Responding Thoughtfully, Not Reacting
The importance of shifting from System 1 thinking to System 2 thinking
I came across a video of Jay Shetty, author of Think Like A Monk, and Radhi Devlukia-Shetty discussing their marriage. At one point Radhi asks Jay why he’s so willing to do things for her, especially small and unreasonable things, seemingly without complaint. Radhi says something along the lines of “What goes through your mind, even if I’m really irritating or being a brat, you continuously do that [what I ask] without moaning”.
I was really struck by Jay’s response, which he delivers laughingly: “The first thing that goes through my mind is you’re such a brat. You are closer to that light switch right now. You are closer to that water container right now. Why are you asking me to do this?” Jay then goes on to talk about how his monk mind kicks in and what that means. You can watch the video clip I’m referring to here if you’re interested: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTdtNtgD5/?k=1
Essentially, Jay’s automatic response is the same as almost everyone - he does get irritated, annoyed, etc. He’s not by nature exceedingly patient or kind. It’s easy to write off or rationalize the ability of others to perform “right action” - kindness in the face of unkindness, optimism in the face of despair, calmness in the face of chaos - as something innate to them. When in reality, it’s work and active choice. And that realization disabuses ourselves of the excuses we make for our natural responses, which are oftentimes decidedly not “right action”.
The difference between Jay, or someone like the popular TV character Ted Lasso who is an endless optimist, and most people isn’t a superhuman predisposition towards being more patient or more positive. Instead, what sets apart the Jays and Teds of the world is the ability to have a very human internal reaction, feel it and acknowledge it, but then actively choose not to let those initial emotions be the driver of their final response, decision, action, etc.
If you’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, a book and author I’ll likely mention again in future posts, you’ve heard of the mind being broken into two systems, System 1 and System 2:
We not only too often give into our System 1’s immediate response, but also don’t challenge ourselves in hindsight to be better. We might even mistakenly take for granted that we can’t do better. Jay and Ted show us otherwise. They have the same System 1 responses many of us have, but they’ve mastered the art of shifting from System 1 to System 2 before acting.
One way I’ve tried to do this in my life is to stop and ask myself “Is what I am about to say/do/think going to help?” before acting. I frequently fail to ask myself this question, but when I do, I increase my odds of avoiding responses I later regret. It’s difficult to ask yourself a question like that and actively lie to yourself or act contrary to your truthful answer. Just asking that question forces me, against my will and what I may want in the moment because of the emotions I am feeling, to switch from a System 1 driven action to System 2 driven action. I want to respond thoughtfully, not react.
It’s a good question because it’s direct, yet broadly applicable. You can ask it to yourself before you fire off a dumb Tweet, give your partner an eye roll when they ask you for a favor, or return someone’s insult with another insult. So, if you feel like you’re a naturally irritable, impatient, or negative person, don’t accept that these characteristics define your attitude and decisions. With some active effort, you have more control than you realize.