The Two-System Brain - Deepstash

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The Two-System Brain

The Two-System Brain

  • Your deliberate system is responsible for sophisticated functions such as reasoning, self-control, and forward-thinking. It excels in handling anything unfamiliar, complex, or abstract. But it has limited capacity and gets tired quickly. 
  • Your automatic system lightens the load on your deliberate system by automating most of what you do and taking fast shortcuts that filter out “irrelevant” information and options. But it inevitably leaves you with blind spots. 

The Mind-Body Loop

  • The way you treat your body has a direct, immediate impact on your brain’s performance, affecting both its cognitive and emotional functions. 
  • Your brain’s deliberate system performs far better when you’ve had enough sleep, some aerobic exercise, and a few moments of mindfulness.
  • Mimicking the physical actions associated with feeling happy, confident, and relaxed appears to tell your brain that you are in fact happy, confident, and relaxed, creating a selffulfilling loop.

Assume “Good person, Bad Circumstances”

Assume “Good person, Bad Circumstances”

People are often good but their circumstances can change how they come out.

Get clear on the “true facts”: what you know for sure. Then assume that the other person has good intent, and imagine the circumstances that could be causing his or her behavior.

The Discover-Defend Axis

You’re constantly moving along a discover-defend axis in your daily life, as your brain scans for threats to defend against and rewards to seek out and discover.

  • In defensive mode, you become less smart and flexible, as your brain devotes some of its scarce mental energy to respond to a potential “threat”.
  • In discovery mode, you’re motivating yourself with rewards: a social sense of belonging or recognition; a personal sense of autonomy, competence, or purpose; or informational rewards that come from learning or experiencing new things

Approach Goals And Avoidance Goals

Approach Goals And Avoidance Goals

There are two types of goals:

  1. Approach Goals: doing more of something good
  2. Avoidance Goals: doing less of something bad

Approach goals are better than avoidance goals as they encourage higher performance.

Knowing How To Reboot Your Energy

Knowing How To Reboot Your Energy

For a complete and happy day, you need to focus on your energy and reboot it when needed.

Know thyself by identifying where the typical energy highs and lows occur. Plan for the triggers and events around the highs and lows.


"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."


Making Things Happen

  • When you want people to do something for you, give them a brief reason
  • Make it easier for people to choose by providing them with mental shortcuts. Ask yourself: “How can I make it easier for people to solve a particular problem?”
  • You can also nudge people by providing visual hints for the outcome that you want. To get people on board with what you want, paint a clear picture of the benefits.
  • Don’t assume that people will automatically understand the benefits. You can use social proof to show that what you are asking works for others too.
  • Let the others contribute to the success. Being part of something is motivating. Ask for their views and assign them tasks.

Setting Great Goals

  • Make sure your goals are about doing desirable things, or doing more of them, rather than avoiding bad things happening. If they’re negative in tone, turn them around. 
  • Find a personal why. Can you articulate why the goal matters to you or how it will benefit something you care about? 
  • Break off bite-sized chunks. If the actions to take are unclear, break your goal down into smaller, bite-sized chunks. 
  • Make a “when-then” plan. Define clear situational prompts (“when X happens, then I will do Y”).

Notice When Your Automatic System Is Talking

The brain’s deliberate system likes to take shortcuts. Take note of when that is happening. 

Signs of your brain taking shortcuts are statements like “It’s obviously right [or obviously wrong].” “I recently heard XYZ…therefore…” “Everyone agrees.” “I understand it—so I like it!” “Let’s just stick with what we know.” “There’s only one real option.”

Planning Deliberate Downtime

Planning Deliberate Downtime

Your brain’s deliberate system needs regular breaks to keep it fully functional. When tired, we are more likely to make poorer decisions.

Allow your brain a chance to step back and consolidate the experience. Plan for breaks between “zones” in your day. Refresh your mind after every ninety minutes.

To Think As Clearly As Possible...

To Think As Clearly As Possible...

  • Think about something positive before getting into the tough stuff. 
  • Break a complex task down into its constituent parts, step by step, to allow you to focus on one thing at a time and reduce the load on your brain. 
  • Imagine parts of your problem as people.
  • Look after the smart basics. Surround yourself with cues that you associate with good thinking; don’t skimp on sleep; do some physical activity.

Caroline Webb

"In all the empirical studies on psychological well-being, one thing emerges as a reliable foundation for happiness: the quality of our relationships."


Three Ways To Give Brain-Friendly Feedback

Use one or more of these three techniques next time you want to provide input or challenge someone’s ideas: 

  •  “What I like(d) about that is…” and “What would make me like it even more is…” 
  •  “Yes, and…” (rather than “Yes, but…”). 
  •  “What would need to be true to make that work?”

Resolving Tensions: Find Common Ground

If you disagree on something:

  • Articulate the other person’s perspective as if you truly believe it.
  • Identify what you both agree on.
  • Isolate the real disagreement; explore how you could both be right.
  • Decide what you can do based on what you agree on. 

Your Priorities Determine Your Perceptions

We can tweak our perceptions by being more deliberate in our perceptual filters.

We can do this by looking at things from three angles:

  1. Aim. Think about your aim as you meet people and as you work on your activities. Ask yourself: “What really matters?”
  2. Attitude. Take time to notice the concerns that are dominating your thoughts. Ask yourself: “Do they help me achieve my main goals?”
  3. Attention. Given your priorities, ask yourself: “Where should I focus my attention?”


  • Group together similar tasks (e.g., email, calls, and reading), so you’re not constantly switching from one mental mode to another. 
  • Decide on the best time of day to tackle each batch of tasks. Create longer blocks of uninterrupted time for your most important work. 
  • Minimize interruptions, to help you focus your attention on the task at hand. Which alerts can you switch off? Can you use an app to block access to certain websites? 
  • Plan small rewards for good behavior


"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."


Getting Through Filters

Getting a message through to other people can be hard because other people’s automatic system gets in the way.

Provide a reward or a dose of intrigue as you communicate. The human brain craves new things.

Experiment with different mediums for your information. Use visuals, charts, and everything else that you can think of to stimulate the mind. Present your information from a different vantage point.

The Einstellung Effect

Having an existing solution in mind makes it harder for us to see a radically different but better way to solve our problem.

So if what we want is new thinking, we need to help our brains get out of a rut, to stimulate lots of new connections.


"The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones."


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