You have a dilemma. It keeps you awake at night. You can’t decide which of the two options is best. You weight the pros and cons and obsess about how things might turn out if you make the wrong choice.
What you don’t realise is that your starting point is off and that you are asking yourself the wrong questions. None of it is your fault. Here’s why.
It’s true what they say: human beings are complex creatures. Our perceptions and behaviours are determined by a multitude of factors. Anything can play a role, from our DNA to our education. Based on this premise, it wouldn’t be surprising if we all had our unique way of approaching dilemmas. And yet, experience and science show that we don’t.
As the Nobel Prize Winner, Daniel Kahneman laid out in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, when trying to make sense of the world, we tend to take similar and predictable mental shortcuts.
Here’s a common one:
When you are about to decide whether to step off the curb at a pedestrian crossing, you probably don’t analyse the weight, the speed and the distance of the oncoming vehicles. You don’t rely on your charming personality to stop the flow of traffic so that you can get to the other side of the street faster. You don’t think what Beyonce would do. Frankly, you probably don’t think much at all.
If you are like the majority of people out there, you cross the street on autopilot when the green light comes on. And the mental shortcut that is at work at that moment, is: “A green light means that it’s safe to cross.” Usually, the shortcut works. On a rare occasion when it doesn’t, it’s because someone has broken the social convention called “traffic regulations”.
Why do we rely so heavily on mental shortcuts? Two reasons:
- Neurobiology — our brains have limited processing capacity. We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with…