Mind Hacking the Tortoise and the Hare

Mind Hacking the Tortoise and the Hare

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“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”
Khalil Gibran

One favourite traditional children’s story from Aesop’s Fables is The Tortoise and the Hare, which teaches us a valuable lesson in calm, slow, rational thinking: a cornerstone of personal and professional success.

The story of the Tortoise and the Hare involves a speedy hare who mocks a slow-moving tortoise and is then challenged to a race with him. The hare literally hares off, leaving the tortoise way behind. So confident is the hare of winning, that he stops and takes a nap part way through. However, he wakes up to find that the tortoise, crawling ‘slow but sure’, has won the race before him.

The ability to be ‘quick thinking’ is often seen as a useful skill, but this is not always the case. There’s a lot to be said for slower processing of information – just like in the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. There are advantages to taking a slower, considered approach to responding to situations and decision-making.

Understanding the human mind gives you useful access to all the areas it can help you in life. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of human decision-making helps you to develop yourself and to interact with others. From improving your relationships with loved ones to becoming incredible at disciplines such as marketing and investing, knowing how best to use your mind is one of the most valuable skills you can learn: one of the building blocks of life. Why they don’t teach this in primary schools, I don’t know! This post is to help you understand how the human brain works so that you can utilise it to improve all you do, to become the very best version of yourself there is.

In ‘Thinking, fast and slow’, psychologist Daniel Kahneman reveals numerous mistakes in reasoning that distort our view of the world, like “availability bias” – the tendency to rely on readily available information to form our opinions and decisions, rather than the information we actually need. All of these biases arise from ‘fast thinking’- jumping to conclusions. An instinctive ‘quick thinking’ reaction is not a rational decision, and can be very detrimental. It’s fine in an emergency – when our primitive ‘fight or flight’ instinct is right to kick in, but as a more evolved human being, there’s a lot to be said for thinking things through.

The best way to think about this is to recognise that your brain has two systems – The Tortoise and The Hare:

1. Thinking like The Hare is unconscious, intuitive, instant, automatic, and effortless. It’s irrationality, and shooting from the hip.

2. Thinking like The Tortoise is conscious, uses deductive reasoning, is controlled, thoughtful, deliberate and is a lot of work.  It’s using rationality and considered thought.

Our daily life is led by fast thinking and although this works well most of the time, when it doesn’t work, things can quickly go badly – even without even being aware that our fast thinking is actually letting us down.   Bad choices, mistakes and missed opportunities can be made from constantly grabbing our phones, snacking, making quick assumptions and being judgmental. Because slow thinking doesn’t happen automatically, it takes a conscious effort for us to even recognise the need to use it. With an important decision to be made, it’s logical that slow thinking should be utilised, but that doesn’t always happen in real life. We are simply too busy to analyse everything.

Simply understanding the fact that your brain has both a fast and slow speed can give you the discipline to slow down, especially when the complexity and stakes increase.

In Kahneman’s words, fast thinking – is “indeed the origin of much that we do wrong” but “it is also the origin of most of what we do right – which is most of what we do”. Of course, there are advantages to quick thinking, but mistakes can easily be made by it.

Think about your thinking and recognise how to change it. That is where the value is. Here are some simple techniques for mind hacking: getting away from fast thinking, and focusing on ways to move more of your thinking into slow thinking.

1. Press Pause: When you are reacting quickly, making quick judgments  being impulsive, just stop for a while. Count to 10, use the 20 second rule (How to Control Self Control), wait 30 mins to respond, or sleep on it. Deliberately pause your response. Respond to issues at weekly meetings rather than through instant e-mails. If you’re too tired in the morning, meet in the afternoon. Create your own structure and systems designed to slow your thinking and your actions down. Don’t feel pressured to act fast and allow your bad side to come out.

2. Press Fast Forward: When you are holding yourself back, or suffering from fear, anxiety, procrastination (Just Make a Bloody Decision), your primitive brain – in fight or flight mode again – shuts down before you can think. When you feel yourself shutting down, you should go ahead with action before stagnation sets in. To get the rational side of your brain back in working order, you need to get through the instinct to freeze and keep moving to start fully processing the problem. Like in the film ‘Days of Thunder’ – whatever’s going on, you’ve just got to “Drive through it.”

3. The Power of Why: Young children ask ‘why?’ over and over, to the considerable annoyance of adults, yet this toddlers’ question time is a period of huge accelerated development in  human understanding. It is an excellent learning process use this technique yourself. If you have a specific problem or issue – or a belief that’s unhelpful – keep asking yourself the question: ‘why?’. For every answer you give, ask yourself ‘why?’ to drill down to the root cause.  If you think something, like, “I don’t have time to take breaks.”

Why? Because I’m too busy.
Why? Because I have too much to do.
Why? Because I can’t switch off.
Why? Because I feel worn out and overwhelmed.
Why? Because I could use some help…

By the time you’ve reached 5 levels, possible solutions arise from this process – to take breaks, manage time better, delegate work. Much more useful than accepting ‘I can’t’ as a fact.

This also applies to immediately reacting to what people say to you. Rather than react to what they have said, ask yourself why they have said it. Get to the level behind the statement, to the reason, rather than responding to the words. We assume rationality in others, yet we can act irrationally ourselves.

4. Reframe Your Thoughts: Change the way you see things and try to find alternative ways of viewing ideas, events, and situations. For example, turn a tiresome and boring 2-hour train commute into a welcome opportunity to learn something new by listening to an audio book  Flip your thinking to a more positive perspective. Make the best of things. If you realise that you have a habit of making “negative predictions,” e.g. anticipating being too tired to exercise, expecting not to enjoy a party, or that your partner won’t like an idea, just notice whenever you find yourself doing this. Flip your thinking and consider what other ways you could think – looking for the advantages. Or rationalise things: if you think, “this will never work,” write a list of objective evidence that this belief is not true – and why “it will work”.

5. Slow Time: Take ‘time out’ in your head. Find a way to slow down every day by building in something that gets you to switch off from fast thinking and use the slow part of the brain more often. Simply stopping your thinking at times can be really refreshing, too. Walk along a beach or through some woods, and simply be aware of the external world – not what’s in your head. Or sit outside a cafe and watch the world go by. Or meditate – focus your attention on your breathing. For five or more minutes, focus just on these sensations. When any thoughts come to mind, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. This is a great way to to clear your head when you’ve become lost in thoughts. Like anything, the more you do it, the easier and better it gets. Find something that works for you.

Think of the opportunities that having control of your mind gives you. If you can apply slow, rational thought to your decision-making in life, you will accelerate your progress. And once you know how to slow down your own thinking, you will be able to slow down the thinking of others around you, too.

How can you slow your organisation down to improve decision making?
How can you slow family life down to improve quality of life?

Don’t ever be afraid to take time to consider before reacting. I invite you to think slow. Take your time, take pride, and produce a high quality result that shows you to your best advantage, and helps you to be amazing. This has to be one of the most incredible ways to achieve more with less.

I am a big believer that the tortoise always wins. So, slow down. You will get there faster in the end.

If the above topic, or indeed any of my blogs are of interest to you, then contact me and let’s talk! Drop me an email at getintouch@marcwinn.com.

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