Apparently we have 2 systems for thinking in our heads. One is effortless, unconscious and very fast. It uses rules of thumb, prejudices, habit, and fuzzy approximation to get us through with a minimum of effort. It’s right about 70% of the time, and it believes that “done is beautiful.”
The second system is the one who questions stuff, figures from data, and considers alternatives. The cost of doing that is extremely high, burning sugar at the same rate as intense physical activity. It takes will to keep at it when the easy answer provided by the system one that is probably okay. All sorts of mental traps exist to distract us from the trail of difficult calculation or counter-intuitive investigations. System Two is costly, and a bit lazy in that it is willing to hand over the thinking to System One so that it can go back to sleep in the shade.
I think of this as I look at work and flow in my life because the act of writing need both systems. Getting into it requires constant will exerted to keep System Two in the game. Sugar feeds willpower so snacking helps. But curiously, sometimes the writing can become a flow activity, and I no longer need the sweets. In fact, I often forget to eat at all.
The key to being able to switch over to the flow of System One is habit. Habit takes over at some point, turning the effortful into the joyful. Diving deep into the unconscious, being able to hold one’s mental breath long enough to fill the net before heading back to the surface for air and editing, this takes practice. But even when the joy of immersion is known, it still remains difficult to get started. That is another habit of its own. Starting.
Which is why I have decided to take a daily writing prompt and write a short 250-500 words on it. To help me with the habit of jumping in.
For more about the two systems of the brain read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.