Do you have a fast mind? Do you pride yourself on how quickly you can grasp information and make decisions? Yes, there’s a benefit to having a fast mind. But sometimes, when making big life decisions, taking the slow road and letting yourself reflect might bring a better result.
Thinking like a turtle can make you smarter.
Source: Courtesy of Maria Brignola
You may have heard of Daniel Kahneman’s work on fast and slow thinking. According to Kahneman, fast thinking does most of the brain’s decision-making; it is effortless and unconscious.
Slow thinking, on the other hand, is willful and deliberate; this thinking seeks more information and is done with awareness. Slow thinking, however, accounts for only a sliver of our decision-making capability.
Keep in mind that each day we make thousands of decisions. Yes, when you think of each little thing you do each day—pick out your socks and underwear, decide to brush your teeth and get in the shower (or not), and so on. For most decisions, an automatic or autopilot approach to thinking is probably most effective. But when you have a major life decision, or just an important one that affects your work and personal relationships, taking the slow road, or what I call Turtle Think can be more helpful.
Research conducted by MetLife and the Center for BrainHealth, at The University of Texas at Dallas, on decision-making looked at healthy subjects in three life stages—those in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Among all three groups, individuals making the best decisions were able to recognize whether information was insignificant or important.
interesting, it was the oldest group (the slower thinkers) that excelled at telling the difference between what was important and what was not, Is it possible that the oldest group had more life experience, perhaps more wisdom, to draw upon that informed their decision-making? Other studies indicate that as we age, certain decision-making abilities are enhanced.
Keep in mind that as we age, the decisions we made when younger will impact those decisions we need to make now–such as retirement and health-related decisions.
Think Like a Turtle, or Turtle Thinking
Some years ago, I was fortunate to see Huston Smith, author of the classic book “The World’s Religions” engage in dialogue with Christian author Marcus Borg.
On stage, the two of them exchanged ideas and made queries of one another. I noticed that Huston Smith frequently paused to reflect before answering questions. At one point, after a particularly lengthy pause, he piped up and made a comment that has stuck with me over the years. He said:
“I have a slow mind, but it’s a good mind.”
Just because our minds can be fast doesn’t mean that’s the best use of them, does it? Personally, I wish I could count the times I fell into the trap of speaking or responding without taking the benefit of the reflective slow road.
Just as turtles bury their eggs in the sand so they can grow to maturity, heated by the warmth of the sun, what would it be like to pause your opinions or thoughts before blurting them out? What treasures and wisdom might you find by giving them time to mature and flourish more naturally?
Here’s an easy three-Part Think Like a Turtle Practice that can help with decisions large and small.
1) Take a few deep and calming breaths.
Whenever faced with an important decision, it’s helpful to let yourself find a still point of calm and peace, even if for a moment. Finding a quiet and serene place for this practice can help.
2) Intentionally offer this decision to your unconscious.
Explain why this is important to you. Ask that your unconscious respond from a depth of wisdom and experience. You can also provide the following guidelines:
“Please help me find the decision that best serves myself and others. May this decision reduce harm and increase joy.”
Don’t push for a deadline. Simply know that your unconscious will respond and give you a signal when it is ready. Then, let go of the decision and the worries that may accompany it. You have allowed yourself to surrender to a different kind of process. Trust this process.
3) Listen for your unconscious to answer.
Your unconscious may reach out in numerous ways. It could be in a dream, a thought that pops into your head, or a strong feeling in the body, or an emotion, listen to it. Again, let yourself find a still point using the breath to calm you. You might even take a walk or sit in nature or gaze up at the sky. Open yourself to the innate wisdom within as you hear and feel what is presented to you.
Does this feel right? Does this serve yourself and the greater good?
How can you implement what you are hearing and sensing? This kind of decision-making differs from either the fast and slow thinking methods mentioned by Kahneman. In a sense it integrates them by transforming the fast, automatic pathway into something that is more slow, intentional, and willful. The book Reflect offers a number of ways to practice reflecting daily. With practice, you can get slower and win the decision-making race.