Switching to System 2 Thinking

This weekend, I was driving to the grocery store using adaptive cruise control while navigating through traffic. I was listening to a podcast and all of the sudden, the interior of my car flashed red and a notification popped up on my dashboard that said to “Apply brakes now”. My car was actively monitoring the speed and distance of the car in front of me while I mindlessly listened to my podcast, but suddenly and unexpectedly it slowed down. The car slowed down so fast, that my car told me to apply the brakes because it didn’t seem confident that it would be able to avoid an accident. As soon as I saw the flashing light and the alert sounding, I applied the brakes and avoided an accident.

This one incident gave me a greater appreciation for just how many calculations my car will make for me as I casually drive down the road. It also made me have flashbacks to a book I just finished reading by Melina Palmer “What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You”. In the opening chapter, Melina talks about Daniel Kahneman’s theory of System 1 and System 2 thinking.

Melina talks about the System 1 thinking being like a receptionist who does everything for us and can handle the small things allowing us to do other things. It’s like driving a car, you can listen to a podcast or sing a song while driving in a familiar route.

System 2 thinking is where you are actively making decisions and focused on the task at hand. You operate more slowly and with greater skill.

My car, when it ran through all of its calculations, forced my brain to shift from System 1 thinking to System 2 thinking in a split second when it wasn’t confident that it could avoid an accident without my intervention.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.