For several years, I’ve been wanting to read “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman. When the book came out, the reviews made me feel I would love it.

I finally read and found it an incredibly interesting read. It wasn’t a fast read, which is part of why it took me so long to finally commit to it in the first place. It takes a lot of brainpower and concentration to absorb its messages. But, it was worth it: it was filled with fascinating information.

I’ll probably write a few blog posts about things I learned from the book. Today, I want to talk about how what I learned applies to making new habits, a subject near and dear to my heart.

Kahneman writes about two modes of thought: “System 1,” which is automatic, and “System 2,” which is slower and requires our full attention.

One of the tasks of System 2 is to overcome the impulses of System 1—in other words, System 2 is in charge of self-control. As I’ve discussed many times, our limited amount of willpower (self-control) is why we can’t make too many changes all at once, or changes that are too large. We need to break down our big goals into small pieces and work on them one at a time. When the first one becomes a habit, we can work on another, and so on.

According to Kahneman, System 2 requires attention and can’t do more than one thing at a time. System 1 is important in making routine decisions. We wouldn’t be able to function at the speed we are accustomed to if we constantly questioned our own thinking. Instead, we need to “learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high”.

The height of the stakes are something we each have to determine for ourselves. It’s about prioritizing—deciding what’s most important for you. For example, if eating well is something you want to get better at, you need to break down that goal into many smaller pieces, and then by focusing on one small piece, you will be able to treat the adoption of that new habit as being one of high stakes.

Kahneman explains, “System 2 and the electrical circuits in your home both have a limited capacity, but they respond differently to threatened overload. A breaker (in your home) trips when the demand for current is excessive, causing all devices on that circuit to lose power at once. In contrast, the response to mental overload is selective and precise: System 2 protects the most important activity, so it receives the attention it needs…”

He also talks about a “law of least effort,” which “applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. People will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action.” This provides even more of a reason to make your new habits as small as possible.

Have you read Thinking, Fast and Slow? What did you think about it? What do you think about how it applies to making habits that stick? Join the conversation with your comments…

Best regards,

David

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