like, shepherded hundreds of parents through a process, and you should probably trust their gut instinct, their expert intuition, which is, “Let the baby cry longer than you think” — than yours as a first-time parent, where you have no experience, so you don’t have a lot of reps. 

MAUGHAN: And you have a lot of emotion tied to it. So, look, Angela and I would love to hear your thoughts on when to follow your gut and when to keep it in check. So record a voice memo in a quiet place with your mouth close to the phone and email it to, and maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. Also, if you like the show and want to support it, the best thing you can do is tell a friend about it. You can also spread the word on social media or leave a review in your podcast app.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: how can you improve your gut instincts?

MAUGHAN: Sometimes I just need somebody to look me in the eye and say, “Hey, you’re not crazy.” 

DUCKWORTH: Or, “You are crazy.”

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Now, back to Mike and Angela’s conversation about gut feelings.

DUCKWORTH: So Mike, do you play poker? 

MAUGHAN: No, but I have played blackjack, and I think it’s very fun.

DUCKWORTH: Okay, but let’s take blackjack, right? Do you feel like you have good intuitions?

MAUGHAN: No. I do not. Honestly how it goes is, if I’m playing blackjack, I sort of use that as an opportunity to become friends with whoever is sitting next to me and let them tell me what to do, because I spend very little time in casinos.

DUCKWORTH: So I don’t know, actually, almost anything about — about poker, or blackjack, or bridge. But I know that when Gary and Danny were having this adversarial collaboration, they specifically discussed games like poker and bridge. There are regularities, right? It’s not that you always know what’s going to happen, but the probabilities are actually knowable. So, you don’t know in a kind of deterministic way, but you know in a probabilistic way. And that is why you can actually develop strong and good intuitions that are fast. These decisions are emotional, as you say, but one of the reasons I think we have emotions is that — you know, the root of “emotions” is “mot,” which means to move, right? Emotions are meant to get you to take action, often very quickly. And so, you can develop these, like, strong and accurate gut intuitions in games like poker or bridge that have a regularity to them. And they have a lot of reps. So, you have the chance to really learn. And when I think about your story with Qualtrics, you had not had a lot of reps, right? In making that kind of decision.

MAUGHAN: No, and I think there are certain things like that that you never get a lot of reps in.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. You mentioned Josh Waitzkin, the guy who wrote the book on chess, The Art of Learning. We loved it, right? We should recommend it to, like, everyone.

MAUGHAN: I loved it! 

DUCKWORTH: It’s so good.

MAUGHAN: He basically goes through and just says, “Hey, I’m one of the best in the world at chess, but it’s not about chess. It’s that I know how to learn.” And then, he goes through all these other things where he’s applied the same rules of learning that allow him to be very successful across —. 

DUCKWORTH: Like, martial arts, right? And I think the last time I caught up with Josh, he’s, like, doing paddleboarding. But in my conversations with Josh, he’s talked a lot about having high-rep practice, with feedback, right? Like, you have to have lots of repetition with feedback on whether you got it right or wrong. So, that’s why, you know, playing chess or poker or certain things where it’s, like, you get immediate feedback. It’s highly informative. It’s not noisy. But the last time I talked to Josh, which was a few years ago now, but he was talking about surfing and it was a multi-way conversation. I remember the other person had some experience surfing. So, they were kind of getting into it and about, um, how, like, there’s certain kinds of surfing where you can develop intuitions as a surfer. And that’s good because when you’re surfing, you need to act fast, right? You can’t, like, whip out a paper and pencil and be like, “Well, what’s the probability that this wave is going to, like, kill me?” And he said, “There are certain waves that are really almost like once in a lifetime” — like, the really big waves. And you don’t have the benefit of high-rep practice. So, it’s a whole other ball of wax. Like, how do you do things where you have to use intuition, but you haven’t had, you know, the repetition to develop the intuition?

MAUGHAN: Yeah, and I think that’s really hard. I don’t have an answer. I will tell you, as someone who goes on a surf trip with two of my friends every year —.

DUCKWORTH: Oh yeah, I forgot, you surf!

MAUGHAN: No, nope, nope, nope. I said, “I go on a surf trip.”

DUCKWORTH: Oh, that’s right, you watch them surf.

MAUGHAN: The three of us go out on our surfboards, and Mitchell and Matt catch waves. And then, they try so hard to push me into waves — to use their intuition to help me — and I rarely, rarely catch one. And I think it’s going back to this point of reps. I have not gotten the reps, and I probably need to work on a bunch of other things. But I have a question for you as it goes to, sort of, Rebecca’s question. There’s this idea that we have when it comes to trusting our gut about, “Okay, that’s true in general. That’s true on the average.” But we all still have this thought that, like, maybe — maybe my child crying is different. Or maybe my situation is different. So, it’s really cool that we have an idea of what the average is. But we all convince ourselves, maybe, that, “My gut’s right because this situation’s different.” And so, the sleep expert will say, “No, no, no, no, no, Rebecca, trust me. I’ve seen this thousands of times.” But in our heart —.

DUCKWORTH: “You don’t know my baby!” Like, this particular night — this particular adorable baby of mine was not crying themselves to sleep. They were just crying themselves into the need for lifelong therapy or something, right? Like, you want to say that this is the exception to the rule.

MAUGHAN: Right. I think maybe our gut actually leads us to say, “Maybe this one’s different.” 

DUCKWORTH: So, one of the things that Gary Klein and Danny Kahneman vigorously agreed upon was that whatever it is, you know, “Is it the right thing or the wrong thing to trust gut?” They were like, “The one thing you can never know is whether in the moment that is the right decision based on how strongly you feel.” In other words, that subjective sense of certainty — you’re like, “But this time I’m going to trust my gut because it’s really strong.” They’re like, “You can get a strong gut intuition in one of two ways.” The correct way, which is, “Oh, it’s based on years of experience. It’s based on lots of reps with great feedback. The world is predictable, at least in the way that I’m trying to deal with it right now.” But you can also get to it through what Danny spent his whole life learning, which are these, like, heuristics and biases — there are all these mental shortcuts where you can also get to a very strong gut intuition that you are right, and you could be wrong. I mean, you could argue that that’s maybe what happened to you when you made that decision about whether to cash in your chips, that maybe you had a strong sense at the moment that that was the right thing to do. But basically they’re like, “Don’t trust the strength of your gut as any kind of guide as to whether your gut is right or wrong.”

MAUGHAN: No, and looking back, it’s one of those moments where you’re like, I had done the analysis. I had been very careful. I’d been very thoughtful. And, again, I — I’m certain it was just this, like, last-minute panic of saying, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Wait a minute!” And I just go running with no thought, no pause. It’s almost like you wish that the earlier me, or a friend, or someone had just said, “Hey, hey, hey — pause! You already have thought about this. You’ve already been down the road. You’ve already made a really thoughtful decision. You think you’re trusting your gut but, really, you’re just panicking. So, let’s take five deep breaths and figure this out.”

DUCKWORTH: I think this kind of intuitive decision making — you know, sometimes when we come to a judgment, it’s very fast. It’s effortless and automatic. And that’s when we’re using System 1 operations, right? This kind of intuitive judgment that happens almost without real conscious awareness. On the other hand, we have another way to come to judgments, and that’s using System 2 operations. And that’s very controlled; it’s very conscious; it’s voluntary; it’s effortful. That’s why Danny called his bestselling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, because thinking fast is using System 1, and thinking slow is using System 2.

MAUGHAN: So, I’ve shared with you — going along with “System 1, System 2,” my — I have a friend who always talks about “first thought, second thought,” and basically, that you have to let yourself get to the second thought. It’s okay to have the first thought — like, someone cuts you off in traffic. Your first thought is, “What a jerk.” Or “I hate them,” or whatever. And then, you have to get to your second thought, which is: “Okay, but maybe there’s a reason they did that,” or give them the benefit of the doubt, or whatever. It’s basically the same thing here, though. Like, Rebecca’s example of her baby, or my example of this investment decision, there’s your immediate gut reaction, but then I think there’s also this idea of, like: okay, let’s recognize System 1 thinking, and then make sure that we have the presence of mind to say we also remember there’s System 2 thinking, and don’t let System 1 override it.

DUCKWORTH: Gosh, I hate to speak on behalf of Gary Klein and Danny Kahneman, because I am no Gary Klein, and I am no Danny Kahneman. But I think they would say that when you have these feelings, you should consider them signals, like, “You know, I have this spidey sense that this job candidate is not the one to pick.” Right? So, that’s a signal. Then, I think they would say, “Look, if you have time, if you’re not in a burning building” — which, you know, most of the time we’re not.

MAUGHAN: We sometimes feel like we are. But most of the time, we’re not. 

DUCKWORTH: We sometimes feel like we are. And I, you know, I recognize you had 15 minutes on the clock or whatever — but, most of the time, we’re not. So then, you should try, whenever possible, to go to System 2 — the slower, more deliberate — and be, like, “All right. What’s my second thought on this?” Right? What are some of the cons that I hadn’t thought of when I was thinking about the pros? Or what are the pros, since I was only thinking about the cons? Whatever it is, you’re kind of filling in the picture, you’re getting alternative perspectives. I mean, Danny is a great person to do this, because, you know, I’ve collaborated with him, and whenever I say anything, he’s like, “On the other hand” — I mean, he’s just always considering things I hadn’t thought of.

MAUGHAN: You know the old joke: “Every president says, ‘I just want a one-handed economist'”?

DUCKWORTH: Yes, exactly. But I think what you do want are both hands, right? You don’t want to ignore either of them. Your gut intuition is probably coming from some kind of pattern recognition. Of course, you should discount it the less experience you have. So, I think Rebecca should be like, “Mmm, how’s my pattern recognition compared to a sleep trainer? Like, I don’t know, probably less good.” I think you also maybe want to discount it, because you recognize it’s emotional. So, I think what Gary and Danny would agree upon is that we have intuitions and their signals. We have the capacity that only human beings do, which is to really be thoughtful and have second thoughts and be a two-handed economist. And then, we have to actually take both of those inputs, if we have time. I find that the easiest way for me to do this — it’s almost like a cheat — is that I just talk to another person. I talk to Jason. I just say, like, “My instinct says this. I’ve thought about it. What do you think?” And I think the benefit of that is that he is not emotional in the way that I am, and he doesn’t feel the sense of urgency, or panic, or, guilt or whatever. I mean, if I had said to him, “Hey, do you think I should jump off this trolley into two-way traffic?” I think he would say, “No, I don’t.”

MAUGHAN: Right. And I think that it’s a beautiful thing to have people in our lives who help us not jump off trolleys. I think that there’s so much perspective that comes when we talk to people. I think also making sure that the people with whom you talk have a different perspective than yours — that they’re not in the exact same situation. Because sometimes — I will just say for myself — sometimes I just need somebody to look me in the eye and say, “Hey, you’re not crazy.”

DUCKWORTH: Or, “You are crazy.” Right? 


DUCKWORTH: I think that’s even more useful. I mean, look, what Gary Klein went on to do after this adversarial collaboration with Danny — I mean, he’s gone on to do many things. I think he’s a consultant and he continues to work with I think the government on top-secret things and so forth. Anyway, he developed this kind of training method that he calls “ShadowBox training.” Do you know what shadowboxing is, by the way? Because I had never heard that term.

MAUGHAN: Shadowboxing is when you’re, you’re boxing, but there’s, like, nobody there. It’s like air guitar, but with boxing. 

DUCKWORTH: Okay, right, yes. I, like, thought shadowbox was like a box with a shadow in it. But anyway, so he has this training method called ShadowBox training, and, you know, after working with experts who had very good intuitions from all their high-rep training and so forth, he was like, “How do I accelerate the learning curve of rookies?” Like, how do we get them to have expert-level intuitions faster? And so, he created this technique where he gives you a scenario: like, say you’re a firefighter. These are the things that you hear, these are the things that you see. And then you write in what you would do. And then, on the next page, if I remember this correctly — because he demoed this for me, and I just thought it was so cool — I think you’re asked to read what a true expert would give, like, as their decision. And then, you have to basically write in the next page, like, why you think you gave your answer and why the expert had a different gut intuition. And essentially what he’s trying to do is get you to be like that expert without, like, the thousands, and thousands, and thousands of reps over years and years and years. And to me what that says is, like, “Okay. Sometimes your gut intuition is a good signal. Sometimes your System 2 thinking is a better signal.” You have to actually reflect on it. Maybe you can ask another person. But the other thing this ShadowBox training tells me is that all of this — like, if you understand it, then you can improve it. To me, the optimistic spin on all this is that Rebecca learned, right? Like, she learned something — not only about how to put her kid to sleep, but she learned about her own instincts. So, I don’t know. I think, to me, the moral of the story is that whether we trust our intuitions and we’re wrong or right, there’s always something to learn from them.

MAUGHAN: I love that, and I think it’s so important to develop the muscle of moving from System 1 to System 2 where we can. So, Rebecca, let me just say, don’t jump off the trolley.  

And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation:

In the first half of the show, Mike talks about the 2012 Australian Rail Safety Campaign Dumb Ways to Die. He says that the song references eating a “three-week-old unrefrigerated meat pie.” The lyric is actually: “eat a two-week-old unrefrigerated pie.” This is, admittedly, a very small mistake, but one that many listeners may have caught because of the campaign’s popularity. The PSA went viral — inspiring more than 65 cover versions and 85 parody videos within two weeks of its release, and the song reached the top iTunes charts in 28 different countries. Over a decade later years later, the audio is now trending on TikTok, and the original video has over 300 million views on YouTube.

Later, Mike asks Angela if she knows the old joke, “Every president says, ‘I just want a one-handed economist.’” This is a bit that is famously attributed to President Harry Truman, who was reportedly frustrated with his economic advisor Edwin Nourse. Walter W. Heller, an adviser to presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, said that Dr. Nourse was a classic “on the one hand—on the other hand” economist, which frustrated Truman, who was looking for a clear policy to adopt. In response to Nourse’s waffling, Heller says that Truman shouted, “Can’t someone bring me a one-handed economist!” Other versions of the joke call for one-handed tax men, lawyers, and politicians.

Finally, Angela says that the ShadowBox Training Method was developed by psychologist Gary Klein. This is correct, but we should note that concept originated from a 2008 Master’s thesis by now-retired fire battalion chief Neil Hintze. Hintze and Klein then worked together to refine this method so that trainees could, quote, “see the world through the eyes of experts.”

That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some thoughts about last week’s episode on grade inflation.

Alexia ARMSTRONG: Hi, I’m Alexia Armstrong. One funny thing about where I study is that our career development office at McGill Law allows you to send out a letter that explains how strict our curve is instead of actually just giving out better grades. So when you send an application to an employer, you can also send the official stamped McGill Law letter explaining why your grades are so bad. What a system. 

Betsy LASKOWSKI: Hey, Angela and Mike, this is Betsy. I am an A.P. Lang English teacher, and I have two students who want to weigh in this week.

Student #1: Okay, so we go to a school where there’s no grade inflation, unfortunately. And I feel like I usually just learn to get a good grade. Like, in AP Lang, I ultimately learn so I can get a five on the AP exam. And I feel like the motivation to get a good grade is better than, like, the motivation to actually learn something. 

Student #2: Yeah. Like, even for my favorite classes. Like, biology is my favorite class, and I, like, want to go into it for like, college, but I still only really learn just to get the good grade. Like, if I were to get a B, I would be distraught. And then, a month or so later, I usually just forget all the information I learned, and then I just have to continue relearning it just for the grade.  

Betsy LASKOWSKI: And off the record, these two stuck around after class, because they’ll get a bonus point if they get on the air. Thanks guys.

That was, respectively, Alexia Armstrong, Betsy Laskowski, and two anonymous students from Ms. Laskowski’s A.P. Lang class. Thanks to them and to everyone who shared their stories with us. And remember, we’d love to hear about your experiences with trusting your gut — or ignoring it. Send a voice memo to, and you might hear your voice on the show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: what’s the point of nostalgia?

DUCKWORTH: And I remember laying out on the, you know, lounge chair with, of course, no sunscreen, because those were the days. And I just would go there every time that I was asked to go to my happy place. 

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. The senior producer of the show is me, Rebecca Lee Douglas, and Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Jasmin Klinger. We had research help from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

MAUGHAN: I don’t know, but my spidey senses are going off right now.

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  • Tom Brady, former quarterback for the New England Patriots.
  • Daniel Kahneman, professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.
  • Gary Klein, cognitive psychologist and pioneer in the field of naturalistic decision making.
  • Brock Purdy, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Josh Waitzkin, former chess player, martial arts competitor, and author.



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