Back to System 1

I’m probably going to butcher these concepts, but I don’t care. I just want to get the ideas out…

I’m reading Thinking, Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Super interesting.

The author said the point of his book is to give us a better vocabulary when it comes to judgements and biases.

That way…

We have a more nuanced understanding of our own judgements and biases, and we can use this deeper understanding to make better judgements.

So the fundamental aim of the book is practical. And that’s what this post is about. Practicality.

The book hasn’t offered any methods of practical implementation yet. But as I sit there listening, practical uses keep popping into my head.

And those are what I want to get down here — specifically.

#1 – Moving Diet From System 1 To System 2

Briefly: What is System 1 and System 2? Or S1 and S2 for short.

System 1 is your automated thinking. You just do it. You don’t need to consciously think about it.

System 2 is your effortful thinking. You have to slow down and thinking about something.

A great example: I can drive and think about this book at the same time. S1 is handling driving. And S2 is handling the thinking about this book.


I’ve been eating badly lately. Again.

From the book, it seems like S1 has taken over.

I’m not thinking about what I eat before I eat.

I see a bag of candy, I eat like 10 of them.

Candy. Good. Eat.

So I need to move eating from S1 over to S2.

I need to devote some attention to my eating decisions.

I need to put some effort into my eating decisions.

I need to control them. I need to supervise them.

This is all S2.


As I said before, the goal of this book is practical. And the underlying premise is…

With a better understanding of your biases and judgements, you can make better judgements.

On the surface, it seems like the claim is:

Understanding is sufficient for action or change.

And that’s definitely not true.

What is needed is real effort.

So moving my eating habits from S1 to S2 isn’t just about thinking about it.

It’s also about putting forth the effort to follow through with the decision that S2 demands.

Otherwise, this new conceptual framework will have no practical value.

In short: you have to think — AND — do.

#2 – Planning & Checklists To Help System 2

Like I just said, awareness or understanding is NOT sufficient for action or change.

And yes, real effort is needed.

Better yet…

I need a plan. Or a checklist.

In a way, a plan or checklist is like an external S1.

It removes the need for me to consciously think and fight with myself before I eat.

All I need is the willpower to follow the plan or checklist.

I don’t have to think about what to do every time.

It’s already planned out. The check boxes are waiting to be checked.

Writing the plan down in the morning is a great idea. Maybe even sign your name.

This will help you make use of Commitment and Consistency from Robert Cialdini’s book Influence.

#3 – Back To System 1

The beautiful thing is that eventually, all the work you did in S2 will “teach” S1 to take over the behavior.

In other words, eventually you can habituate something so that S1 can take over for S2 in the same way.

And “in the same way” is key.

So, with eating, if I’m diligent about my plan and checklist, eventually these will become “coded” into S1 and S1 can take over. I’ll no longer need to spend as much attention and effort when making food decisions.

In general, you can start to deconstruct your habits in this way.

What stupid thing has S1 automated?

Move that into S2.

But S2 is lazy.

So it’s best to do one thing at a time. Make a priority list of stupid things that need to be changed.

And then make the changes one by one.

You’ll know that S1 is taking over when the behavior change implemented by S2 starts to become easier and more automatic.

#4 – Candy And Associative Activation.

Another thing I can do is start associating bad foods with negative health consequences.

I can build this association so that it becomes automatic in the background.

The book gives the example of juxtaposing “banana” and “vomit” and this temporarily makes you averse to bananas.

Well, what if I made flash cards of the candy that I like and I attached images of health problems to the cards.

For example:

Reeses? Turn the card over an it’s a picture of a gross diabetes foot.

And so on.

Side note: Right now, I’m in the Philippines. And their cigarette packs have pictures of the health consequences of smoking.

Throat cancer.

Lung cancer.

Like real pictures. Super gross.

I could do the same thing for eating, but implement it in a systematic way — like through flash cards.

This would certainly help S2.

#5 – The Practical Stuff:

  • Before you eat, consciously think about S1 vs. S2. Move your decision into S2. What does it say? Do that.
  • One way to help yourself is to create plans and checklists. Keep them handy and consult them before you eat. Or write something down every morning. And sign it.
  • Another way to help yourself is to create negative links between things you don’t want to eat. Make make some flash cards with gross pictures tied to foods you shouldn’t eat.

The simplicity and obviousness of this might seem comical and easy to dismiss.

But these are hacks. And hacks, by definition, are guaranteed to generate the desired result.

And the guarantee is grounded in Kahneman’s book and research.

#6 – Is This Meta?

This isn’t a practical takeaway, but a meta observation.

It requires S2 to move eating habits into S2.

Everything that I wrote here is S2 in real time.

I’m using S2 to use S2.

I’m not sure what to make of this yet. I just wanted to write it down.

Get “Thinking, Fast And Slow” here:

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