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  • Reverend James Squire

What Reminder I Received at Monmouth Beach

Vicki and I spent a wonderful Fourth of July with close friends at their vacation home in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey. Our male friend, who is a self-made man who has turned his successful business over to his children was in a serous bike accident ten weeks ago when he hit a pothole at 20 miles an hour and was propelled into a post. He shattered a shoulder, broke 12 ribs, punctured a lung, fractured lumbar vertebrae, and damaged his voice box so he speaks in a whisper. He was in the ICU and rehab. He is home. His wife is an educator and now his primary care giver.

Our friend has been a cyclist for as long as I can remember and been in many strenuous races up and down steep mountains. He was never in a serious accident. He indicated that he is 80% better, but he said something that caught my attention, “You know that last 20% is the hardest part of the journey.” Need I point out that this is a record recovery?

This conclusion has a lot to say about other aspects of our life from weight loss to closing the gap on people who need to be vaccinated. Biden and our scientists now know that is the case with the current goal that was missed for July 4 particularly in states in the Midwest.

Our friend is progressing nicely because he is using a balance of two forms of decision making that have been indicated in Nudge Theory by the founders Thaler and Sunstein and behavior economists such as Daniel Kahneman. As a result, he is a finisher. The first kind of decision making emphasizes the automatic, instinctive, quick, and irrational. This thinking kept us alive on the plains during our earliest days in tribes. The second kind emphasizes the thoughtful, reflective and rational. That is relatively new to the species. What Kahneman discovered is that we contain both kinds of decision making. But here is the problem. We tend to greatly underestimate the first and overestimate the second.

I will admit a bias that runners and cyclists use both all the time so I tend to think that athletes who have practiced hard in their craft are the best at getting to the finish line. When making a basketball shot, most players aren’t even thinking about it as it becomes “second nature.” That is what practice does. We all know people who begin with a big fanfare, but fizzle out at the end. Give me the person who just keeps at it when no one is looking like Simone Biles who decided to go for another Olympics and began training hard at 5 in the morning again for several years. We heard nothing about her.

President Biden and Dr. Fauci did not consider the first way of thinking which is irrational. They believed that just making a case was enough. There is a group such as African Americans who remember the horrors of Tuskegee and others who have made this a political issue who certainly have been doing reflective thinking number two, but listen to the comments of others.

“I don’t have a reason. I just don’t what to get it. No, I am not getting it. No, I don’t have a reason. It’s not for me. It hasn’t been tested enough.” I haven’t seen a survey but I think that there would be more in the first decision making mode of instinctive, quick, and irrational.

I think that Kahneman has identified the problem with his new ways of making decisions, but Nudge Theory just may be the answer. One of the truths that we have been taught from an early age is, “people don’t like to be told what to do.” I don’t! Do you?

It’s part of that irrational part of our decision making even if the rational part makes sense to many in the reflection part of our decision making. These two styles are not working together, one undervalued and the other overvalued. That combination can yield no one at the finish line.

Nudge Theory is an ethical system that emphasizes integrity, empathy, and trust. I have developed a new form of counseling called Lever Therapy which incorporates this theory.

Nudge Theory developed by Thaler and Sunstein doesn’t require you to do something and it doesn’t ask why you are not doing something. The most simple example is that flashing speed sign on highways that reminds you to slow down. It doesn’t tell you to slow down.

We are influenced by the enthusiasm and belief of others. England changed some of their tax laws by telling people what their neighbors were doing rather than reminding them of a punishment they would get if they didn’t pay. Setting a goal, having a lottery, telling people they can be free of masks, or reminding others of the deadly nature of the Delta Variant hasn’t worked as well as we wanted.

Like my cyclist friend don’t focus on the 20% to go which is a challenge, focus on the 80% that has been achieved. Have the people who came down with Covid make public service announcements about the positive nature of their recovery and what they learned from their no mask irrational thinking. Don’t demonize people for not getting the vaccine. Acknowledge their irrational thinking as understandable and combine in with rational reflection. “I can understand why you just may not want to get the vaccine.” Don’t focus on those who won’t get it for political reasons or other reflections. The irrational ones may drive all of this to the finish line. Remember hubris, pride, blocks reflective decision making. They will be the last to get on board.

We need intuitive thinking and reflective thinking combined such as you find in cyclists and runners who need both to cross the finish line. Combined they become “second nature.” That is what I was reminded of from my friend. 20% to go, but how about that 80% Don’t over and under estimate either.

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