Miss Psychobabble: Cognitive Economy - Why Automatic is Pragmatic

Admit it, you schemed through and scrolled down first to get a glimpse of this article. We all have the ability of simplified and (often times) automatic thinking.  In Psychology, this tendency is called cognitive economy.

"The tendency for cognitive processes to minimize processing effort and resources" (Colman, 2014).  
It assumes that when we categorize our brains we try to make them informative with as little expenditure of mental energy as possible.
We make an average of 226.7 decisions everyday in food alone (Wansink & Sobal, 2007).  Yes, that’s a lot and we are not even aware of some of them!  We make hundreds of decisions every day but is it beneficial to cut it down?

A good example unveils the reason behind “Why does Mark Zuckerberg wear the same grey t-shirt every day?”  It has been bugging some people for many years.  See for yourself.

“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community."
Einstein did it, Steve Jobs did it and now Mark Zuckerberg is doing it.  The idea behind this is that as we develop a relative level of expertise and automatic thinking, it allows us to not only behave quickly and efficiently but also to focus our mental energy to purposeful activities.
Sometimes, I don’t even remember if I brushed my teeth but I’m confident that I did because I do it everyday.  I do it out of hygiene but mostly out of habit.  To mindlessly brush our teeth conserves our cognitive energy for other meaningful activities (such as your work presentation) during the day.
William James, American philosopher and psychologist even argued that "only by rendering many aspects of daily life automatic and habitual, can we free our minds to advance to interesting fields of action" (Lamoreaux, 2013).


The art of mindlessness can be a beautiful thing, being able to free your mind to habitual feasts, gives room for creativity imagination and innovation.  This trait of mindlessness and giving into daily rituals have been prevalent in the lives of other creative and genius minds across culture and time.

According to Mason Currey (2013), there were 6 significant similarities that emerged among most of creative minds such as Marcel Proust, Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, Patricia Highsmith, Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Franklin, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Anne Rice, William James and the list goes on.  These are namely:

  1. Be a morning person
  2. Embrace your day job
  3. Take lots of walks
  4. Stick to a schedule
  5. Practice strategic substance abuse
  6. Learn to work anywhere.

As you can see, an automatic mind, in some cases can be shown to be more pragmatic!  After freeing up our minds with the unnecessary, it is then up to us to function, create, and innovate.

Colman, A. (2014). Oxford Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved on November 12, 2014 from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199534067.001.0001/acref-9780199534067-e-1605
Currey, M. (2013). Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Retrieved on November 12, 2014 from http://www.amazon.com/Daily-Rituals-How-Artists-Work/dp/0307273601
Lamoreaux, S. (2013). Do You Need a Daily Ritual for Creativity? Retrieved on November 12, 2014 from http://www.business2community.com/strategy/need-daily-ritual-creativity-0644940#4E5JSsOVI3Krt2yq.99
Wansink, B. & Sobal, J. (2007). Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook. Environment and Behavior 39, 1, 106-123