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How not to jerk your knee, er … mind

Fast thinking is as harmful to your mind as fast food to your body

The moment I see a favourable or a contrary point of view or an opinion in social media (SM), my fast thinking (“System I thinking”) kicks in. That thinking makes me decide I will agree or attack. If I choose to agree, SM gives me the tools that aid my lazy thinking; but if I cannot find evidence to attack the point, I switch to the mode of attacking the person. Like a wolf, I bare my fangs and attack the person, except here I need not see or have an idea of the person I attack. I do not need to as SM gives me that cloak of anonymity and invisibility. Game on!

I thrive on playing a critic, it’s easy for me. I am a fast thinker: System I plays a script in my mind. The script encourages me to initiate a knee-jerk reaction, ignore facts and statistics, and allows me to go on an overdrive where I can “speak my mind”. This is easy in social media and apps that live on the web that allow me to write or copy and paste links and snippets of text. As I vent my critical comments, I reassure myself that there is no vetting process that will act as a gatekeeper to my comments. My fast thinking wins at the expense of the fact that I ignore my slow thinking.

Bryers Halt

Sebastian Bryers asks that we create mental checkpoints: check ourselves and identify that moment when our fast thinking is kicking in. For that to happen, we need to know our minds. We need to tell us that what we are thinking at the moment may be wrong, instead focus on the facts. We must learn to halt ourselves split moment, recognise patterns of our thoughts and processes, learn to differentiate between facts and opinions.

We can re-train ourselves to do this everyday. We can train ourselves to be mindful of our thoughts and actions. Mindfulness exercises and meditations are useful for building this skill. Another intuition is to be humble and not take us to be serious.

Smile a lot.

Build an internal dialogue that “…. what I am thinking at the moment is wrong: let me check it in another way”. This humility in turn also guards against getting upset when someone attacks us on the social media.

Can I identify my own theory of mind? What are the facts before me? Can I weave together the facts to generate a theory and predict? I believe we need to build these skills in our education system. We need to map our minds. It will take time but the time will be well worth it. In the end we’d still be able to criticise but the criticisms will be based on evidence and facts.

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in:

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