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A Nobel Prize Winner Explains How to Finally Think Clearly



A Nobel Prize Winner Explains How to Finally Think Clearly
Nobel Prize winner and psychologist Daniel Kahneman wants us to consider how we make important decisions using different parts of the brain. In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman proposes two systems that govern how we think, and you might not even know when one of them is at work.


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System 1 Thinking

The main function of System 1 is to maintain and update a model of your personal world, which represents what is normal in it.

Consider driving your car from home to work on a quiet road.

You understand the tasks involved, such as using your car's indicators, accelerating, decelerating and so on, but breaking down exactly what you did to reach the office safely, step-by-step is difficult. Driving your car along a familiar route is intuitive.



System 2 Thinking

System 2 thinking informs how you focus on a particular task by using expert knowledge and focusing or applying conscious effort.

Consider driving to work and encountering an accident. This unexpected change demands you pay attention to your environment and monitor your behavior.


How to Use System 1 and System 2 Thinking Together

If you feel a gut reaction after meeting a hire, it's probably System 1 thinking.

But you can mitigate the risk of hiring the wrong person by engaging System 2 thinking. Check their references. Ask probing questions. Validate your gut reaction with other members of your team.

The trick is to be aware of switching from one system to the other. It’s useful to understand when you are thinking on autopilot, when you are paying attention and what's inside your mental toolbox.



System 2

The purpose of this system is to focus your attention on a particular task by using expert knowledge and applying a conscious mental effort.

Consider driving to work and coming across ...

Combining System 1 & 2

The two systems guide how you think. Be mindful when you move from one system to the other.

It is possible to make decisions based on your feelings when you have taxed your mind too much with effortful activities. It is useful to understand when you are thinking on autopilot, and when you are working with your metal toolbox.

System 1 

The focus of this system is: 

  • To maintain a representation of your world. It is an automatically learned skill. For example, driving your car along a familiar route requires little mental effort and is intuitive. 
  • To update a model of your world. It is from the subconscious and based on emotions. For example, when meeting a potential hire for the first time, you will get a feeling for them if they are the right candidate. 

Think like Sherlock Holmes

“What Sherlock Holmes offers isn’t just a way of solving a crime. It is an entire way of thinking."

"Holmes provides... an education in improving our faculty of mindful thought...


As children, we are remarkably aware to the world around us. This attention wanes over time as we allow more pressing responsibilities to attend to and demands on our minds to address. And as the demands on our attention increase so, too, does our actual attention decrease.

 As it does so, we become less and less able to know or notice our own thought habits and more and more allow our minds to dictate our judgments and decisions, instead of the other way around.

Pitfalls of the Untrained Brain

Daniel Kahneman believes there are two systems for organizing and filtering knowledge: 

  • System one is real-time. This system makes judgments and decisions before our mental apparatus can consciously catch up. 
  • System two, on the other hand, is a slow process of thinking based on critical examination of evidence. Konnikova refers to these as System Watson and System Holmes.

To move from a System Watson- to a System Holmes-governed thinking takes mindfulness plus motivation.

Effort as Energy Expenditure

Effort as Energy Expenditure

Effort represents an investment of a fixed resource, like calories.

For this reason, running takes more effort than sitting. It takes more calories and strains muscles and joints. If y...

Effort as Attention

Paying attention seems to be linked to effort, since deliberate control of attention take effort.

Focus is only hard if we're trying to focus. If our attention is held automatically, focus is not an effort.

Effort as the Opposite of Habit

Effort could be seen as the opposite of something we do automatically. Effort then is what happens when we try to override an automatic pattern.