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…


Author: ryanjrauch

I am not here to change the world. I am here to change my world.

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