In last week’s post I asked an either-or question: Do you consider yourself to be more of a “thinker” or more of a “feeler?” Additionally, I posted this question in the form of a quiz on three social media platforms in order to solicit feedback, which in turn produced some intriguing results (To see these results, scroll to the bottom).
By now most of you picked up on the tension within the question — the tension to which I was purposely trying to call attention (A good axiom for communication: “Tension gets attention”). The tension highlighted by this either-or question is that for most of us, we sense a noticeable amount of overlap between what we consider our thinking function (The way we process analytically or rationally) and our feeling function (The way we process emotionally). Most of us probably struggled to click on either button in the social media quiz due to to the awareness that we make decisions by both thinking and feeling. On occasion, those two functions are working together, although admittedly not as consistently as we may prefer (More on this in the bottom of the post).
The Cognitive Triangle
I was talking about this concept with my friend Haley, who is training to be a counselor. She reminded me of a concept from psychology called “The Cognitive Triangle.” As the illustration from above explains, all human beings live with three interrelated functions working together at the same time. Our thinking actually impacts our feeling and acting, and feelings impact our acting and thinking, and acting impacts our thinking and feeling. This is the normative way that human beings operate. Or rather, it represents the ideal way we would normally operate if things like sin and trauma and bullying and social normalization didn’t interfere with our development as humans. I suspect many of us know what it feels like when we are operating in a 2/3 way.
In his book How To Think, Baylor Professor Alan Jacobs explores the literature on thinking and arrives at some helpful considerations. For example, he notes that in a busy, hurried, society like ours, we all suffer from something called “decision fatigue” and are actively looking to limit the number of decisions we have make in a given moment. As such, we have developed a keen instinct that we employ in making routine decisions. Call it snap judgment, call it stereotyping, or call it gut-impressions.
For example, if a strange-looking man in a frumpy outfit and disheveled personal appearance, who is also wearing an old school hockey mask, walks up to you and asks you if you would like to accompany him in his windowless white van, your instinct will likely (and should likely) be to say no and then run while asking SIRI to call the police. Instinct is a way we process through decisions like this. We dont have to think about the merits of joining this man’s van life. We have trained ourselves to act without weighing the rationale.
This also applies to decisions that are of a lesser quality of danger (Like if we are going to order the grande or venti coffee, or if we are ready to get married or if we should make a career change). In a complex world filled with a seemingly endless set of decisions to be made and situations to react to, we have learned to think instinctively in order to survive. And, as helpful as this instinct is to our decision making process, it cannot possibly bear the weight of a good many of our life decisions. Thus, as Jacobs notes, our instinctive way of thinking needs some directing.
Jacobs borrows an illustration about an elephant rider. He says that our instinctual ability is like an elephant. It moves where it wants to go with decisive power. But, like any strong elephant, a strong instinct can be wrong in direction and, therefore, can be trained by a wise and nimble elephant rider. The elephant rider illustrates a better way of thinking.
When I considered this illustration, I came to the realization that I need to develop an elephant rider to reign in my massively misdirected elephant instinct. For most of my life, I have wrongly believed that there are essentially two kinds of people in this world: There are those who think and then act, with no consideration of feeling. And there are those who feel and act with no consideration of thinking. I fit well within the former category. For me, I will think about any particular decision and then, when enough facts are laid before me, make a resolved decision to act with confidence. You know, the way that Jesus does it.
This instinct has been further reinforced by my observations of people in the second camp — those who feel and then act. I have come to describe this camp as “impulsive.” This camp, in my estimation, has not adequately considered the consequences of their impulsive actions and as such routinely experiences disappointment and an inability to align priorities with expected outcomes. Simple right?
Did you see what I just did there? I stereotyped. And do you know why I stereotyped? Because I am operating on instinct — which is an intellectually veiled and condescending way of admitting that I too act on impulse — albeit of a thinking variety.
I have recently come to realize that analytical instinct has become my elephant. And I confess that for most of my life I have operated in a 2/3 manner. I make analytically informed impulsive decisions with almost no consideration of how these decisions will affect others (their emotions) or will affect me (my emotions). As much as I would like to throw shade on the feel-then-act camp, I need to begin with the darkness in my own 2/3 approach.
Perhaps, this is something you have experienced…or thought about.
Integration: Moving From 2/3 to 3/3
I used to believe in only two camps: Those who act from thinking (the rational) and those who act from feeling (The impulsive). But both approaches are irrational and impulsive. The criticisms and tight categories don’t adequately lead us to live as God has designed us to live — in the way of cognitive theory. Therefore, I have recently begun searching for a third way — a way to move from living 2/3 to living 3/3. I have been challenged to locate a way of integration and wholeness in how I think and feel and act.
And I have come to locate this way of integration. It is found in the life of Jesus.
In next week’s post, we will wade into Jesus’s way of integration.
Social Media Results:
- A couple of observations about my social media feeds based on this poll:
- Only one person took the Twitter poll, but I expected the results to skew heavily in the thinker category. I primarily use Twitter to exchange ideas and thus limit my interactions to people who primarily challenge my thinking or who help me to think better from within my own tribe of thoughtfulness.
- Second, my friends in facebook and instragram represent a varied demographic — in age, ethnic background, phase of life, self-identity, etc…
- It is interesting that I have more self-avowed thinkers on facebook (A place where thinking does not seem to have much place in the frequent social interactions, whether in comments or posts of animals acting like humans).
- Instagram is 50/50, which is what I thought the outcomes would be for the non-Twitter polls. Is this because instagram is a place where people are more comfortable being who they really are? This certainly cannot be true as instagram seems to be a place where people lie about their lives by posting staged and photoshopped photos all day.
- My friends and followers are the best people. You guys really are. Thanks for taking a poll and for interacting with me. I appreciate yall.