I am Durriya Gandhi, an indecisive teenager who is always overthinking, from questioning what ice cream to buy or struggling to figure out my life goal - in fact, I changed my topic for this very article 4 times! However, over the past few days, I have observed my thought processes through a different lens - and by sharing it with you, I hope to help you do the same.
How many of you have looked at someone walking down a street and thought “Oh those clothes don’t suit her” and then have taken it back immediately, thinking “She can wear whatever she wants! Girl, you look fabulous!”
Or maybe, some of you have taken a multiple-choice test and doubted one of your answers, but when it comes to actually changing it, you’ve gone with your intuition from the first time?
The two situations might be very different, but they root from the very same, and the very important phenomenon of what I call the second thought. Second thoughts are normally understood as doubts or regrets which are demotivating or counterproductive. But how I look at it, is the complete opposite.
As a smart person on Tumblr said and I quote, "The first thought that goes through your mind is what you have been conditioned to think; what you think next defines who you are.”
And although yes, I did just base my article off of a random quote I saw on the internet years ago, this sentence opens up a whole new path to better decision-making.
Try comparing your mind to a DSLR camera - you can either use your automatic point and shoot setting which doesn’t require expertise or time: or you can manually refine the settings, which usually results in higher quality, creative pictures. However, it requires a deeper understanding of the camera in the first place - so today I will be giving you a basic tutorial.
A lot of us have grown up hearing “think twice before you act” And regardless of whether we actually follow it or not, it is actually decent advice with multiple theories backing it. One such is the dual-process theory of thought which explains the interaction between the two distinct systems of thought that supposedly co-exist in our minds: an automatic-emotional process, which is fast and unconscious; and a conscious-controlled process, which involves slow and deliberative reasoning.
Vinod Goel produced evidence for the dual-process theory using MRI studies, showing that anatomically distinct parts of the brain were responsible for the two different kinds of reasoning, with content-based reasoning causing left temporal hemisphere activation whereas abstract formal problem reasoning activated the parietal system.
But what do any of these fancy words prove? Am I just trying to defend my indecisiveness here? I can assure you that’s not the case. What this shows us, is that your first thought is generated by the automatic processing of the information around you - you simply see everything how you have been conditioned to; including the biases, filters, and preconceptions you have subconsciously absorbed from your surroundings. Thus, your first thought is never your best thought - simply because it is some else’s, it is conventional, predictable, and unoriginal. Only by willingly focusing on the same problem, can you arrive at an authentic thought - you need to give your brain the time to process situations, abandon preconceptions, draw connections and take you by surprise.
And when you put in this effort to think about your thoughts, is when you yank out the weeds that are stopping a sapling of intellect from sprouting. Like any plant, intellect requires sunlight, nutrients, water, and most importantly time to fully grow.
The German novelist Thomas Mann said that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people, and so it is with any other form of thought. If it’s easy, you’re not doing it right - but the time you spend struggling with it is worth it.
The time you spend on thinking is non-linear. Walking around in a problem, exploring various perspectives and mental models pays you back tenfold in the end. Thinking of it as a negative, because nothing is getting done, is looking at a shortsighted view of a much larger picture.
Hence, it is imperative that we take out time from our busy schedules, to simply think. In a world where from Disney movies to business strategies, everyone talks about following your intuition, we often forget the miracles our thoughts can create.
Of course, as Michael Mauboussin mentions in his book called “Think Twice”, you needn’t always think twice before every decision - its value comes in situations where stakes are sufficiently high and natural decision making leaves you with suboptimal choices. To sharpen your decision-making skills, remember to put yourself in the shoes of others, recognise the role of skill and luck, and get feedback.
Thinking is something that can’t be taught, but it can be learned. By now, I hope you’ve come to realise the sheer importance it can have in our decisions and our lives.
“Good thinking is expensive but poor thinking costs a fortune