Thinking About Thinking


What I love most about these sessions is that it gives me the time to think."

This is what a coaching client recently said to me. In fact, Libby and I have been hearing a version of this sentence with most of the coaching clients we have worked with over the past decade.

In a world where many of us are going from meeting to meeting and responding to email after email, we seldom give ourselves the time to just...think.

It's flipping our personal operation modes to automatic.

It's letting our amygdala lead the way.

It's thinking without really, well, thinking.

Daniel Kahneman, the author of "Thinking, Fast and Slow" describes this as System 1 thinking. This type of thinking happens effortlessly and, many times, unconsciously. Yet, it's often faulty and full of implicit biases and poor decisions.

But, man, is it easier.

System 2 thinking, on the other hand, is much more focused, intentional, and systematic and it requires a lot more attention, thought, and effort. It's no wonder we often allow ourselves to default to system 1 thinking.

And, really, not everything needs the intense level of attention and scrutiny. Could you imagine how exhausting it would be to put the same level of thinking into what to wear or eat or radio station to listen to that we do to solving complex mathematical problems?

So, yes, there is most definitely a need for the automated thinking, especially when snap decisions are required such as when you encounter danger.

BUT (and there's a big but), we are over-relying on this type of thinking.

I challenge you: When is the last time you sat at your desk without anything pinging in the background or anyone trying to get your attention where you just let yourself think and reflect—whether it was about a work situation, a personal obstacle, or something that's just been on your mind?

If you're like me, it's been awhile.

From a biological perspective, we can blame this on the overzealous System 1 that gets in there like a dog spotting an unattended steak, but I'm going to theorize there are also some psychological factors brought on by social factors:

We feel guilty.

In a society focused on output, productivity, and efficiency, we equate thinking time to down time. Or, worse, being lazy and unproductive.

But, wait, maybe you're saying to yourself, "I have the opposite problem. I'm an overthinker. I'm thinking too much. I need to stop thinking."

This is actually where you need to challenge yourself on what type of thinking you are doing—are you slowing yourself down and recognizing and acknowledging those dominating thoughts that come into your mind, replaying over and over until they drive you crazy *(*cough cough that's System 1 thinking, by the way)?

Perhaps it's time to roll out the welcome mat for the analytical and rational brain to join the conversation.

Easier said than done, right?

Here are a few first steps to help you bring more System 2 into your life:

  • Book a standing meeting with yourself - Many times, when coaching clients tell us they love that our sessions give them time to think, it's because it's dedicated time to thinking. We're not thinking for them. We're not telling them what to do. But we are giving them the space to think and reflect. But it's set up as a meeting that they can not miss and they treat it as such in their calendar. Treat yourself with the same respect.

  • Book a standing meeting with a thinking buddy - Maybe you need to talk to someone to work through your thoughts and move from the reactionary to the rational. Set up a buddy relationship with someone you know and trust and establish the ground rules beforehand. These sessions are intended for thinking not actioning. Split the time so each of you has the opportunity to share and think and the other has the opportunity to practice their listening.

  • Link outcomes back to your thinking time - As I mentioned above, we often discount that much needed thinking time if we view it as wasted time. We may rationally know that it's better for the long-term. Kahneman emphasizes the positive effects it has on decision making, reducing biases, and even bringing greater efficiency, but we might have a hard time putting this belief into action if we don't see the connections, so spend time making the connections. The next time you're ready to make a decision in haste, it may help remind you the outcome was much better when you put the time and effort into that decision-making process.

  • Join the C Factor - Shameless plug time. Joining a community like the C Factor not only gives you a network of others who are experiencing some of the same challenges and obstacles you are, but also encourages thought, discussion, and, just as importantly, the time to do it. Through coaching office hours, webinars, discussion posts, and networking, the C Factor encourages that System 2 thinking without the guilt. Interested? Learn more

Best,

Christine