book summary Thinking Fast and Slow

Actionable Book Summary: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

The main idea of the author, Daniel Kahneman, is to help us understand our decision-making process and the means behind the different human acts. Using this information he wants to inspire us to solve the problems we face daily faster and better. Basically, to train our minds and more specifically upgrade our problem-solving skills.

The Core Idea:

Our mind uses two different systems to handle and analyze the things happening around us: fast and slow. The first is quick in conclusions but can often be wrong. The second is slower but has a greater chance of finding the right solution. By constantly increasing your knowledge, you will aid your fast mind so it can make fewer mistakes and upgrade your slow one to act faster in distasteful moments were making the right decisions is crucial.

4 Key Lessons from Thinking Fast and Slow:

Lesson #1: Practice Gives Us a Better Point Of View

We’ve all heard stories about the intuition of the expert: the grandmaster who walks near chess street players and announces that the “white will checkmate in three moves” without even stopping. Or, the car mechanic who can tell what’s the problem with your car by only hearing how the engine works without even looking under the hood.

We often think that such people have something magical in them. Something out of this world. We think that these folks are born with this power. However, the truth is way different.

These people owe their success to the years of practice. They’ve spent a tremendous amount of time troubleshooting pretty much the same problems. Observing the same things over and over again. This tedious repetition eventually paid off. It allowed them to spot an issue or a potential threat by just glancing at a certain situation.

It’s pretty much like exercising. If you train every day, you will eventually become stronger. Your body will change and you will be able to lift more heavy shit. The same happens when you practice something specific. Your point of view changes and you see things differently.

Your perspective evolves and you no longer need an hour to understand why something doesn’t work, you take a quick look and you know what’s the problem immediately.

The main point here is this: you should not seek to become an expert in every aspect of your life, simply choose a specific subject and devote your life towards this. You will eventually become a key figure in your field of choice, which will bring you joy and (hopefully) admiration from the people around you.

Lesson #2: Thinking Fast And Slow

This is the main concept of the book and the most valuable takeaway. According to the research of the author, there are two main systems that we use to think, and to basically solve problems:

System 1: The first system acts fast. It is more primitive from the two and its main objective is to take care of our survival. For example, if you’re walking on the street and suddenly a car turns towards your direction your mind needs to act fast in order to protect you and get you out alive from this situation. The brain will send impulses to the legs and will help you move quickly or even jump if necessary.

The downside of system one is that it often triggers when we need to make an important decision, or, for example, respond to people. The fast way of thinking usually is quick on making conclusions but in most cases, such outcomes are wrong and have the potential to ruin your life in the long run. Even more, system one mostly relies on emotions.

For example: let’s say you’re married but you go to a club without your wife. An attractive female is showing interest in you. At this moment, you have a choice to make: your fast mind will immediately tell you that you should sleep with the girl. The reasons are many and all of them are based on a superficial conclusion: she’s attractive, an easy prey, your primitive brain will basically tell you to mate because that’s in your blood.

System 2: The slow way of thinking relies on logic. System 2 needs time to process all the information and to find a similar experience in the owner’s brain before making a decision. Slow thinking requires concentration and focus and gets upset when attention is diverted. As the author explains in the book: “Slow thinking requires more mental capacity.” Having the latter in mind, we can easily say that system two is more important for our overall success in life.

Slow thinking cannot be combined with other thought processes, and attempts will only de-focus you. For instance, writing a book or recording music requires complete concertation and any distraction will lead to unnecessary delays in the process.

In other words, the more you control and practice your slow thinking, the more successful you will be in life. You will become more productive and make better decisions faster.

Let’s say we’re in the same situation, the one mentioned above: you’re in the club and a beautiful woman is trying to take advantage of you. What will happen if we take a couple of minutes to think things through? Our logic will kick in and tell you that you should immediately walk away. It will whisper in your ear that you have a wife and that you shouldn’t cheat on her. Even if your wife never finds about this night, you will know and this will make you fell miserable. Besides, it’s not fair to cheat on your wife. So, go home buster.

In conclusion, allow system one to work when the decision won’t affect dramatically your future and turn to system two when important verdicts have to be made.

Lesson #3: Our Two Selves

Nature has put mankind under the power of two masters: pain and pleasure. And according to the research in the book, when we’re exposed to a short period of pain which abruptly stops, we’re more likely to remember this incident as a lot more painful if we rather experience pain over time which slowly decreases.

Or in other words, duration doesn’t count when we experience pain or pleasure. Only the peak (best or worst moment) and the end of the experience are registered in our brains.

Let me try to explain this better:

There are two selves hiding inside us: The experiencing self and the remembering self.

  • The experiencing self asks: “Does it and how much it hurts now?”
  • The remembering self, on the other hand, asks the following: “How was the overall experience?”

We rely on those two when we make decisions with one tiny comment: the remembering self has greater power when we’re making future decisions.

Even though the average length of fixing a tooth is less than 5 minutes, we remember a visit to the dentist as the worst thing in our lives. Why? Because for a short period of time we experience a large portion of targeted pain.

This short example will give you a better perspective on how we remember things: A man was listening to a long symphony recorded on a disc, however, there was a scratch at the end of the disk and the end result was a shocking sound. After being asked, the man mentions that the bad end destroyed the whole experience. In fact, the experience is not destroyed, only the memory of it. The listener judges that the whole experience was bad because it ended badly. However, in reality, only the ending was bad. His assessment ignores the previous musical bliss in remembers only the bad moment.

Our remembering self is convincing us that certain situations, experiences, people are bad only because we had one bad moment with them. However, this is often not true and by convincing our minds that something is bad before we’re 100% certain that it’s bad, we might miss out on possible future pleasurable experiences.

“Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.” Daniel Kahneman

Lesson #4: If You Can’t Solve A Difficult Task Find The Easy One Hiding Inside

I love this insight so much. It’s basically the foundation for doing more stuff in a shorter time frame.

Whether it’s in our job, at school or at home, we are constantly facing difficult tasks that require our attention. The solution often doesn’t seem so obvious and we spent a tremendous amount of time searching for the perfect answer.

Often, the main reason we spend so much time troubleshooting a single task without finding the answer is because we had the wrong initial approach all along.

“If you can’t solve a difficult task, start by solving the easy task first. You only need to find it hiding inside,” says Daniel Kahneman. This way of handling obstacles is part of the heuristic method, which is: an approach to problem-solving, learning, or discovery that employs a practical method not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but sufficient for the immediate goals.

This sounds super confusing, I know.

Let me reframe it.

Basically, it means replacing a difficult question with another, simpler one. That’s the whole strategy for solving difficult tasks.

Let’s look at the questions below. These are difficult questions which will require quite a research before you can answer them. Instead of answering them directly, we can replace them with queries that are much easier to answer (the easy ones are bolded):

  1. How much money will I save by the end of the year?
  2. How much money do I earn now?
  1. How much will be the price of a bitcoin in the following six months?
  2. How much is the price of a single bitcoin, now?
  1. My girlfriend enrolled in piano classes last week. How long will it take her to play the piano like a pro?
  2. How much time does she spend practicing in her spare time?

I think you’ve got the point. The idea here is to try to simplify things. When facing a complex task, which you can’t solve immediately, try looking at the problem from another point of view. Disassemble the big chunk into smaller pieces which are easier to execute and answer.

Love taking notes? Download the worksheet:

Actionable Notes:

  • Find the easy task: As mentioned above, when facing a difficult situation, or a complex task, look for the easy task/solution hiding inside.
  • Think before you act: Our fast mind is designed to get us out of certain situations – avoiding a car crash, for example – but it can get us in trouble in others. When you need to make an important decision, take some time to think about all the involved factors. Make sure your slow mind is calling the shot.
  • Be a rational person: The word rationality means awareness, control, measurement. We say that someone is rational when we see the logic in their actions. Irrational, on the other hand, are people controlled by emotions and impulses. As you can figure it out on your own, being irrational or someone who is mostly controlled by emotions is not a good thing.
  • Practice: Only by continuous practice, you can become better and essentially be recognized as an expert. But first, you need to choose your field. If you still haven’t figured it out, take some uninterrupted time to plan your life.
  • Expectations: The human mind associates different people, places, even objects with certain things. For example, we associate the fridge with food, the playground with fun, books with knowledge, etc. Similarly, other people associate us, our identities, with certain things. For example, if you continuously write posts and articles, others will think that you’re a writer. Basically, what you do will define you as a person in front of others.

Commentary And My Personal Takeaway

To be honest, the book is quite boring after the first 100 pages. It starts nice with a lot of examples but after that the scientific language becomes unbearable. It will be probably a good read for a professor in the field of psychology, but for the average reader, there are so many things you need to filter out in order to understand the essential information.

My suggestion, don’t read it. The notes above basically give you the main ideas.

The best tip is this: Expose yourself to more things early in life but when you grow up, devote a large part of your time on doing one specific thing. This way, you’ll become an expert in this field and act adequately in more situations.

Notable Quotes:

If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use a complex language where simpler language will do.” Daniel Kahneman

A reliable way of making people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.” Daniel Kahneman

We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.” Daniel Kahneman

Actionable Book Summary: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
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