Your two brains
You’re probably familiar with the idea that we all have two systems of thinking – a thoughtful, logical system and a impulsive, emotional system. Richard Thaler* has a great model for thinking about them: Mr. Spock and Homer Simpson.
Mr. Spock is what Thaler calls your “Reflective System”, i.e. the part of you that stops and thinks of consequences, re-checks calculations and assumptions, etc. Homer is your “Automatic System”, i.e. your “gut reaction,” “fight or flight, “lizard brain,” etc. It’s the part that came in very handy when your prehistoric ancestor was strolling across the Savannah and wished to not be eaten by predators lurking in the tall grass.
Doughnuts. Is there anything they can’t do?
As civilized folk, we try to ignore our inner Homer and be upstanding Mr. Spocks when it comes to making decisions. We’re taught that making decisions rashly or under emotional stress should be avoided.
When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, swear. – Mark Twain
That’s wonderful advice, but while we can identify obvious situations where we know we need to wait to cool down or spend extra time doing research, we are still incredibly vulnerable to subtle tricks that cause us to make faulty decisions, even when we think we are being quite logical. Homer may be dense at times, but he also can be quite sneaky. For even while our inner Mr. Spocks are supposedly making cool, logical decisions, our inner Homers are influencing them by how we weigh certain risks, how we look at future needs vs. immediate wants, etc. These all impact how we decide no matter how hard we try to cut off that influence.
This is where your network can come to the rescue. We typically see networks as a way we can not only find out things from others, but also as a way to perhaps influence others. Well, it works in both directions. It turns out that while our inner Homer is pretty powerful in prioritizing his own immediate reactions for reasons to do with survival, so is our inner Homer’s tendency to need the acceptance, praise, attention, approval, etc. of others. Our prehistoric ancestors that lived in cooperative groups increased their chances of survival and hence the passing of their genes to future generations.
Put your inner Homer to work!
So when, for whatever reason, we’re still on a path not in your best interests (e.g. can’t quit smoking, downplaying project danger signals, floundering in a fulfilling job, discounting marketplace trends, etc.) and personal motivation doesn’t seem to be enough, use Homer’s need for approval to help you alter your behavior.
Here’s the catch: you need to have built a network that can really help you, not one that will just reinforce your biases. Just as having diversity in your network for working on “logical” issues helps you reduce your blind-spots, so it is with working on these “emotional” issues. For instance, it won’t do you much good to help you quit smoking if your network is entirely made of smokers. Likewise, it doesn’t help you spot and take seriously trends that threaten your competitive position in the marketplace if your network is made up of carbon copies of your experiences and outlook on trends. But also keep in mind that you are more apt to be influenced by your network the more you share in common with those members. So you have to mix it up a little: common interests and beliefs in some areas along with different beliefs in other areas with certain folks, plus different common interests and beliefs with other folks.
*Check out “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” by Thaler and Sunstein. Richard Thaler is well-known for his work in behavioral finance.