April 8, 2019

Transitional Thinking | System 1 vs. System 2

System thinking originated from a book titled Thinking, Fast & Slow / By: Daniel Kahneman

When there is a transition in any profession, there will be a shift in thinking. When you are a fresh graduate nurse, when you transition into different patient populations, or when you transition to another nursing specialty, there will always be a shift in your thought processes. I experienced this personally when I transitioned from nursing student to a new nurse, from medical-telemetry to critical care nursing, and again when I transitioned from a bedside nurse to a nurse practitioner. When you enter a new environment, your system thinking is disrupted. This post will break down those uncomfortable months of delayed thinking and growth, known as system-two thinking. Usually, most individuals function in system-one thinking throughout their professional career. Yet as humans, we focus on the months we linger in system-two thinking. Let’s unpack the what and why.

System-one thinking is automatic and quick. It requires little to no effort, with no sense of voluntary control. If you're a nursing student (one who is close to graduation) for example, you probably know the ADPIE acronym pretty well. You probably also know your way around a care plan or two. These thought processes have been done over and over again in your mind. You’ve submitted many assignments on these subjects. And at some point, it all becomes second nature to you because of your extensive exposure to the subject matter. Time has perfected your efforts, minimized execution delays and fine-tuned your decision-making skills. When given a NANDA, you are able to dissect pertinent information and determine which nursing interventions are necessary. As lifelong learners, we love this aspect of the learning processes. We love system-one! In these moments, you answer your own questions and know exactly what to do. Oh, it’s the best. But before we arrive at the system-one process, system-two is the introductory level of learning.

System-two thinking is a long, mentally arduous process that requires immense concentration. It’s a much slower process than system-one thinking. In this system, being focused and uninterrupted in information procurement on a particular topic is crucial. Remember when you took your first nursing fundamentals course? Or when you had to perform your first head-to-toe assessment? Remember how difficult things were in the beginning? That is system-two thinking. Everything takes forever and day to grasp. You sit there reading and re-reading the same concepts. This is the learning phase that stresses us out of the most. Please understand everyone has been there, no matter the role or the potential of the individual. New information takes time to digest, examine, and analyze. System-two information matures with time, transitioning itself into system-one content eventaully. You will not be able to rush this transition and attempting to do so will only cause you undue stress.

I get many messages from new nurses who struggle living in system-two for an extended period of time. We have all been there, and you will be there for a bit. Everyone begins there, and the transition is dependent on each individual. But understand, growth will occur. You will have to acclimate yourself to system-two and realize you are merely learning. You aren’t expected to have all the answers, or else you wouldn’t need to be trained in the first place. System-two thinking requires complex-thinking initially and will require constant reinforcement of foundations. It’s not about intelligence, it’s about repetition and experience. You will get there, don’t rush this journey. I tell graduate nurses who are nervous they are still in system-two thinking the following, “You will miss key concepts, it’s expected. You are not an anchor, you are not a burden. You are learning, system-one thinking will come with time. Fear is expected, this is a new journey for you. Don’t allow fear to overwhelm you. Understand your position in the learning process and accept your limitations. Limitations are natural and necessary for growth.” With all that said, take a deep breath. Understand where you are in your learning process and keep being awesome. You are on a journey, we all start here. Do not let system-two thinking discourage you. What you don’t know now, you will be rambling off like an expert in about 6 months.

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