Discovery of Slowness (Life Lessons - 4/13)

In the novel “Discovery of Slowness” by Sten Nadolny he describes the life and journey of arctic explorer Sir John Franklin from a unique perspective in which he uses a fictional trait to characterise Franklins outlook onto the world. He describes him as perceiving things at a slower pace than others, leaving him incapable of participating in ball games for example, making him an outsider. Just to turn this deficit into an asset that made Franklin more successful once he learned how to use it to his advantage.

This resonated a lot with me when I read it as a child because I also had the feeling that I could not follow the ball in games like soccer or tennis. Maybe that also had to do with the fact that I had to wear glasses and had experienced the pain when a soccer ball hits your face with a pair of breaking glasses between you and the ball.

When decades later Daniel Kahneman published his work under the title “Thinking fast and slow” it immediately captured my attention and curiosity. I was already familiar with behavioural economics through the work of Dan Ariely but I had not heard of Kahneman until that point.

Although the two books could not be any more different from one another, there is a shared learning I took away from both of them. 
Nadolny describes the benefits of looking at the world from a different perspective than most others, in this case, being incredibly slow. Being one of few who look at the world from a certain perspective is always helpful, simply because one sees things almost no-one else sees. But it goes beyond that. Allowing yourself to be slower than others, opens a new space — often a lonely one — but a very productive one because in that space it becomes possible to deeply think things through, create a deep understanding and structure ones thoughts.

Mapping this onto what Kahneman says about the brain means that this kind of thinking is done with the prefrontal cortex, the most modern but the most energy expensive part of our brains — the one that allows us to engage in strategic planning and structuring — means that this is a very tiring activity but also one that yields enormous results.

While the majority of the thinking in most people happens on autopilot, based on the memes that inform the heuristics in our subconscious, active thinking only makes up around 5% of our decision making process according to Kahneman.

Training your mind and metabolism from an early age to engage in more of this has enormous benefits because it gives a serious edge being the pilot of your brain instead of relying on autopilot for the majority of your existence.

Doing so takes guts. It takes guts because you will be an outsider — by definition. Allowing your prefrontal cortex to get in the way of your spontaneous reaction has downsides too. It is a lot harder to be able to trust your instincts, appear quick witted and gives the impression of being somewhat awkward.

Once you learn to live with these downsides, or even learn how to actively activate your fast-thinking when needed, you will very quickly experience and reap the benefits of slow thinking.

Thomas Schindler