System Two Thinking For Mental Health Month

Mental Health Matters – We need to be in a good place ourselves to be able to support others.
May 10, 2022 by
System Two Thinking For Mental Health Month
Almendra Staffa-Healey

“The easiest way to increase happiness is to control your use of time. Can you find more time to do the things you enjoy doing?” 

 Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winner and author of the fantastic ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow‘ asks an interesting question that we could all value from pondering during this Mental Health Month of May. In a fast-paced modern world, it often takes superhuman effort to slow down and smell the roses. 

System Two Thinking And Mental Health

And slowing down to appreciate life is a great way to improve your sense of wellbeing but also slowing down your way of thinking can reap rewards in myriad ways too. In Kahneman’s same book, he discusses the benefits of System Two thinking – slowing down, working the brain harder, making conscious and deliberate decisions rather than jumping to conclusions which is the hallmark of System One thinking. 

System Two thinking is put into gear when working on difficult math problems or learning a new language or instrument. It’s also what we use when in a new environment and meeting new people. Conversely, fast-paced System One thinking is automatic and effortless – it loves to jump to conclusion based on shortcuts, based on what it thinks it knows. This is when it becomes easy to fall into the trap of using stereotypes to interpret what is around us.

I spoke on a panel with Paige E. Butler Ed.D. and Janice Abarbanel PhD in 2018 about this very subject, entitled ‘Challenging the Culture Shock Paradigm: Preparing Students to Effectively Navigate Cultural Transitions’. We went through mental health stigmas and stereotypes and highlighted the importance of building resilience in young people. And a great way to do with is to ignite curiosity in their brains. Learning more about other people and other cultures is a fantastic way of transitioning into a new environment and something we can all foster when in new situations. 

Ask For Help

And not just in new situations. Research has shown that curiosity is often associated with higher levels of positive emotions, with lower levels of anxiety, with more satisfaction in life and with greater psychological well-being. But obviously everyone has different situations and needs and sometimes reaching out to mental health professionals is the only way to overcome a problem. 

On which note, I’d like to thank all those who work in mental health. Their incredible support during dark days is immeasurable. Bearing in mind that stress due to cultural differences as well as issues around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging can also lead to mental problems that require trained medical help and we can see how far-reaching such help can be. We should all make sure to seek help when needed. And using System Two thinking and sparking curiosity in daily life are also two other tips I want to pass on this Mental Health Month. We need to be in a good place ourselves to be able to support others. Don’t take your mental health for granted!

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