Understanding dual process reasoning has been the most important discovery of my life. It has allowed me to make sense of my current reality, change my past damaging behaviors, and find and express my true Self.
We’ll call these processes System 1 and System 2.
System 1 is a powerful force. It provides a constant and often overwhelming stream of unconscious signals. Because its functions cannot be turned off, it typically prevails over System 2’s logical and conscious thoughts.
Theoretically, System 2 provides executive control over System 1. However, this requires great effort and discipline and the use of approaches such as deep Self-reflection, meditation, group or individual counseling, and prayer. Without regular practice of these important disciplines, the two systems operate more independently of each other and often work at cross-purposes.
I have seen System 1 compared to Homer on the hit TV show The Simpsons and System 2 to Spock on Star Trek. While this may not be the most scientific analogy, it does allow us to think about the different capabilities and the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems.
Take Homer, for instance. He’s a fun guy, the life of the party, unpredictable. While he would probably be a blast to hang out with for an evening, Homer would also most likely act irrationally in the face of danger and make impulsive decisions without considering others.
Now think about Spock. While not the most creative, spontaneous, or fun-loving type, this guy would help you analyze and solve a complex problem. He would likely remain calm in a stressful situation and do what he thought was right without emotional input.
While these characters have great qualities in their own right, wouldn’t it be great if we could balance them out? Luckily for us, I believe we can beautifully balance the spontaneous, fun-loving, creative, and social aspects of System 1 with System 2’s capacity for deep introspective analysis, sophisticated problem solving, and higher-level morality. Think Captain James T. Kirk and Marge.
I use this dual process model practically every day to analyze situations and take a more reasoned, conscious approach to resolving them. I say things like, “Ski, you are acting very System 1 in this circumstance. Is that really how you want to look at this problem? Is there truly a threat that you should be responding to like that?”
With use of the dual process reasoning approach, I am free to give my feelings and reactions a name and understand where they come from. I am free to shift when I judge others with negative adjectives such as “mean,” “selfish,” and “bad” and instead recognize the imbalance in the two systems of thinking. I am also free to understand when I can’t influence another’s behavior and must therefore put boundaries in place. Now I can focus on what I can change: my thoughts and how I choose to act.