Egonomics: the dichotomy of decision-self

Sep 19, 2008 by glennji

I was reading/learning last night about the two (often competing) congnitive systems we have; for lack of better terminology I’m going to call them the “dopamine system” (DS) and the “cognitive system” (CS).

Apparently the DS has developed to respond quickly to “instant” (or “instance”) decisions. Like when someone brings snacks in, and you happen to walk past thinking you could do with a snack. Studies show that if you offer someone a snack of fruit or chocolate, 70%+ will go for chocolate.

The CS on the other hand takes longer to make decisions, but is able to plan ahead.  (Actually, I think it takes responsibility for long-term decisions, but delegates quick-win stuff to the DS.  But that’s just my internal observations.)  So if you offer to bring a snack to someone next week, 70%+ go for the fruit.

CS prefers the healthy fruit option; DS likes the quick win of chocolate.  Same goes for addiction: the CS knows something might be bad in the long run, but the DS is designed to make the decision about whether to have this thing right now.  That’s why it’s a struggle — the DS and CS are trying to override each other.

My next steps are to determine strategies I can use to optimise my operational- or run-plan, utilising the CS and DS in the best way.

e.g. strategies to make me go to the gym:

  • (CS) wants to be fit, so make a generalised plan for when to go to the gym; not too detailed because the DS is a tricky b*stard.
  • (DS) wants immediate gratification, so when leaving work focus on getting a snack before the gym. Make sure to get the snack as quickly as possible.
  • (DS) When approaching the gym, start thinking of the enjoyable experiences of stretching, and the adrenaline-rush when cycling/rowing/running.

i.e. I need to short-circuit the DS from deciding it doesn’t want to go (at the last second) by focusing on how great it is.

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