How to Develop the 'Sherlock Holmes' Intuition

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25-09-2016, 04:25
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The quick wit and sharp observational skills of Sherlock Holmes used to analyze and solve the greatest mysteries is legendary. And even though Sherlock Holmes often expressed a need for the sleuthing to stick to the facts, his actions would often demonstrate that he was very reliant on his intuition as well, and clearly saw both logic and intuition as equal partners in solving the mysteries before him. While it isn't possible to intuit everything in life, there are times when listening to our intuition is both sensible and helpful in reaching conclusions about such things as relationships, connections with others, and the suitability or otherwise of certain life choices. As for being able to work out what makes other people tick, there are some intuitive tricks you can rely upon to help you guess reasonably accurately and your intuition can easily be developed with a little practice and perseverance by following these easy steps.


  1. Accept your intuition. Holmes summarized his intuition thus: "It was easier to know it than to explain why I know it. If you were asked to prove that two and two made four, you might find some difficulty, and yet you are quite sure of the fact." Yet, many people who consider themselves as "concrete" thinkers are reliant on evidence-based thinking processes tend to dismiss intuition as a folly and unreliable. It hasn't helped that intuition has long been attached to the supernatural – the oracles, seers, witches, wizards, and other mystical sources in history. It is unfortunate that the misuse of intuition by charlatans has tarred its reputation but that doesn't mean it isn't a valid part of our thinking and decision-making processes provided it is balanced with examination of the facts and evidence before you. Many human beings have experienced making decisions on a "gut feeling" from time to time and have found the outcome to be satisfactory and sometimes even life-saving. Viewing intuition as "an educated counselor" is a helpful way to perceive it; we receive guidance from our subconscious drawing on experience accumulated over the years, often in times of danger or problem-solving. And while the inexactitude of intuition simply means it cannot be relied upon alone as a source of reaching any conclusion, this means that all initial suppositions, theories, and hunches must be tested by logic and analysis of facts, not that it must be removed altogether from our processes of deduction.
    • Much good intuition is simply drawing from lengthy experience and proven habit. Indeed, Holmes summed this up when he stated: "From long habit the train of thoughts ran so swiftly through my mind that I arrived at the conclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps"
    • Remember that the easiest person to fool is yourself. As such, never make unfounded accusations, allegations or deductions at any stage of your process of reaching conclusions – about anything. It's also wise to find yourself someone trustworthy and independently minded to sound out your conclusions!
  2. Learn how to deduce things from studying a person. It is possible to work out quite a bit about how a person is feeling, whether or not they're lying, the things left unsaid, etc., by keen observation of the person before you. While some people are more attuned to reading the body language of others, everyone can learn this art if willing. Some of the things that you can do to improve your people reading skills include:
    • Learn to read body language. There are plenty of books and online sites devoted to reading body language. Check out bestsellers such as A Definitive Guide to Body Language by Allan Pease and Barbara Pease, and others. Just be aware that reading body language does have its limitations because some people are good actors or deceivers, and sometimes you simply make terrible mistakes and misread the signals. Balance body language reading with other sources of intuition and the facts.
    • Watch for the signs of lying and honesty. If you're going to be sleuthing or deducing like Sherlock Holmes, then you'll definitely need to know how to spot the signs of a liar and a truth-teller. For more details on how to do this, see How to spot lying, etc.
    • Try people watching. Spending some time every week simply watching people in their daily comings and goings as you sit somewhere comfortable can teach you a great deal about people's habits, mannerisms, interactions, and personalities. While there is a lot of guesswork involved in people watching (deliberately, because that's what makes it fun), you can also try to hone your guesswork down to spotting specific behavioral traits and mannerisms that can serve as future reference for you. For more details on how to people watch, read Chase Hughes' site and How to begin people watching.
  3. Improve your powers of observation. One of the most notable things about Sherlock Holmes was that he observed things that other people missed; he was often stating such things as "You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. " This isn't magic and it isn't psychic mumbo-jumbo. It is simply about being very observant and taking time to spot the things that often get overlooked when people panic, assume, and rush around without consideration for the finer details. Improving your powers of observation can be done in various ways and each requires practice. Moreover, if you can stay calm and think clearly when in a pressured situation, you're already well ahead of many people. This is part personality, part confidence, part common sense, and part awareness of your surroundings, and it can take time to perfect if it doesn't come naturally to you. Other ways to improve your observation include:
    • Concentrate on improving your three most used senses - sight, smell, and sound, also sometimes referred to as S-3. The very fact that these are our most used senses means that we tend to take them for granted and make assumptions about what they detect. It is here that you must become more refined and fine-tune ways in which you use these senses, in order to make better use of them.
    • Notice the right details that others miss, by being discerning. Not every detail before you has value. Use your discernment to focus on the details of relevance and significance - "It is the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which are vital.". And don't dismiss the smallest details - Holmes made it clear that "The little things are infinitely the most important."
    • Practice with spotting style puzzles. Puzzles that ask you to find the difference between different images, puzzles that ask you to find hidden words and images, and puzzles that require you to navigate through mazes are all ways of honing your observation powers. Practice these frequently and time yourself to find things faster and faster without panicking.
    • Quick quiz yourself and start learning to pay more observational attention to your surroundings. Here's an example of observing: Ever been to grandma's house? Is it a two story house? If it is, how many steps are there to reach the second story? How many bedrooms are there? How many beds are there in the bedrooms? If you don't know, you see but don't observe; in short, teach yourself to take in all the detail you can.
  4. Listen better. Many of us don't listen because we're too busy, smug, lazy, certain of the answer before we've learned anything, selfish, preoccupied, insecure, whatever! The art of listening can never be over-emphasized and Sherlock Holmes was a master at this art. It may seem like magic when someone recalls everything you've told them but in actual fact it's simply good concentration, courtesy, and memorization put to excellent use. A good listener will pick up not only what is said but also that which is not said, the gaps which often tell the other half of the story.
  5. Never underestimate people. Holmes recognized the complexity of others – "A complex mind. All great criminals have that." Avoid being arrogant or simplistic in deducing the motivations of others and give credit where it is due.
    • Do not disdain the information gathered from simple sources. Popular literature, such as magazines and tabloids, and the daily gossip, can teach you much. Listening to and reading these things will open up your mind to the way many people tick, and whatever is popular is what a large proportion of the population is likely to be striving to achieve or think, so you can glean much from reading about these things. After all, Sherlock Holmes used to read the Agony Aunt columns in the paper and clearly used this as a source of information about how people tick! Soak up everything and don't be an intellectual snob or you cut off half your sources of real information.
  6. Bring logic to the fore. Intuition is useful but a poor master and it needs to be reined in by logic and factual analysis. Going with your gut and not facing the facts is bound to lead to trouble, so be prepared to let logic balance your intuition, making it more than mere speculation and guesswork. Holmes advised that "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." Take heed of his words and be sure to apply the evidence to your theories.
    • For example: You observe a stain in your friend's shirt. What kind of stain is it? Food? Logically that means he's careless. What? You know for sure that he's very tidy and neat? Then logically he was in a hurry to get out of the house. Why? Is he on time for every class or meeting? Of course he is, since he's very tidy and neat, so what happened? Maybe he overslept. So you go to him or her and ask, "Did you oversleep today?" If you're right, have fun with the reaction! So, the train of thought is: stain - food - he's tidy - hurrying - oversleep.
  7. Analyze any situation using a step-by-step process. Holmes was good at a process of elimination by which he would discard the improbable, the illogical, the uncertain, and whittle down his observations, deductions, and theories to reach what he believed to be the only conclusion. Indeed, he stated that: "Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth."The process used goes like this:
    • Always change the theory to fit the facts, not the other way around. Use established, quantifiable, evidenced facts to develop further your theory. And if the facts mean that elements of the theory no longer hold, discard that part of the theory forthwith; persisting with the theory in face of opposing facts will create a false conclusion no matter how much you'd prefer it to be the conclusion.
    • Think about who is benefiting? Establish a motive; this could be greed, anger, jealousy. Don't forget to think of the positive motives too – protection of another, guarding of a reputation, generosity to a fault, etc.
    • Think how a person did what they did? How did the jewels get out of the case without someone hearing? How did he manage to break the necklace when it required at least two people? How did that work report end up in someone else's hard drive? How did she get to the restaurant before everyone else even though she had no car?
    • As stated earlier, keep working on the details; most people, be they criminals, detectives, or the average Joe and Jo, do not observe all the details and this is how they are caught or found out.
    • Go through the who, when, what, where, and why facts.
  8. Understand how to read a situation. There are three parts to reading a situation:
    • See. What do you see that is happening?
    • Observe. What do you notice that is different; a stain, a crease?
    • Deduce. What does this imply?
  9. Be humble. In A Study in Scarlet, Holmes stated "You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all." In other words, he didn't consider it benefited anyone to know his method or manner in great detail, and indeed, to reveal such would dispel the entertainment and effectiveness of what he did. Follow his example and keep your intuiting and deducing methods close to yourself and avoid going around accusing people of anything until you're absolutely certain.
  10. Talk through your conclusion with a trusted person. Holmes was a guarded person and trusted people only when they had proven themselves trustworthy and loyal. In turn, those persons had Holmes' complete trust, such as Watson. By the same token, "nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person.", so be sure to open up and talk through your conclusions with someone you do trust, to use them as a sounding board when you've worked through the deductions.
  11. Stay open to the possibilities. While what you see before you may seem as clear as day, appearances can be deceiving in many ways. Sherlock Holmes was well aware of this and used to his advantage in unraveling a variety of possibilities not explained openly by what the eyes see and the ears hear. He balanced intuition with logic, he drew conclusions from details, and he listened carefully. Yet, he also kept an open mind, and accepted that some possibilities may yet be unexplained; he once said that "Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent." That doesn't mean that such things are not capable of explanation but it does mean that there are more wondrous things than we're possibly yet acquainted with in this world, and it doesn't pay to have a closed mind to the possibilities.
  12. Plan downtime, party time, and leisure time into your life. Sherlock Holmes worked hard when sleuthing but he also loved his leisure and being languid. Deducing things and pushing your intuition to its limits can wear you down and rejuvenation is an essential part of ensuring that you continue to stay sharp, focused, and clever.


  • Observe everything even the most smallest detail.
  • Never take anything for granted. Even the most insignificant entity may present valuable insight into circumstances.
  • Read some "Sherlock Holmes" books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to study more of his style, manner of thinking, and deductive processing. You might also like to read about the real life experiences of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in seeking to help people wrongly convicted of crimes.
  • Listening to your 'intuition' can be very helpful in day-to-day situations like predicting the outcomes of meetings, and understanding the people you encounter in your everyday life.
  • When faced by confusion with regards to a decision to be made, collect all your verbal and non-verbal facts. This may aid your decision making process.
  • Try watching the BBC's modern interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, simply called Sherlock , it can help you apply Sherlock Holmes' deduction skills to modern day life.
  • Write down every possible conclusion to the mystery and then break them down 1 by 1. the one that you are left with could be the real conclusion.
  • The more quieter you are, the more you can listen or in this case "observe".


  • Don't tell anybody about your initial insights unless you are a 100 percent sure you're right. If you end up making a weird prediction that is unfounded and based on nothing more than your hunches, and the actual result ends up being something totally different, people will begin to think you're too judgmental and may consider you unreliable.
  • Don't make quick decisions without analyzing all the facts. In fact, the more time you give yourself for reflection, the better. Fast decisions are only good for those technically trained to respond to specific situations under pressure, such as airline pilots, power plant operators, and police. Even then, mistakes are made. So, when it comes to sleuthing, deducing, and intuiting, give your thinking processes plenty of time.
  • Don't push yourself to believing each and every thing that body language may indicate. Body language is right 80 percent of the time but trust it too much and you may end up in a great blunder.
  • Try your best not to overlook anything. Always look for signs in 'clusters' and not at an individual, isolated fact.

Things You'll Need

  • Some Sherlock Holmes novels
  • Something to keep notes with, so you can go over them later (optional)
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