Mental and behavioral shortcuts.
How good are fast decisions?

Express decisions, fast recipes and autopilot cooking:

How far can we follow and trust mental shortcuts for decision making?

Those fast and easy tracks,
such as heuristics and automatisms, are
good to give instant solutions when needed.

But can some of them be wrong tracks?
They might be unadapted in various cases, and then result in
damaging decisions and behaviors

Easy track? Fast track? Or wrong track?
People often take
bulb mental shortcuts to analyze situations, to solve
problems, to
make decisions, to react to events or to perform actions.

What are those fast tracks our mind uses?
Can we recognize them and be more conscious of how they drive us?
Can we trust them?

Types of shortcuts

When only a few or our neurons are awake
and run the show.
Or when some neurons are wired together
and bypass the others

Those mental and/or behavioral shortcuts can be sorted in two categories,
heuristics and semi automatisms
that are detailed in the related

Here is a first approach (shortcut?):
are simplified but conscious (*) practical rules / reasoning
also immediate feelings (primacy of emotions or
...instincts, or
sudden remembrances of past solutions.
Analogies can be made with cooking
recipes, do it yourself
tips, or administrative guidelines.

The "shortcuts" metaphor, by the way, can adress only the
simplest of those practices as some can  even bring complications.
are instinctive, often unconscious (*) actions or reactions .
Reflexes and habits are two examples of usual forms of
those "autopilots"

Those "tools" can be personal tricks, but some can also be collective
traditions and rituals.

(*) Actually many decisions, actions and thoughts result from
crossing and
assembling complex data by our neurons "in the background", more
via conscious reasoning.
      Except for useful routines, they would deserve that we be a bit wary
      and do some checking before giving them the green light !


* Sometimes useful

Those formal or informal, mental or behavioral, well-rehearsed practices
and modus operandi, those usual tricks (heuristricks?) drawn like rabbits
from our hat, can be practical and useful in many situations.

Same thing for "instinctive" reactions based on a long experience, an
ability at feeling unconsciously some tiny differences in situations that
others do not notice at all, and an aptitude at improvisation when facing
new events.

They do a double job: they bring solutions and they gain time.
Obviously, we cannot spend all our time wondering how to interpret
all events, how to deal with everyday issues and to do the usual chores,
whether to decide or not to move a finger or even to breathe.

If we would wait for our neurons to - consciously (*) and in all lengths -
identify and compare all the pros and cons of every action before we
launch it,
we would not be able to live, except with our body in a frozen

(*) It seems that in some cases neurons are able to do it unconsciously,
instantly, fully and wisely, even in more crucial and complex cases.
      But how to be sure ?
      Well, in an emergency we might not have time to waver but at least 

let us keep cool (see an anti stress tip), as panic or exuberance are
      not the best advisors.

* Sometimes harmful

But those routines can also lead to error errors with harmful effects .
Therefore they should be questioned from time to time as they could
have become symptoms of laziness and conformity.
This happens in a number of cases, for example:
  • When they are based on the blind repetition of wrong habits
They put us therefore in a damaging rut.
Even the most professionnal experts often rely so much on
the intuition brought by a long experience that they tend to
believe in their
infallibility in prevision making.
This can lead to big decision mistakes.

  • When violent emotions (exuberance or panic) act behind
anf suppress all control.
Yes there is an "affect heuristic"
  • When they bring good solutions but freeze the search of better ones
(mental conservatism) because of laziness  or because such a
quest in non traditional territories would be considered heretical.
  • Or - however useful they were until now - when they get unadapted
usually because we face new situations that would require
quite different approaches.

In those cases when they bring suboptimal or damaging results, they can
be labeled automaticity biases and biased heuristics.
=> Those mental and behavioral flaws belong
       to the wider category of
behavioral biases,
       as detailed in the related article.

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M.a.j. / updated : 11 Juil. 2015
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