Stupidity gets us all at some point in our lives. I was watching one of those body cams videos that captured this idea perfectly. The camera recorded the journey of a cyclist riding through the busy streets of London. Before leaving, he fitted an air horn to the handlebars, its use becoming clear as he set off to work.
As the rider pressed on, skirting between the curb and an assortment of cars, buses, and motorbikes, it soon became clear the horn wasn’t for any of them.
No, the sharp squeal of noise that erupted when the cyclist squeezed the top of the horn was for the multitudes of pedestrians who opted to cross the road without looking first. In less than two minutes, ten individuals got the fright of their lives when a shrill blast shook them from their stupidity.
As kids, we’re taught to look both ways before stepping into the road. It’s a simple, life-saving act. And yet, despite the risk of concussion, broken bones — or worse, we still fail to act accordingly.
We are blindsided by the multiple times we have looked, and seen nothing coming. Our brains opting instead to allow complacency to negate our risk assessment.
Intelligence; Thinking Fast, and Slow
System 1 is our automatic system. It acts unconsciously, without us realising it’s at work. It controls our fight, flight, or freeze responses, as well as managing our instant responses from walking to eating. Its fast, intuitive, and emotional.
System 2 is more considerate, more logical, and slower. It’s the type of thinking we think we should be doing all the time. But we are lazy; we want our lives to be easier. The intuitive part of system 1 offers us the chance to adopt system 2 decisions without using system 2 to make them.
The pedestrian crossing the road without looking is a classic example of this.
System 2 works logically; assessing the road, the cars travelling on the road, and factoring in the time to cross safely. System 1 see’s the successful outcome — which repeatedly happens — and using intuition, says it can get us to the other side without doing the system 2 checks.
Not only do we have two systems of thinking to contend with, but we also have a multitude of cognitive biases inherent in our thinking. Loss aversion and confirmation bias are just two of many biases that influence our thinking and then, our decisions.
We now know more about how we think, what helps us make good decisions, and the type of thinking that can lead us to bad decision-making.
Decision-Making: Ignorance of what we know or don’t know
As much as we have learnt about our ability to think logically and rationally, in the heat of battle we also forget them. What makes this worse, is that we know this too.
Stress limits our thinking, and we see this when we make decisions.
We become impulsive, we crave immediacy — and we fallback to our comfort zones — our habits. Thus, the elite soldiers’ motto: “In the thick of battle, you will not rise to the level of your expectations but fall to the level of your training.”
We know this.
It isn’t some secret limited to the ultra-intelligent. As I’ve just explained, thanks to authors like Daniel Kahneman we know how we think. We understand how our minds make good decisions — and bad ones.
And yet, we still cross the road without looking.
Pause and Consciously Decide
In our haste to get to the other side of the road, our system 1 pushes to take control. But there is a moment. Space between our unconscious thoughts — and our actions.
“In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose. Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices, but we can always choose. We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, our words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles. It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.” ― Stephen R. Covey
Stephen Covey, of the 7 Habits fame called it right when he described the space between and how we should respond. The principle is the same for managing our impulsive system 1. The stimulus is the system 1 decision, so how do you choose to respond. Do you just let it go — and roll with the consequences — or do you take a pause, and consciously decide?
When you’re conscious of a decision, it’s more likely to be logical — and more considered. Thus, system 2 has appeared and you’re more likely to avoid the air horn — or worse.
So, the next time you’re crossing the road, pause, take a breath, and think. It might just save your life.
Make Better Decisions
In a world of irrational behaviour, Your Weekly Resolve will help you with making better decisions. Sign up here and every Tuesday, I’ll share valuable insights on the complex art of decision-making.
Mind Cafe’s Reset Your Mind: A Free 10-Day Email Course
We’re offering a free gift to all of our new subscribers as a thank you for your continued support. When you sign up using this link, we’ll send you tips on how to boost mental clarity and focus every two days.