Slow Thinking Versus Fast Thinking
The successful person has developed the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose. —ALBERT E. N. GRAY
YOUR MIND IS EXTRAORDINARY. You have the capacity to think more thoughts than all the molecules in the known universe. By properly focusing the powers of your mind on any goal or desire you have, you can accomplish extraordinary things and often far faster than you realize. Your mind races continually. Your stream of consciousness is about fifteen hundred words per minute.
Your mind jumps from one thought to another and then back again. It takes tremendous discipline and willpower for you to control and constrain this onrushing river of thought and to channel it in such a way as to enable you to accomplish all that is possible for you. As it happens, you can think hundreds of thoughts in a row, but you can only think one thought at a time. Because of this, you have the ability to take control of this stream of consciousness and focus your thinking, like a sniper, on one thought, one target at a time. The
Whatever you do repeatedly becomes a habit. The majority of people operate in a reactive-responsive mode. They have developed the habit of reacting and responding continually to what is going on around them, and within them, with very little deliberate, reasoned thought.From the first ring of the alarm clock, they are largely reacting and responding to stimuli from their environment and to their habitual or momentary impulses and appetites. The normal thinking process is almost instantaneous: stimulus, then immediate response, with no time in between.
The superior thinking process is also triggered by stimulus, but between the stimulus and the response there is a moment or more where you think before you respond. Just like your mother told you, “Count to ten before you respond, especially when you are upset or angry.” The very act of stopping to think before you say or do anything almost always improves the quality of your ultimate response. It is an indispensable requirement for success. It is also a quality of wealthy people.
Thinking Is Hard Work
Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of IBM, required that there be signs on every office wall that said, “THINK.” Whenever they had a problem to deal with in the early days, someone would point to the sign to remind his co-workers that the more they took time to think carefully about the subject under discussion, the more likely they were to come up with a proper solution or decision.
Thomas Edison once said, “Thinking is the hardest work of all, which is why most people avoid it at all costs.” There is a saying, “There are those who think. There are those who think they think. And then there is the vast majority who would rather die than think.” Good thinking is hard work. It must be learned and practiced over and over if you are going to truly plumb the depths of your mental powers. Fortunately, whatever you do repeatedly soon becomes a habit.
Once it becomes a habit, it functions easily and automatically. Goethe said, “Everything is hard before it is easy.” This definitely applies to new habit formation.
One of the best habits you can develop is to practice thinking slowly in those areas where slow thinking is required. As we discussed in chapter 1, the important factor is consequences. Almost all of the mistakes we make in life come from not carefully considering the consequences of our actions beforehand. Daniel Kahneman’s bestselling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, is a major contribution to accurate thinking. Similar to the classic Straight and CrookedThinking by R. H. Thouless and C. R. Thouless, Kahneman’s book explores and explains many of the reasons why we come to false conclusions which lead to actions that fail to achieve the results we desire.
The authors show how we accept information and make decisions based on partial information, selective statistics, or confirmation bias—seeking information that agrees with what we have already decided to believe. The common conclusion of these studies into poor or sloppy thinking is the necessity of slowing down before we make a decision that can have significant positive or negative consequences in our lives and work. One of the simplest ways to do this is to continually ask, “How do we know this is true?” before we accept a piece of information as the basis for a decision.
Two Thinking Styles
The two thinking styles contrasted are fast thinking versus slow thinking. With fast thinking, we process information quickly, intuitively, automatically, instinctively, like making decisions while driving a car in busy traffic. We react and respond with little thought or consideration. For most of our activities, such as conversations, meetings, navigating daily life, or grocery shopping, fast thinking is both appropriate and necessary. The consequences are not important, such as whether you order a hamburger or a fish patty for lunch. It doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things.
For many other areas of our lives, slow thinking is more necessary, and even essential, if we are to make the right long-term decisions that yield the consequences we desire. Here was Kahneman’s insight that was central to making his book a bestseller, and deservedly so. He said that the biggest mistake that most people make is that they use fast thinking in making long-term, vital decisions, where slow thinking is much more appropriate.
Consider the Consequences
For example, decisions about the courses you take at college, what career path you embark upon, the person you marry, and how you earn, save, and invest your money all require slow thinking.
The more important a decision can be to you in the long term, the more important it is that you slow down, call a time-out, and carefully consider both the facts and your options.In starting and building a business, slow thinking is absolutely essential in certain areas. Which product or service you specialize in, which customer segment you aim at, which methods of production, sales, marketing, and distribution you select, and your cost and pricing decisions are all vital to the success or failure of the enterprise.
Analyze Your Way of Thinking
From now on, ask yourself on a regular basis, “Does this situation require fast or slow thinking?” Buy time for yourself whenever possible. Put as long a gap as possible between the stimulus and the response, between the thought and the decision. Practice the “Seventy-Two-Hour Rule.” Give yourself or buy yourself seventytwo hours, or three days, to consider a major decision before you make it.
Lord Acton wrote, “If it is not necessary to decide, it is necessary not to decide.” The longer you take to make an important decision, the better that decision will be in almost every case. Continually use the words “Let me think about it and get back to you.” If someone tries to pressure you into making a decision on an important issue, you can say, “If you insist on an answer immediately, the answer is NO. But if you let me think about it for a while, the answer might be different.”
Write Down the Details
Think on paper. One of the most powerful thinking tools of all is a sheet of paper upon which you write down every detail of the problem or decision. Something amazing happens between the head and the hand when you write things down. When you write out all the details, you are forced to think slowly and meticulously, especially when you write by hand rather than typing.
Often, as you write fact after fact, it becomes clearer and clearer to you what you should do. This is why Francis Bacon wrote, “Writing [maketh] an exact man.” Whenever the potential consequences of a decision are significant, buy yourself as much time as you possibly can. Your final decision will always be better than if you decided quickly.
Fully 95 percent of business success, by some estimates, will be determined by the quality of the people whom you attract and assign, appoint, and delegate the work to. The people you choose to work with, and the people who choose you, can make or break a business. This is why Peter Drucker wrote, “Fast people decisions are invariably wrong people decisions.” The people you choose to work with or for, to socialize with or marry, to invest through or go into business with, will determine about 85 percent of your success and happiness in your personal life.
The Secret of Hiring
The top sales manager for a large company, who was famous for having hired many of the firm’s best salespeople, was once asked to disclose his secret to hiring success. He said, “Simple, I practice the ‘Thirty-Day Rule.’ No matter how much I like the candidate, I discipline myself to wait thirty days before I make a final decision.
As I meet and talk with a candidate, a person who may look excellent in the first or second meeting often starts to reveal weaknesses and character flaws that make him or her completely inappropriate over the long term.” Most successful companies and managers practice different versions of this rule. They realize that the consequences of a bad hire can be very expensive. This principle applies to business partnerships and deals as well.
Of the many management techniques that have come in and out of fashion over the years, strategic planning is always ranked as number one in enduring importance. In strategic planning, you are forced to think slowly, to carefully consider the likely consequences of an action or a decision. You are designing the long-term future of your business. In personal strategic planning, it is the same. You design your own future.
You think far into the future to determine where you want to be in the years ahead. As Michael Kami, the strategy expert, wrote, “Those who do not plan for the future cannot have one.” Personal strategic planning forces you to think slowly, with greater precision and accuracy. It forces you to think about what you really want to be, have, do, and accomplish in the months and years ahead.It is often a good idea for you to block out chunks of time, even a day or two, to think about your future, especially in times of change, turbulence, and disruption.
Go for a long walk and let your mind relax. Discuss your future goals with your spouse. Take two or three days off where you disconnect from all electronic devices, including your computer, smart phone, telephones, text messages, and any other electronic interruptions that can disrupt the flow of your thinking.
One of the most powerful of all ways to practice slow thinking is for you to practice solitude on a regular basis. Many people have never practiced solitude even once in their entire lives. They have an insatiable need to be busy and active, filling every possible minute with stimuli of some kind. But this is not for you. The practice of solitude is quite simple.
It requires that you take a minimum of thirty to sixty minutes by yourself, in silence, with no music or distractions, and simply sit there quietly with no noise or activity. You can sit quietly in nature, in a park, where there is no noise. Perhaps the best mental state for solitude is to “think about water.” Sitting and looking at a body of water, even a swimming pool, seems to relax your mind and unlock your subconscious and superconscious capabilities.
SOLITUDE REQUIRES DISCIPLINE
When you first practice solitude, you will find it extremely difficult. You will fidget and think of things that you could get up and do. You will almost have to hold yourself down for the first twenty to twenty-five minutes. But at that point, something wonderful will happen. All of your tension and stress will begin to drain away, and you will feel completely relaxed.
You will start to enjoy the sensation of simply sitting in the silence. And at this point, your mind will begin to flow with thoughts, ideas, insights, perspectives, solutions to problems, and other inspirations, any one of which can change your life. Just let your mind flow, like a river. You do not need to write anything down. If it is a good idea, it will remain with you after your period of solitude.
It is said that “men and women begin to become great when they begin to take time apart with themselves in the silence.”If you have never practiced thirty to sixty minutes of solitude, make an appointment with yourself for your first session. Often, I would stop my car in a park on the way home in the late afternoon and sit quietly for an hour. You may stay at the office after everyone has left. You may sit in your backyard or your upstairs bedroom where it is completely silent.
IT WORKS EVERY TIME
Here is my promise to you. Whenever you have a problem, a difficulty, an obstacle, a frustration, or a challenge in your life, go into the silence and sit quietly. The very first time you do this, almost without exception, the answer to your biggest problem will come to you, almost like a butterfly alighting on your shoulder. Many of my students report to me that problems that had concerned them for weeks or months were almost instantly resolved by their first practice of a session in solitude.
When your answer comes, it will be complete in every respect. It will answer every detail of the problem or difficulty. It will be simple, clear, and completely within your capabilities to act. It will solve every detail of the problem. When you arise from your period of solitude and put the idea into action, everything will immediately resolve itself. You will be at peace.
Unleash Your Inner Powers
The regular practice of solitude requires slow thinking. It requires that you stop all of the business and activity around you and just go into the silence with yourself for a few minutes.
The best news is that the more you practice solitude, the faster, better, and more comprehensive will be the answers and ideas that you get from each period. In corporate strategic planning, where the consequences can be significant, taking the time to back off, slow down, and think through the critical issues can be the action that determines the success or failure of the business. There is a rule in time management that says, “Every minute spent in planning saves ten minutes in execution.”
Whenever you see a successful enterprise, you see a successful strategy in action. You see the result of an extended process of slow and careful thinking.
Use the GOSPA Thinking Model
To help yourself and others to slow down and think with greater precision, use the GOSPA model on a regular basis. The acronym GOSPA stands for
“Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Priorities, and Actions.”
Goals: The specific, measurable, time-bounded results you want to achieve over the longer term in your business—your targets for sales, profitability, growth, share price, and quality rankings.
Objectives: The interim goals that you will have to achieve to accomplish your major goals. Imagine that your goals exist at the top of the ladder—your long-term aims—and your objectives are the rungs of the ladder that you must climb to achieve them.
Strategies: The various ways that you could accomplish each objective. For example, in business, one of your objectives will be to achieve a certain level of sales. You can use a variety of different strategies to achieve your sales objectives.
Priorities: Those activities that are more important than others in achieving your goals and objectives. Apply the 80/20 rule to everything. What are the top 20 percent of actions that you can take that can account for 80 percent of your results?
Actions: What specific, measurable, time-bounded activities must you take to implement your strategies, achieve your objectives, and accomplish your goals? This method of thinking, and carefully considering each action you must take, dramatically improves your decision-making abilities. It forces you to use both long-term thinking and slow thinking together.
The Law of Probabilities
Many people attribute their success, or failure, to luck of some kind, good or bad. In reality, when looking back at what actually happened, success turns out not to be a matter of luck at all. Instead, it is a matter of probabilities. The Law of Probabilities says that there is a probability that everything can happen, and by using certain mathematical models, you can calculate these probabilities with considerable accuracy.
In its simplest application, the law says that if you do more of the things that successful people and organizations do, you increase the probabilities that you will do the right thing at the right time and be successful as well.By practicing slow thinking whenever it is required, you will find yourself doing more of the right things and fewer of the wrong things on your journey to success. Success is not an accident. Failure is not an accident, either. The more carefully you think and plan before taking action, the faster you take control over your success in the future.
- Resolve today to put a space where you think slowly between the stimulus, the problem or idea, and your response.
- Select one important area of your business or personal life and practice the GOSPA model to help you think clearly and at your very best in planning your future.
- Plan today to take thirty to sixty minutes for solitude, where you sit in complete silence and listen to your intuition. Do this regularly