Persnickety Perception

By Jimmy Warden

First impressions

A lot of people claim that first impressions are important. The truth is, they are. But what makes them so important?

First impressions are important because they give us a plethora of information. A lot of it is below our conscious awareness, at the unconscious level. Our unconscious helps us process information at high speeds so we don’t have to juggle as many conscious thoughts. When we quickly process information that is given to us the first time we experience something new without over-analyzing the information, we are engaging in a technique called thin-slicing.

Thin-slicing

Thin-slicing is a term that comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. At its core, thin-slicing is when we take in information from a small time frame and allow our unconscious to sort out the most relevant information to help us make decisions in the present moment. Gladwell (2005) even states: “when our unconscious engages in thin-slicing, it is an automatic and accelerated analysis of information” (p.23).

To share an example, Gladwell discussed a study where psychologists analyzed couples in a conversation for different lengths of time to determine whether or not they would stay together. The study showed when the psychologists analyzed a couple for an hour, they were 95% accurate in determining whether or not they would stay together. If they studied the couple for fifteen minutes, they were still 90% accurate with their prediction.

These data points tell us that we don’t need to be too analytical all of the time. Instead, we just need to be analytical about the information that matters most in a given situation. This is why our perception can be so persnickety. It doesn’t need as much information as we think it does to make “the right” decision.

We know thin-slicing is working for us when we have a “gut feeling” or “intuition” about a decision before we give it a lot of conscious thought, and we tend to engage in conscious thought to make our decisions after this feeling rises.

What does this mean for us?

This means that we don’t need to overanalyze everything, all of the time. I understand that this is a lot easier said than done because I tend to be an overthinker. Overthinking leads to an array of harder decisions, worry, uncertainty, anxiety, and lack of confidence. The harder the decision, the more we tend to worry about it because of its uncertainty. We feel anxious as a result, and we have difficulty generating the confidence to move forward.

However, if we apply thin-slicing, we can decrease these feelings.

When we thin-slice, our conscious decisions become easier because we’re only using the information that comes from our unconscious to influence the decisions we make. As a result, we worry less and are less anxious. Considering we can make highly accurate decisions when we thin-slice, we will build more confidence as the good decisions pile up.

So try to thin-slice a few decisions today. Experience what it feels like. You just might save yourself some time and peace of mind.

References

Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. Little, Brown and Company.

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