Updated: Jul 2, 2020
More effective than instant gratification
In the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” economist Daniel Kahneman says First Order thinking “can be considered fast thinking. It is thinking done almost automatically or instinctively.”
When encountering First Order thinking, our mind instantly decides for us what will happen when a decision needs to be made. Our rational observant mind shuts off and listens to the survival mode of our body.
In the First Order mental state, I crave and react to the smell of baked sugary treats. They stare at me through the low partition window as I step up to a coffee shop counter. I get my coffee, plop down onto the big comfy leather chair, and start writing my thoughts onto the pages of a black worn out journal. The fire(gas) warms me as I sip down enough coffee to get that first rush of caffeine in my system.
A grumble in my stomach, a warning, the hunger sensation. My body telling me that the stomach is empty and I react — First Order thinking.
I listen to my stomach, stand up from the black chair, get my wallet out of my bag, and (awesome no line!!) buy one of the small snickerdoodle cookies singing sweet melodies of sugar to my ears. The barista puts it on a plate, and I walk back to the seat. My mind is fixated on the cookie, and I’m energized by the coming dopamine rush. In the popular book “Principles”, Ray Dalio says:
“Quite often the First Order consequences are the temptations that cost us what we really want, and sometimes they are the barriers that stand in our way.”
This is relative to all thinking we come across in our life. In the case with my rumbling stomach, I automatically reacted by purchasing a cookie to fulfill a desire. In the article “Second Order Thinking”, Noah Pepper says “First-level thinkers look for simple formulas and easy answers.”
After eating the cookie, I now have to deal with the side effects of a sugar crash, higher blood pressure, and potential weight gain. The automatic benefit of satisfaction is negated by the consequences. Either I did not foresee these consequences or just chose to ignore them. This is lazy First Order thinking. I did not slow down, stop, and think of what I was reacting to — a craving.
I’m going to play God mode for a second and rewind time. I never got that cookie at the front counter. I’m sitting back in my comfy chair again. My feet are on the stool getting warm from the fire. It’s the middle of winter and my 4 layers are not keeping me warm. All of a sudden, there’s a little rumble in my tummy — hunger. I look over my shoulder to the cookie behind the clear glass. It’s staring at me, influencing me to purchase it’s crumbled deliciousness.
This time, instead of seeing no line as an opportunity to have a snack right away, I form thoughts in my mind. I envision myself eating this snack. I project thoughts into the future and see a lethargic mess after eating this buttery Goddess of Sugar. The work I initially came here to do will all be wasted, because now I do not have the energy to focus on what needs to be done. I start thinking to myself:
I ate before I came here, could it be that I am just eating to entertain myself in some way?
Am I using food as a means to feel better, rather than use focused energy to get work done?
What I am describing here is Second Order thinking. Kahneman says:
“The second system is slow thinking. It involves thinking that is more complex and more mentally draining. It takes concentration and agency of the person to process the thoughts.”
When I understand my desire for food instead of reacting to it, I benefit by having more energy to finish work.
The temptation of eating unhealthy foods will always be there. When we really understand these temptations, we start to understand our underlying psychological tendencies.
Dalio says “People who choose what they really want, and avoid the temptations and get over the pains that drive them away from what they really want, are much more likely to have successful lives.” When choosing to understand temptation, we defeat the attraction it holds on us. We will have the focused clarity needed to pursue our career goals and dreams in a healthy manner.
When living deliberately, life just seems much more satisfying. It gives us the clarity to take our careers to the next level. In the book “The Compound Effect” Darren Hardy says “Merely becoming conscious of your actions begins to change them.” I am aware that I get hungry when I’m at my favorite coffee shop. Before going, I will start bringing a snack of almonds or fruit to satisfy my desire for unhealthy foods.