Would you like to hear a story?
One day, I thought to myself: I’m not getting any younger. I need to get fit. The facts are clear: Regular exercise is very good for my physical and mental health. I’m going to start running on Saturday.
Then Saturday came, and I thought to myself: It’s Saturday. I’m meant to be going for a run. But it’s so cold outside! And this sofa is so comfy! And Beverly Hills Cop 2 is on telly! I’m not going for a run!
What happened here then?
It comes down to the way our brains make decisions, and a psychological phenomenon known as dual process theory.
According to the dual process account of decision-making, we have two separate and distinct minds, which operate in very different ways. Psychologists most commonly refer to the two minds as “System 1” and “System 2”, but I prefer “Basic Mind” and “Advanced Mind”.
The Advanced Mind is interested in what we should do. It’s future-focused and it looks at what would benefit us in the long-term. It operates slowly, and takes conscious thought and effort. It’s our sensible adult mind.
The Basic Mind, on the other hand, is interested in what we want to do. It is present-focused and it looks at what we feel like doing right now. It operates very quickly, mostly below our conscious awareness. It’s our impulsive child mind.
Going back to the story, my initial decision to start running was made by my Advanced Mind. It did this in the way we would normally think of making a decision – it looked at the relevant information, it weighed up the pros and cons and it made its decision based on that analysis.
What psychologists have come to understand is that the Basic Mind makes its decisions in a very different way, based on a wide range of emotional and instinctive factors that we don’t necessarily think of as influencing our decisions.
That’s why, when Saturday came, my Basic Mind made a completely different decision to the one made by my Advanced Mind.
But here’s the exciting news. By understanding and working with the factors that influence the Basic Mind, we can make it much more likely to stick to the decisions made by the Advanced Mind.
And we can always record Beverly Hills Cop 2.