1st May 2017

This month's newsletter is all about thinking. We'll be taking a whistle stop tour around cognitive biases and errors in reasoning. Read on to begin thinking about thinking!

Reading time: 3 mins

Are you an irrational and illogical thinker?

Whether you know it or not, we are all totally flawed in the thinking department. As the great physicist, inventor and thinker, Richard Feynman said:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself -
and you are the easiest person to fool.”
— Richard Feynman

 In 2013, whilst travelling across India, I read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and discovered exactly how often we fool ourselves. It was the perfect way to keep myself entertained during an 18 hour train journey! 


The book is an absolute tome and a real window into the workings of the human mind. Kahneman and his former colleague, Amos Tversky (passed away in 1999), spent their lives investigating errors in thinking and reasoning. They call these errors: heuristics, cognitive biases and logical fallacies.

 Tversky on the left, Kahneman on the right.

Tversky on the left, Kahneman on the right.

What are Heuristics, Cognitive Biases and Logical Fallacies?

Heuristics are rules which people use to form judgments and make decisions. They are mental shortcuts that often involve focusing on one aspect of a problem and ignoring others.

A Cognitive Bias is a deficiency or limitation in our thinking. A flaw in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations.

A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid.

Thinking, Fast and Slow divides our thinking into two systems, System 1 and System 2:

  • System 1 thinking is fast, automatic, intuitive
  • System 2 thinking is slower, analytical, reasoning

In an ideal world these systems would be perfect and we could call upon the right system for the right occasion. Unfortunately for us, this isn't the case. Our minds result from billions of years of complex biological evolution. As a species, homo sapiens have spent the vast majority of our time, as hunter-gatherers. We lived in nature surrounded by our extended family and tribe. In the blink of an evolutionary eye, we are now living in towns and cities, surrounded by strangers, watching propaganda driven news on a loop!

The best thing about being a human being, is having a human mind, this is what sets us apart from other mammals. But if we want to negotiate life successfully we must understand how it works. We must understand where our strengths and weakness lie. Thinking, Fast and Slow is a book that documents the strengths and weaknesses of System 1 and System 2 thinking.

According to Kahneman's research, humans tend to be dominated by System 1 thinking. We are dominated by fast automatic and intuitive thinking, which evolved in tribal times. Yet we also have System 2 thinking, which we can use but only if we are aware of our thinking.

The scariest thing I learnt from their research, was that System 1 makes a decision and then System 2 quickly creates a story to make us feel like we made a conscious decision. We are fooled by our own minds, which makes us feel like we're in the driving seat, when in fact, our primal and reptilian brains are in control.

Our minds are an incredible thing to study, I enjoy reading about it but I also find great benefit from sitting and watching it work, AKA meditating. Try this little game I created:

Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Now, observe your breathing. With your mind watch each breath go in and out of your body. Feel the chest and stomach move with each breath, feel the air enter and leave through your nose. Now at the same time be aware of any thoughts you're having. Be aware of any internal dialogue or narration you might be having. 

I want you to count every time you breathe in and out. The aim of the game is to get to 20 (that's 20 complete breaths, in and out = 1 full breath). But each time you witness yourself having a thought, you must start from zero. Try this game for the next few minutes and see how you get on.

This a game I get people to play when I teach them how to meditate. I call it "chasing your tail." I use it to show people how difficult it is to deliberately silence the mind. But in this case I hope you will discover that there are different voices or narrators in our own mind. There's a thinking mind and observing mind. Where thoughts originate from, nobody knows but what Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhārtha Gautama, discovered was that the mind can be trained. We can train the mind through meditation to be less reactive and more disciplined.

By training the mind through meditation we begin to use more System 2 thinking and less System 1 thinking. Once we understand the evolved strengths and weaknesses in our thinking then we can begin to make much better decisions for ourselves and for others.

To begin your education in cognitive biases I have made an infographic for you. It introduces 12 cognitive biases that will turn you into a better decision maker. You can also download it in PDF form, by clicking on the download button below the picture.

For more information, I recommend clicking on the picture below to see a larger list of cognitive biases. For those brave thinkers, then I'd recommend reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.


This month I've been out and about, enjoying the fantastic Spring weather in the Peak District. I've also been busy on the farm learning more about Biodynamic Farming and getting a good workout at the same time. I now have my own hammock and have tested it out ready for my wilderness retreat this weekend. I also have a new axe and some carving tools so watch this space to see what I can make!

If you're not on Instagram, head over there and create an account and give us a follow. Even if you don't have pictures to share, you can find some inspiration for your interests and hobbies. Be careful not to get sucked in though. Be mindful of your social media use - it's designed to keep you locked in!!!

As ever, thanks for taking the time to read my work and I hope it provides you with the insight you need to become healthier and happier. Just remember what the great Socrates said:

“An unexamined life is not worth living.”
— Socrates, classical Greek philosopher

Your feedback is always welcome, so don't be shy and don't forget to forward this email onto friends and loved ones. The healthier we all are, the better the world will be, for everyone.

All the best

James @