If I asked you to calculate what two plus two is, would you need a pen and paper, a calculator, or a minute to figure it out; or would it seem that the answer just came to you as soon as I asked it?
Most people should have been able to answer that question in a split second, and answering it probably felt almost as if you didn’t even have to think about it. Yet you did.
That’s because you were using what Daniel Kahneman likes to call the System 1 side of your mind. In his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Kahneman shows how our minds have been wired to think in two ways: fast thinking and slow thinking, or as he likes to call it, System 1 and System 2.
System 1 is our default state. It’s the things we do every day without having to stop to think. Driving. Eating. Drinking. Typing. Walking. We can read facial clues and intuitively know when a person is overtly angry or confused, or ready to cry. It doesn’t take much brainpower because it’s incredibly efficient.
Just thinking about God’s design of the brain makes me stop in awe and consider how incredibly intricate humans have been designed.
Which segues to the other side of my brain: System 2. System 2 is our critical thinking side. It’s where we make bigger decisions – where to live and work, what to eat and drink, and the exact words to type on a touchy subject at work. It’s where our mind slows down and makes moral judgments concerning myriad topics. Should I trust this company with my retirement money? Should I eat this extra dessert even though I’m overweight and have health problems? Should I stay up late when I need to wake up early? Should I retaliate when slighted at work or at home or online?
These thoughts take time. And they take energy, which is something we only have limited amounts of before we need food or rest. That’s why people don’t usually make the best decisions at the end of the day or in the middle of the night. Research into this subject has shown that the more people work overtime at work, the less productive they become – especially in jobs that require a lot of thought.
“I’m too tired to think,” is what my wife often hears after a long day. My brainpower is used up from making decisions at work, and it needs time to rest and recoup.
I find this stuff fascinating. But I’m not sure if you readers do or not. So, here’s how knowing this can help practically.
Our mind naturally puts most of our thinking into System 1 (think autopilot) to save energy for when it needs to employ our System 2 side. This works well most of the time. But what about change, more specifically, drastic change?
Have you noticed that people have been increasingly rude this year – especially online? If you have, then you’re not alone. In a recent blog post, Christian missionary Peter Olson showed how similar these quarantines, lockdowns, and safety measures, are to the experience of culture shock when missionaries move to other nations and lands.
All these routines we have set up – shaking hands, hugging, not wearing masks, etc. – changed overnight. Six months later, and people are still getting used to this “new normal” we keep hearing. The System 2 side of our minds hasn’t yet internalized all these new things.
We’re like teens again, taking driver’s ed for the first time. We haven’t gotten used to this change. We’re still focused on the 10-2, where the brake is, how much gas to apply, using the blinkers (which some never learned!), and understanding crosswalks, stop signs, and traffic lights.
People were already becoming angrier with each other more easily due in large part to social media and our increasingly divided political age. It takes time and energy to respond coherently to arguments one disagrees with. Responding rationally and compassionately takes time and energy.
During this pandemic, we have more people online for longer, arguing more, and adjusting to new things in the world, using up brainpower that’s normally used for our moral decisions such as compassion, trust, and resisting temptations. That’s why child abuse cases are sadly on the rise. The same with depression and suicide, and overeating and drunkenness, and why normally fringe conspiracy theories are becoming more widely accepted. Our brains are overworked, so we’re not making as wise decisions as we once were.
It’s good to understand the way God has designed our minds so that we can be on guard when our minds are naturally weakened. A guard that knows he’s going to be tired at night can take action beforehand better than a guard whose tiredness slips up on him.
Jesse and I have developed a few ways to help our minds, bodies, and souls cope with all this change. I don’t always take heed to them, but when I do, I find they help greatly.
The first, trying to get more sleep. If your mind needs more energy, then it needs more rest. A good night’s rest does wonders. It also signifies trust in the Lord. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil,” writes the Psalmist in Psalm 127, “for he gives to his beloved sleep.” My life is in God’s hands, so I don’t need to worry about tomorrow.
I also tried to develop and get used to a new routine as quick as possible. The more you drove when you first started out, the easier your mind shifted from System 2 to System 1. Driving soon became second nature. The same logic works for this time of mask wearing and social distancing.
Jesse and I have also kept in touch with friends and family. Though we can’t get out and about as much as before, since Jesse’s muscular dystrophy and restrictive lung disease place her in the high-risk category, we still are able to visit with friends and family, and thankfully attend corporate worship because of the new policies they implemented. That topic can make for its own column, but suffice it to say, I praise God that our elders had their weakest members in mind when we opened our corporate worship service. “As you did to the least of these my children…”
Last, and definitely not least, is prayer, plain and simple. Prayer slows me down, and helps me consider the ways in which God has been so incredibly gracious to me. He saved and is sustaining me. When I pray and trust God with my prayers and cares, I can exercise more patience with those whom I disagree, I can understand my own weaknesses, and I can better be on guard against temptations to respond harshly or give in to bad moral decisions.
Like my “give it five minutes” rule, knowing more about how God designed my brain, and using the previous tips – especially prayer – help me better navigate these troubled times, being more patient, thoughtful, and prayerful, and, by God’s grace, to be salt, light, and a peacemaker in an increasingly divided and angry and exhausted world.
Joseph Hamrick is a semi-professional writer and sometimes thinker. He lives in Commerce and serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3).
He can be reached at email@example.com