Think Fast: Any Action is Better Than No Action in an Emergency -

Think Fast: Any Action is Better Than No Action in an Emergency

Imagine two contestants on a game show. One knows a little about the category, the other knows nothing. Who is more likely to get the answer right? Surprisingly, research shows that it’s the contestant who doesn’t know anything.

That’s because we have two ways of thinking. Nobel prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman calls them fast and slow. Our first impulse is always to think fast—to follow a shortcut and say what we think is right, without thinking. It’s only when we don’t have enough information to go that route that we slow down and think a question through. That’s why the contestant who knows nothing has a better chance of getting the answer right.

Now imagine that the contestants are under pressure. The Jeopardy music is playing, the clock is ticking, and the big money is on the line. Suddenly, the odds of getting the right answer swing back to the person who knows a little. That’s because they are more likely to be able to come up with some answer—any answer—before the time is up. The contestant who is thinking the question through will find that slow thinking is harder when the pressure is on, and they may run out of time.

In an emergency, knowing the right thing to do is obviously best, but any action is better than no action. When you take action in an emergency, you get feedback that can tell you if what you are doing is right or wrong. If it doesn’t work, you do something else. But if you do nothing, there is no feedback and things will probably only get worse.

Most emergencies happen suddenly, but even when you can see them coming from a long way off (like a hurricane), things change when the moment comes to act. That’s when the Jeopardy music starts to play and you realize what is on the line. Like it or not, your body responds to that pressure and shuts down your slow thinking operations. The more time you spend thinking slowly about what you might do before that moment, the better your chances of success.

But if most emergencies happen suddenly, where do you find the time for thinking slowly? How about now, or tonight at dinner with your family, or on your next road trip? Play a game called, “What would we do if…?” What would we do if there were a fire in the house at night, or during the day, or if there were a tornado warning, or if we had to evacuate? What problems might we run into? What can we do to solve those problems? Have fun with it. Set the stage like you’re telling a story. Let family members take turns inventing the scenarios—sheltering from zombies isn’t that much different than sheltering in place during a hurricane—just be sure to tie the discussion back to reality to make sure the lesson is learned.

Those “what ifs” happen to somebody somewhere every day. Think slow now so you can think fast if it happens to you.

For more information on preparing for whatever “if” could happen to you visit

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