Thinking, Fast and Slow, or how I felt ordinary, but enlightened

This book by Daniel Kahneman is not your ordinary book of secrets. Usually, what I expect from these type of books is everyday truths, but you know, the kind that we don’t really have time to think about. We know the story is there, but we’re too busy to stop and analyze.

However, what Mr. Kahneman taught me was a bit different. I wasn’t aware of the truths he mentioned. I have never thought about them and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have understood them if they would have come from a different source.

Here are the 10 things (or so) that made me rethink my entire view over life and business:

“The capabilities of System 1 include innate skills that we share with other animals. […] The knowledge is stored in memory and accessed without attention and without effort.”

1.According to the author (and not only) we have two systems that rule over ourselves: System 1 and System 2. The first one makes us speak without thinking. You know the kind… that hurts someone you love just because or that makes you buy a plain rock because it was painted in your favorite color. That’s the system that doesn’t stop and think, but acts.

System 2, on the other hand, is the one that actually does the thinking. You would say that we, the people, are prone to use this second system, but we don’t. Why? Because we’re lazy. Want to see an example?

A bat and a ball cost $1.10.

The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

I felt it was almost impossible to avoid the quick thinking of System 1. I was tricked and I didn’t like it.

“The often-used phrase ‘pay attention’ is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond your budget, you will fail.”

2. So there’s that. It’s not like you do not want to do a lot of things at the same time, but you can’t. I know they say that women are better at multitasking than men, but believe me, we’re not. I think we just understood what being a multitasking person means.

Like Mr. Kahneman says, we can’t and shouldn’t do two things at the same time. You can, however, do one thing that requires the attention of System 1 and another that needs System 2. It is not advised, but it is doable.

What he means by multitasking is that you can do bits of several actions once at a time. If you break a certain task into smaller tasks and combine it with other small tasks of a bigger one, you’re awesome. Not sure he says that in his book, but I can assure you this is what he thinks. He actually says that this is the best way to go.

Why, you’re asking?

Because we need self-control in order to concentrate over a task. But self-control uses a lot of effort and, if you would concentrate solely on one task a time, you would fail to start (let alone finish) another one in due time. Apparently, our self-control needs a resting time, equals with the time spent on a previous task.

This would actually be a great excuse at work, if you would be able to convince your bosses to read the book. Or, in case you need a day off because your dog ate your child’s homework, tell them this: “[…] anything that occupies your working memory reduces your ability to think.”

“People who are cognitively busy are also more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language, and make superficial judgments in social situations.”

3. And here is my excuse for whenever I snap at people.

I’m just kidding. I think.

A cognitively busy person is someone who’s being constraint by a task, problem, or simply by time. When you really need to do something and you are in the middle of it, it comes a lot easier for System 1 to take primary action and literally express your thoughts out loud. I know it happens to me often when I really need to do something and I’m being a total butpit to whomever has the misfortune to need something from me.

And you know that feeling you have right after, when you’re ashamed and apologetic, and forget about your work and think about the other person’s feelings? Yeah, that’s the point when you can say goodbye dear work.

But that’s kinda cool, we know that our self-control needs breaks once in a while.

“[…] the effects of ego depletion could be undone by ingesting glucose[…]”

4. Whenever I read the statement above I think about Jamie telling Adam to have a cookie whenever things went south on the MythBusters scene. I knew then he was right, and I now know why.

By definition, ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draw upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. In translation, whenever you are involved in an intense task that requires everything your brain has to offer, you consume basically every gram of glucose your body has at disposal. When the level of glucose is too low, you can’t think straight, so to speak.

This literally means that you could lose weight while thinking. Of course, if you wish to continue to think clearly, you really need that cookie.

“Mood evidently affects the operation of System 1: when we are uncomfortable, and unhappy, we lose touch with our intuition.”

5. This is just a fancy way of saying don’t take rash decision when you are sad. Even more, you should not, under any circumstance, act based on intuition in such a situation.

But this is a trap. If you are happy and comfortable and in a good place with yourself, you will take into consideration your intuition, which is not good. The author also explains why being too happy might loosen your grip on rationality and why you are more prone to logical errors.

This being said, do not make important decisions when you are too sad or too happy. For me, this means that all my decisions should be made while I’m sleeping.

“We are pattern seekers, believers in a coherent world, in which regularities […] appear not by accident but as a result of mechanical causality or of someone’s intention.”

6. I think the statement above annoyed me the most. It means that we, as humans, reject randomness. We always try to seek that order in all things and, when we don’t find it, we dismiss the fact. It doesn’t exist. We don’t care about it.

The annoying part is that this is true. I always expect for everything to have a bigger meaning, or to be the cause of a different outcome and so on, but I never think it just happens, because of reasons. Everything has strings connected with other string. But there are no strings. We’re not all Alan Turing and we’re not trying to break a machine (which we expect to have a mechanical pattern).

“Unless you decide immediately to reject evidence […], your System 1 will automatically process the information available as if it were true.”

7. And this is how prejudice happen. Not because we’re arrogant human beings that think we are above everything else, but because we fail to reject information out of laziness. And I would say we deserve it.

This is how biases are born, and gossip and all that finger pointing. Because we hear something, we do not think it through and we accept it as it is. This bugs me a lot more than it should, and I promised myself I would never ever do it again. And that’s one of biggest lies I tell myself.

“The reason is that the person who acquires more knowledge develops an enhanced illusion of her skill and becomes unrealistically overconfident.”

8. Does it sound familiar? I bet it does. I hate it when other people think they are the best at something just because they’ve read a book. But then again, I’m doing the same. I always feel smarter after I read a book (this book is no exception) and I expect that feeling of admiration from others.

I admit I am arrogant and think myself above others because I read books and invest in my intellectual training. I don’t say it, but it’s there. But the way Mr. Kahneman tells it, it could be extremely difficult to hire people that are in such a state. They are convinced they are better than others, but that is not necessarily true. And we tend to believe and admire those confident people, without knowing if they truly have the necessary background.

This made me think: if I were to go to a job interview for the job I already have, would my bosses hire me? I don’t want to offer an answer to this question.

“Organisms that treat threats as more urgent than opportunities have a better chance to survive and reproduce.”

9. The moral of the story: don’t try to get the pot of gold if your house is on fire. I know I have exaggerated a bit there, but this is the point. As the author tells it, it is better to conserve what you have when in threat, than to chase immediate opportunities. I think this might explain why so many millionaires have retired from being super-rich and why so many businessmen are single or with dozens of mistresses.

“Confusing experience with the memory of it is a compelling cognitive illusion — and it is the substitution that makes us believe a past experience can be ruined.”

10. At first, I didn’t agree with the above quote. Not sure I understood it back then, but now it makes sense.

Imagine if you go on a trip in Bali, you have the time of your life, lots of pictures to remember it by and lots of souvenirs. But, on your way back home, you lose your plane tickets. What would be the first thing you’ll tell your friends about? I’m pretty sure it will not be about that perfect fountain you’ve seen in your forth day of Bali. It will be about the incident at the airport. You might even write a blog entry about that time you lost your tickets. Hell, why not write a book about it?

And every time somebody will ask you if you would go to Bali again, you might let the System 2 reply if the entire trip is worth it, only based on those damn tickets.

So you see, we have a lot to learn from years and years of experiments that Daniel Kahneman did so that we don’t have to. All that information and late night thinking got him the Nobel prize and my admiration. I also think this will be the only time when my name and the Nobel prize will sit in the same sentence.

It is true that the moral of the story refers to businesses and the psychology behind it, but you can’t ignore the everyday applications of those experiments and how they create a buyer’s profile. It’s interesting to know how they would react and what triggers their buying spree.

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