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Why don’t people think anymore?

“In the long run my observations have convinced me that some men, reasoning preposterously, first establish some conclusion in their minds which, either because of its being their own or because of their having received it from some person who has their entire confidence, impresses them so deeply that one finds it impossible ever to get it out of their heads.” - Galileo

In 1596, I’m pretty sure they would have burned me at the stake. I’m not Galileo smart but I am quite forthright in my hypotheses and they can contradict existing ‘opinion’. I’m not provocative for the sake of it but I don’t take the easy ride. I’m not going to ‘please you’ for the sake of it.

A little over ten years ago, a wise man called Michael Mallows introduced me to Daniel Kahneman’s system 1 and 2 thinking. We were prepping a thinking skills session for an intervention programme I was running for teenage girls in London. Of all the concepts (and we worked with outstanding teachers and facilitators from private and state schools, business and social sectors) across thirty sessions in three years, the students found this (and the drama triangle) fundamental to their way of thinking and being. It also changed the tone of how we discussed anything and gave the girls a vocabulary to articulate not just what they thought, but how they thought.

If you’re not familiar with the basic concept, system 1 is reactive gut thinking and system 2 more slow and deliberate. The latter is hard, time consuming, often painful (it also uses more blood glucose). It’s easier to roll with system 1 and often necessary if we are short of time and the speed of decision is more important than its value. 

But to go back to the frame of that Saturday intervention programme. If any of my students answered “I don’t know” within the first two seconds, I called them out on it and we stopped and made them think again. Because you don’t simply “don’t know”, you need to think. It’s easy, compulsive, reassuring even, to say “I don’t know,” to just blurt out your first instinctive reaction. Sometimes it’s ok. But sometimes it’s not. If you have responsibilities, one of those will include thinking mindfully (alas it probably won’t be on your job description). More thought, followed by quick effective action, might resolve a few of your organisational problems. And let’s face it, you might (usefully) put a few consultants out of work. For the next time you joke about consultants borrowing your watch to tell you the time, just remember you could have looked at your own watch first.

So think. Take a break. Refresh. Play, walk in the park, enjoy a hobby or distraction. Your unconscious mind can do a lot of heavy lifting if you break the cycle of blurting “I don’t know” or your system 1, fast reactive comment of choice. It’s an investment that will pay off quite quickly. So try it and see what happens. 

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