We all have done embarrassing things, taken bad decisions and primarily - said some bad things in the haze of the moment. Things that still traumatise us every time their thoughts cross our heads. We often ask ourselves - ‘What was I thinking?!‘. We can’t seem to fathom, how we didn’t consider certain information while taking a certain decision, despite knowing it in the back of our heads. And maybe it’s a bias but I feel that for some reason I tend to do it more than average people. It could be anything from murmuring to myself while in a crowded metro or making faces while eating alone, to blurting out inappropriate and or hurtful things. It’s so bad that I’m scared every time I let myself zone out, as I don’t totally trust myself in ‘Auto’ Mode.
Yes, that’s right, just like a DSLR has an
'Auto' Mode and a
'Pro' Mode, I believe that we too have two types of settings of our brain. Take this for an example, if I ask you what’s 2 + 2 - 1 you can answer it without thinking. Quick Mafs amirite! I mean of course we do think but it’s almost as if the answer comes to us as a reflex. It’s not the same as if I ask you to calculate what’s 15 times 23 in your head. Most people can multiply two digits number in their head, given enough patience. But the mental effort required compared to a simple 2 + 2 - 1 would be vastly different. Musicians and athletes call this muscle memory, even though the memory technically still is stored in our brain.
And my realisations were somewhat validated by something that’s part of psychology. One way to model how our brains work is to imagine that it’s made up of two systems, psychologists call it System 1 and System 2, or as I like to call it Auto Mode and Pro Mode. Basically what that means is that Pro Mode is your conscious part, and the part that you think you are as an individual and Auto mode is your subconscious part. Pro Mode of our brain is slow and uncomfortable, it takes effort to operate, but it’s careful, and can catch and fix errors. Auto Mode is fast and can process huge amounts of data with relatively very minimal effort, but is prone to error. Not just that, with practice and deliberate effort we can improve our auto mode, to do complex things with ease just like simple things that it already does. But the motive behind this article isn’t to improve Auto Mode. This is about my dealings with getting control over the Pro Mode. To be able to engage it with ease without having to feel resistance and discomfort.
My incredibly buggy Auto mode and inability to fully control my Pro Mode made me fascinated with elegant solutions, quick wits and when people did critical thinking in impromptu situations. It shaped my belief in such a way that for me truly great things are usually simple solutions to seemingly unknown problems that affect our everyday. Social networks, for example, were born out of the need for humans to be social. Many people believe that it was social networks that destroyed the culture of actually interacting with people instead of keeping in touch online. Whereas the truth is as we developed more and more our work-life started becoming more demanding, we had less time to do what is an integral part of being human, socialising. We just found a solution to this cultural shift in the shape of social networks. The reason those people have this perspective is simply that, a cultural shift was a problem that they didn’t realize humans had. This fascination and love for the elegant conscious decisions grew into what would become my life goal — to make something that would not only reach the entire world but also help it. And I realized that to achieve that goal I would have to ‘fix’ my Auto Mode and get more in control of my Pro Mode.
But before I could do that, I would have to go through a painful process of realizing that to become what I wish to see myself as and to achieve what I wish to do in life I would have to switch to Pro Mode. That came to me when someone very close to me started being emotionally abusive towards me casually. Having known that person for a long time I knew that that person malice couldn’t have been the cause. All I could complain about was that they were hurtful, without ever being able to fully explain how. To explain it clearly and rather make them realise, I started by trying to understand what they were doing to me and more importantly, why and why couldn’t they stop? The first part of that question only required me to document how they made me feel bad/hurt. However, to find the answer to the second part I had to dig through my history to find and remember similar events to try to understand the mindset. I realised that that person was doing these things in Auto Mode, and couldn’t stop because of the giant ego that their Pro Mode came with. When I figured out I have in fact done similar things in Auto Mode in the past, I had to fix that about myself. If one thing I do not like about being human is how hypocritical our lives are. Both knowingly and unknowingly.
But the silver lining to this experience was that I realized a few important things, first the reason of the goal in my life and the path towards achieving it, second that it is possible to learn to process complex thoughts, and take aware actions in the same way we can walk upright and maintain our balance without thinking, You must be thinking that “Vaibhav you are comparing apples to oranges!“. The mental effort required differs by a vast difference between processing complex thoughts and walking. What you may not realize is how many complex calculations the brain does to just maintain balance standing still upright, let alone walking. If you have watched videos of some people abusing weird looking robots, you may be familiar with their creators, Boston Dynamics. The scientist working for Boston Dynamics would perhaps best tell you how complex these simple actions are. In fact, it’s so complex to mimic human-like walking that we still haven’t been fully able to do so. And since we all know that walking is an acquired behaviour in humans, something that we have to learn, not only that we learn to do a lot of things which become our second or first nature, which is very complex at their core.
So I began trying to become more ‘aware’ and to take more and more control of my actions in life. I began by simple things, like trying to feel and remember every bite of my meal, remembering the faces in commute, and of course, being more considerate while speaking something, etc. I was resolute about getting 100% of my life in my own control. Ironically assuming that entire Auto Mode is just a bug in my system and not something that evolution planned before putting in our system. The hard reality came crashing to me when I realized that I am after all a mere mortal, that no matter how aware I become I’m still prone to making mistakes. And being aware of trivial mistakes that I make - hurts more, takes longer to get over, and takes up precious space in RAM. And that made me realize the importance and purpose of the Auto Mode. There’s a reason why scientists and critical thinkers are generally sad. The good news is that this means that Auto Mode is just smart memory management by nature and that being able to do things in Auto Mode freed up my head for something more resource-heavy. From then on it was easy to make a connection to the fact that we get the best of our ideas while we are in the toilet, in the shower or while taking a walk, basically mundane things. Leaving us alone with our thoughts, freeing up our Pro Mode.
Don’t get me wrong the purpose of the article isn’t to say that we should all be on Pro Mode all the time. Rather, from my experience, I found that while Pro Mode is a good thing there’s a reason Auto Mode exists. You can’t be wasting an hour to select what would be an appropriate attire to wear, or which toothbrush to buy. There are definitely times where Auto Mode is the appropriate mental state, we evolved it for a reason after all. It makes us more efficient and intuitive. It’s the getting over the discomfort in engaging our Pro Mode that’s important. The key is to identify where your priorities lie and that you are not lulled into the false comfort of cognitive ease that our Auto Mode provides hindering our path to success. Also, it’s always nice to be considerate.