Break free from fast thinking
Ever since I learned that our brains possess flexible neurons which allow us to learn, change and grow, I feel there’s hope for me (and everyone else) to discover new things, think new thoughts, and come to new conclusions. So hardwired are we, so predictable in how we view ourselves and the world, I feel genuine relief that there may be a chance, however small, to break free from the automaticity of our thinking.
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman in his masterful book on psychology and behavioral economics, Thinking, Fast and Slow, teaches us about two systems of thinking, how we make decisions, and our greatest vulnerabilities to bad decisions.
Kahneman defines two systems of the mind.
System 1: operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort, and no sense of voluntary control. Examples: Understand simple sentences; drive a car on an empty road.
System 2: allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex math. System 2 is often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration. Examples: Monitor your behavior in a social situation; think through a difficult problem.
System 1 automatically generates suggestions, feelings, and intuitions for System 2. If endorsed by System 2, intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions.
A lazy System 2 accepts what the faulty System 1 gives it, without questioning. This leads to cognitive biases and bad decisions.
When it comes to job search, unexamined feelings generated by System 1 thinking and endorsed by a lazy System 2 keep us stuck.
A few examples might be:
- “I just don’t do well in interviews.”
- “I am not good at marketing myself.”
- “I am past my prime and no one will hire me.”
- “It feels like I may never work again.”
Let’s examine one of these statements, “I just don’t do well at interviewing.”
What if you slow down and think about it?
If this is true, does it have to be true forever?
Question this conclusion:
- Why am I saying this?
- Who said this is true?
- Why is this important?
- What have others said about this?
- How can I change this?
- Why haven’t I done anything about this?
- Who can I ask for help?
A highly fruitful and enlivening way to question your thinking is to use a method by Hal Gregersen, former executive director at MIT Leadership Center, in his book, Questions Are the Answer. A Breakthrough to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and In Life. He calls it a “question burst.”
Gregersen suggests sitting with a small group of people making sure to include two or three who have no direct experience with the problem and whose thinking or worldview is starkly different from yours. They will more than likely come up with surprising, compelling questions that you would not, because they have no practiced ways of thinking about the problem and no investment in the status quo.
Take two minutes to lay out the biggest challenge you are facing without an explanation. Just state the challenge. Then check in emotionally to see how you feel about it. Are you positive, negative, or neutral? Jot down your mood. You will check in again after the process is over to see if there are any changes. The exercise’s objective is not only to spark valuable new questions but also to provide a positive emotional boost that will make you more likely to follow up on them.
For four minutes (use a timer) the group comes up with questions about your challenge. JUST THE QUESTIONS. NO ANSWERS. The sole focus on questions is to suspend the automatic rush to provide an answer.
This ultimately helps expand the space for deeper exploration. Questions, especially counterintuitive ones, make us feel uncomfortable so we want to come up with any default response. Plus, research shows pressure enhances creative output. The discomfort generates more unusual questions After all, the reason we’re hung up is that our go-to answers, our automatic ways of thinking aren’t getting us anywhere.
Start questions with: How • Why • What • When • Who • Where • Why Not • What If • How Might
Then take time for “unpacking” questions to see which help to move you forward. Pick one or two that are call-to-action questions. Jot them down.
This method of questioning starts getting you emotionally to a better place. You are forced to be reflectively quiet. Check in with your mood. How do you feel about your challenge now?
Once you choose one or two questions that spark action, devise a near-term action plan:
What concrete actions will you personally take in the next three weeks to find potential solutions suggested by your new questions?
I like Hal Gregersen’s method not only because it short circuits our System 1 thinking and a lazy System 2 non-thinking but because you are with people who are supporting your efforts to think in new ways and to take new paths of action forward!
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About The Author
Arlene Kaplan is the founder of Self-Mastery Solutions, specializing in the use of the Birkman Method® to help clients understand and appreciate their uniqueness, in the areas of career development, career change and transition. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Resources/Organization Development from the University of San Francisco and a BFA in Dance Performance from Ohio State University.
Before embarking on a corporate career, she performed in musicals in and around New York City; taught dance in Osaka, Japan; danced at the Academy Awards and in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics in LA.
For the past 25 years, she has been a student of Arnold Siegel’s “Autonomy and Life” coursework. This private curriculum is the foundation of her interest and study of the human condition. It has taught her that understanding our strengths and weaknesses and having a willingness to be responsible for and accepting of these is critical for a fulfilling life. Said another way, self-knowledge allows us to fully blossom and helps us to find our place in the world.