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There Are 4 Types Of Intelligence: Here's How To Use Them To Make Better Decisions

Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Physician and New York Times bestselling author
By Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Physician and New York Times bestselling author
Lissa Rankin, M.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of "Mind Over Medicine," "The Fear Cure," and "The Anatomy of a Calling." She is a physician, speaker, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, and mystic. Lissa has starred in two National Public Television specials and also leads workshops, both online and at retreat centers like Esalen and Kripalu.
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April 4, 2022
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When you have an important decision to make, how do you make it? Do you do your research, make pro/con lists, and battle it out in your smart mind? Do you scan for fear, excitement, sadness, anger, or any other emotions that may arise? Do you trust your gut, or do you wait for an intuitive hit to drop in?

The wisest, most holistic decisions tend to include all of our ways of knowing, which I call your "Whole Health Intelligences" in my new book Sacred Medicine: A Doctor's Quest To Unravel the Mysteries of Healing. Here is a primer on each of the four types of intelligence and how to use them to make better choices.

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Our four intelligences.

We all have at least four types of intelligence: mental, emotional, somatic, and intuitive. Yet most of us have overdeveloped some kinds of intelligence and underdeveloped others. To see which intelligences might be stronger in you and where you might have room for improvement, let me invite you to take a little quiz from the book.

Mental Intelligence:

Am I…

  • …a critical thinker?
  • …most comfortable making decisions based on accurate factual information?
  • ...trusting in science?
  • …curious, tending to process things mentally?
  • …skeptical of phenomena I can't explain logically?
  • …able to distinguish between facts, propaganda, and manipulation?
  • …discerning?
  • ...someone who gets lost in my head?
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Intuitive Intelligence:

Do I…

  • …get spontaneous—ultimately helpful—information flashes?
  • …distinguish between "thinking things up" and intuition that "drops in"?
  • …get feedback from others about how intuitive I am?
  • …know things I couldn't possibly know rationally in ways that are later verified?
  • …have precognitive dreams or visions?
  • ...access multidimensional realms others don't seem to visit or see/hear/sense beings that are invisible to others?
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Emotional Intelligence:

Can I…

  • …read and feel my own and other people's emotions accurately?
  • …attune to my own feelings, glean useful information from how I feel emotionally, and know how to interpret what my feelings are trying to guide me to do?
  • …establish boundaries between other people's feelings and mine?
  • …respond to what I read in other people with empathy without their emotions making me pull away, try to fix them, or flood me with their feelings?
  • ...avoid either repressing emotions or exploding with them?
  • ...care about the suffering of others (and myself) and feel motivated to help ease suffering?
  • ...feel my heart open and respond to this heart-opening with my courage and sacred activism in the face of injustice?
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Somatic Intelligence:

Am I…

  • …aware of my physical sensations on a regular basis?
  • …attuned to "gut" feelings?
  • …grounded, firmly planted on earth (as opposed to being flighty, uncoordinated, or ungrounded)?
  • …able to read subtle body signals or symptoms before they become big ones?
  • ...able to ask my body questions and interpret my body's "yes" or "no" with some confidence?
  • ...able to titrate what my body and nervous system can handle without pushing myself to the point of injury or getting flooded or overwhelmed somatically?
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What do they look like in practice?

Mental intelligence can help you track data, weigh pros and cons, assess risk based on epidemiological models and statistics, and stay grounded in math, science, and data. However, as much as being smart and relying on objectifiable measures to make decisions is crucial, mental intelligence has its limitations.

Those who we might call "intuitives" or "psychics" often tend to have a more highly developed intuitive intelligence. This kind of intelligence might arise as direct knowing, hunches, precognitive dreams, and visionary breakthroughs. Many with highly developed intuitive intelligence can learn to ask binary yes/no questions and get a "hit" of intuitive knowing, which gives them one piece of information that can be married with other intelligences to make wise decisions. Those with highly developed intuitive intelligence often describe intuitive hits as having a neutral quality. They just "drop in" without any emotional content.

While intuition feels neutral when it drops in, you might have an emotional reaction to it, and that's a kind of intelligence too! They say the longest journey you'll ever make is the one from your head to your heart, and when you perceive emotions not as the whim of the "ego" but as guidance helping you navigate a complex world, you can get to know the gifts each emotion brings. By feeling the gifts of all emotions, without labeling them "positive" or "negative," we realize that even uncomfortable ones like anger, jealousy, terror, and even hatred are there to guide us toward protective action.

Finally, some people are deeply body-based; their bodies read situations like a finely tuned compass. In my 10-year journey traveling the globe to study with shamans in Peru, Qigong masters from China, Balinese healers, energy and faith healers, and trauma therapists for my book Sacred Medicine, I met people who made decisions by asking their body questions and getting an uncontrollable somatic answer. (For example, full-body goosebumps are a "yes" and the absence of goosebumps is a "no.") These people tend to "trust their gut," which is often a literal sensation in the solar plexus, and let their body lead the way.

How to call on each one.

Let's say you're trying to make a decision and your mental intelligence says one thing but your intuitive intelligence contradicts it. What do we make of that common phenomenon? The healers I studied around the globe taught me that integrating all these intelligences requires developing a sort of conductor inside of you, one who orchestrates and governs the four types.

In an unbalanced psyche, we tend to fragment, and one intelligence might overpower and dominate the others, causing us to be psychologically lopsided in our decision-making. But when we're able to gather information from all of our intelligences, without neglecting any of them (especially the often-maligned and neglected intelligence of not just "positive" but also "negative" emotions), we can make healthy, balanced decisions.

Try it out now by considering a decision. Start by checking whether you get a flash of insight from your intuition. Then notice if you have an emotion about that intuition. How does it feel in your body when you check somatically? Then what does your mind have to say about that? What can you research to educate yourself and cross-check your other forms of knowing? Which expert can you ask to double-check that you're not "trusting your intuition" when you're listening to a paranoid story that's actually a trauma response? In Sacred Medicine, I teach about the "paradoxes of healing," like:

  • Keep an open mind, and don't be so open your brains fall out.
  • Trust your intuition, and follow the science and apply critical thinking.
  • Believe in magic and miracles, and avoid indulging in magical thinking and denial.
  • Stay hopeful and be realistic.
  • Lead with your heart, and use your head.
  • Your thoughts influence reality, and your thoughts cannot control reality.
  • Follow spiritual guidance and never be too certain that you've got the direct line to God.

Holding those tensions, we can leverage all of our ways of knowing to make wise decisions in troubling times. May you feel clarity as you decide on the next right step.

Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Physician and New York Times bestselling author

Lissa Rankin, M.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling. She is a physician, speaker, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, and mystic. Passionate about what makes people optimally healthy and what predisposes them to illness, she is on a mission to merge science and spirituality in a way that not only facilitates the health of the individual, but also uplifts the health of the collective. Bridging between seemingly disparate worlds, Lissa is a connector, collaborator, curator, and amplifier, broadcasting not only her unique visionary ideas, but also those of cutting edge visionaries she discerns and trusts, especially in the field of her latest research into "Sacred Medicine." Lissa has starred in two National Public Television specials and also leads workshops, both online and at retreat centers like Esalen and Kripalu. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her daughter. She blogs at LissaRankin.com and posts regularly on Facebook.