Slow thinking

I’m a slow-thinker. It took me a long time to realize this. That’s partially because I am a slow-thinker, but mostly because I assumed that some of my other innate traits were dichotomies. For example, I’m quick-witted; if you want a zinger, I’m here for it. I can lead and shape conversations. One-liners, puns, quick recall from five minutes ago — all of that is stuff I’m pretty adept at. And yet, I think fairly slowly.

For years, it’s driven my husband a little bit bonkers that I won’t respond right away when we start discussing weighty subjects. Sometimes not even the same day. And I get it; that’s really a frustrating trait. I’ve gotten marginally better at engaging and talking through my stilted thought process. But I’m still really bad at it.

I’ve also spent a lot of time alternating with struggling with impostor syndrome or outright ignoring my impostor syndrome because sometimes I see a wall of text (say a P2 post at work) and I just think “What.” I cannot cognitively absorb it. I keep posts open for several days and re-read them (often in different order, like going over a particular section more often one day, vs top-to-bottom reading). But once I’ve absorbed it, I’ve got it. And, counterintuitively, big concepts I grasp right away. I see the big concept, I get the reasoning, the direction, the expected effects, etc. I can extrapolate a lot of that from a high-level concept, even if it’s just a couple of lines long.

I think my slow thinking ways have prepared me to engage in high-touch but brief sessions. The length of a conversation. A townhall lasting 60 minutes. A presentation, a workshop. I can be 100% there and contribute to a particular depth. And then I need to shut down for a little bit and do rote work or sit silently so I can recharge my brain. The depth of understanding that I think I am able to reach by slow thinking, routinely, enables these much shorter flashes of wit. Also, once I have adequately prepared, I can merge more effectively the quick-witted and slow-thinking parts of my brain. So in a presentation, I can speak off the cuff with substance and in a meaningful way, because it’s not actually off the cuff; it’s just that I’ve aligned all the thinking I’ve done on a particular topic temporarily.

I think my impostor syndrome at not being able to cognitively recognize and begin analyzing a post or longer, more detail-studded store of knowledge is misplaced. I’m not geared to shallow understanding, and I’m not incapable of insight. I can think critically and I can do it well. It just takes me time. I used to feel sheepish if I commented on an important P2 post long after most other people, especially when others said much, much faster the things I wish I had thought of. But I’d still take the effort to comment, to help break myself out of that cycle. My peers’ quick thinking is wonderful, we’re lucky to have it as a company, and I don’t resent it. I also no longer envy it. I’m a slow-thinker, and dredging through a long, weighty post is useful for me, in the long run. Perhaps it’s related to having a different brain wiring due to dyslexia, but maybe it’s not. Likely that would be impossible to determine categorically, so we won’t worry about it, but I think it a little bit.

I recently changed my Twitter follows to be mostly animals, paintings, and literary accounts. The slow-thinking taxation of being confronted by incredibly complex, multi-faceted world problems in a daily tidal wave got damaging. It’s not just that there are big problems out there that I think we have to confront and fix, it’s that I couldn’t stop the slow molasses wheels in my brain from puzzling over all these various problems, with little useful effect. I care deeply about these problems. But via Twitter isn’t how I’ll contribute, so I deliberately moderated that information input. Now it’s a mostly joyful place for me to visit, though I still follow enough other accounts to be aware of the trajectory of some of these problems, but without the unceasing echos.

I’ve long been in the habit of saying “I don’t know, let me get back to you.” And sometimes I actually do know, but I haven’t finished thinking about it yet. That’s something that has taken me a long time to realize as well. I don’t always need fresh input to come to a conclusion, just because I don’t have an answer in the moment. Of course, the reverse is true: sometimes I do need additional input, but until I’ve had a chance to wade to a certain depth, I can’t tell if I’m going to need a boat or can swim on through. If I haven’t had adequate pre-thinking time, I can get flustered in the moment (I’m sure this is true of many people), and I’ve allowed myself to give poor answers in the past because an instant answer is demanded; or so it seemed. Now, though, I’m ostensibly a grown-up. I can ask for more time, and more time is available. This is different from knowing that something is required of you and under-preparing. I’ve also done that, and I do not recommend. The best offense is a good defense; my mantra is “if being asked something makes me nervous, know that thing better.”

All this to say, slow-thinking is a fine way to exist. It’s not bad; it’s just the way that I cognitively, systematically address my ignorance and figure out my own alignment on any given concept. Just… gimme a minute.

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