Thinking Systems

Lately I have been reading a book all about how people think. I won’t go into too much detail about it because, frankly, I don’t understand a majority of what I am reading. Basically, it talks about how people have two “thinking systems.” The first system is very much a reactionary, instinctual, you know it as soon as you see it type of process. When you’re waiting at a stop light and it turns green, your brain does very little processing before it tells you to push the gas pedal. The second system is your critical thinking system. It does things like multiplying numbers bigger than 3 and estimating how long it would take you to drive to Orlando for a family vacation.

[Side Note: I drove to Orlando for a family vacation. It takes about 15 hours with a dog and you should get an audio book. Definitely get an audio book. I digress…]

Thinking about thinking got me thinking about how men and women apply these two systems in their everyday lives. The name of the book is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. When I saw the title, my immediate gut reaction (System 1) told me that my wife is a fast thinker and I am a slow thinker. I thought the book was going to confirm what I already knew in that some people have the ability to process information much quicker than others to come to a logical conclusion about.

For example, I rarely fight with my wife because she has a remarkable ability to think logically in the heat of the moment. She can remember countless examples of very specific instances when I said something a certain way or refused to do something when it needed to be done. She can recite entire conversations we had months before where I had contradicted whatever my current position happened to be. I, on the other hand, have a hard time remembering much more than, “I do remember saying something about that…” or “I’m pretty sure that what I meant when I said that was…” What it comes down to for me is that I know better than to try to call my wife out on anything beyond catching her red-handed in the act, which she is way to careful to ever let happen.

Now, if we were to schedule a fight for 8:00 pm, and I was presented a list of her arguments well in advance, I think I would have a pretty good shot at winning my case as to why I shouldn’t have had to take the dog out this morning despite the fact that it was my day to do so.

“Well, babe, having taken the dog out the two nights prior should have bought me some chore-equity. Not to mention the fact that I have this email from you dated 1/23/2013 stating that you owe me for buying you flowers.”

What the book is actually about is how we put these two systems to work. Remember, System 1 is your reaction and “know it without thinking about it system” and your System 2 is your critical thinking system. We all have both systems, but some of us are about to lean heavier on one system or another at any given time.

My wife has the strong System 1. It’s not that she can win an argument against me, but she can make important decisions on gut reactions. And I admire this about her because my System 1 doesn’t work the same way. I have a relatively strong System 1, but not in the same way she does. My system 1 recognizes meaningless facts like where Istanbul is located on a map or that a flush beats a straight in a game of poker. I don’t have to think about it I just know right away that Istanbul is to the right of the Mediterranean Sea and I don’t like my 9-10-J-Q-K when 4 diamonds are on the board and someone bets big into me.

Here’s a good example of when the same question draws out differing systems:

Where do you want to go to dinner tonight?

Me: well let’s see. We haven’t had Chinese in a few weeks, but I had pasta last night and I would probably get something with noodles if I went Chinese. OK so rule that out. Sushi would be good but I don’t get paid for another week and we would probably run up a big bill.  Same goes for seafood. So lets factor out expensive places. Mexican could be good. It’s cheap. OK so Mexican, or… I guess we could split something at a seafood place…

Her: I want sushi.

I really appreciate this aspect of how she thinks. I will go months without buying new running shoes despite the fact that I ran a marathon and a half-marathon last year and my feet hurt after every time I run. I will convince myself why I don’t NEED new shoes and how I could better spend my money. By listening to her sometimes, I get things I want and, more importantly, things that I need.

Now, it’s not like System 2 isn’t equally as important in our lives as is System 1. For instance, I control the finances. I can sit at a spreadsheet and map out our next 3 month’s expenses and I can know that we will be financially tight these next two months, but come June we will have some extra spending money and can go on a weekend get away if we wanted to. My wife has a very hard time with this. It’s not that she cannot think critically or couldn’t sit down and figure our finances out. She could if she wanted to.

System 2 is much easier to train than is System 1. System 1 is much lazier than is System 2, but we can always practice patience. Now, just because I say that is it lazier, doesn’t mean that it is somehow less important than a System 2. It only relies on gut reactions, instincts, feelings and anything that doesn’t require you to furrow your brow. We cannot practice how we react to questions or situations where we rely on our instincts.

So what does it all mean? Nothing. And everything. We are are capable of making gut decisions and also thinking critically about what needs to be done. I think that my wife and I work so well together because we each allow each other’s strengths to shine and lean on each other when we need to. I don’t know that men or women tend to think one way or another. I think most people would presume men think one way and women another. I think what it comes down to is that everybody has their own affinity for how they think and how they can best navigate through daily decisions.

Ultimately, understanding how our minds work is the most important thing.  And equally as important, for those of us in relationships, is the ability to recognize how your partner’s mind works. I know my System 1 isn’t as strong as my wife’s so I know it’s better not to try to take a stand during an argument unless I am really sure of what I want to say.

Now, if you want to have a rational discussion about why we should go out for Mexican tonight…

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The diver stands tall, looks down, and begins to…

I have tried this blogging thing in the past. When I graduated college, I did so with a major in journalism and had no intentions of ever becoming a journalist. I think what appealed to me most about blogging was the fact that it was a lot like journalism, only you didn’t have to interview anybody. I have always been a good writer, but the problem I had with interviews was that I had already created the story in my head and would want to get my interviewees to say exactly what I wanted them to say and how I had it drawn up in my head.

“Can you take a look at this list of answers to questions I emailed you earlier and read lines 1-5 out loud into this microphone please?”

Anyway, my biggest hurdle as a young writer was this idea I had that you had to be an expert on something in order to validate having an opinion on it. My first blog was called “Political Cupcakes,” and I wrote about 3 entries from notes I took while accompanying my mother to right-wing Tea Party meet-up’s around central Ohio. Now, I was neither interested nor educated on politics, the Tea Party, meet up groups, anyone (aside from my mom) in the group, who the Speaker of the House was or even what everybody seemed to be so upset about at the time.

**I think it was taxes, but it might have been healthcare?

Anyway, I thought that I could just listen to what everyone was talking about, interpret some of the things the more charismatic people were saying and turn it into a blog. I was going to be the “Voice of the Tea Party!” Well, it turns out that these meetings were extremely boring and it usually ended up going down at a Panera bread where only 5 or 6 people would show up. We would grumble about taxes for a few minutes then talk about Mary’s daughter’s prom the weekend before or how much better Panera used to be before they started popping up everywhere.

Needless to say, “Political Cupcakes” never took off.

So with one failure in the books, I took some time off from writing to explore some of my other lifelong dreams like working in chain-restaurant kitchens and moonlighting at chiropractor offices for a third-party company that measured the strength and flexibility of people with neck and back problems. Eventually, I landed at a pretty decent job and was ready to pick back up the pen and see what else a more matured, veteran-version of myself had to say. At the time, my mother owned a weight-loss clinic, and while I wasn’t overweight by most standards, I decided to take the 10-week program and write about my experiences. I wanted to know what those who went through the program felt. I wanted to experience their hardships and struggle, as they struggled, with eliminating my favorite foods from my diet and regularly drinking a powdered food that was literally called “medical food.”

So I began a blog entitled “12 Almonds” because, according to the program, the suggested serving size was 12 whole, raw almonds. Every week I would write about where I was at mentally, physically, and emotionally. I would title each entry things like “The First Almond: The Beginning.” I was wrapped up in being creative and thought that if I made a product that was shiny and clever that people would eat it up.

The blog went well enough. By this time, I was using Twitter and Facebook was being consumed by the masses, so I had a fair amount of readers that would comment.

**Side note – I lived for those comments. Since it was about weight loss, very few people had anything negative to say and I celebrated each comment or “Like” as if it were a tiny victory on my way to success.

Anyway, while I was interested in nutrition and health, I don’t think I ever believed that “12 Almonds” had any kind of real staying power in me as a blog went. I mean, I did the program and learned a lot, but wasn’t sure how I was going to steer that ship towards something I really liked.

So I took some more time off from writing. I found a new job, got married, did some things in life. I am sure that as I continue to write, I will elaborate more on myself. But for this entry, I wanted to lay out where I’ve been (writing-wise) and where I see this blog going.

I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned from past blogging is that you DON’T have to be an expert to talk about things.

I am curious about a lot of things and I intend to comment on all of them. I am fascinated at the way people think; how decisions are made and what drives us to formulate opinions is something I hope to explore from time to time.

I am still interested in health and nutrition. I have been a vegetarian for about 2 years now and am very excited about what I have learned and how I feel after having converted.

I love running. I do my best thinking when I am able to clear my head for an hour and be in my own world. I imagine that the songs playing in my ear are a soundtrack to my life when I run and I seem to take the world in differently when I put miles behind me.

I have a dog and am starting a new life as a married man and I feel like excitement and opportunities are there everyday and if this blog doesn’t achieve anything else other than chronicling how I feel and what I think at this time in my life then I will still consider it a success.

So cheers to something new. Whether it is marriage or a new job opportunity, doing something new can only open doors. My hope is that this blog will become for me a creative outlet that lets me think critically and comment casually on where I am at this point of my life.

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