This is a great blog post about footballers and whether they know why they’re good at their jobs.

If you ask Wayne Rooney how he scores goals, he will take you through the split-second decisions which make up a goal, and credit it to visualisation. But from a strictly physical point of view that can’t be what’s happening – the human brain isn’t fast enough to consciously make those calculations.

The piece underlines an important point you should bear in mind when you think about System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 choices are instinctual and rooted in experience, but that doesn’t make them easy. What’s happening when Rooney scores a goal really is sophisticated, it’s just not consciously planned and executed.

Fans prepare to consciously process their decision to cheer or not.

So why does he visualise it so clearly after the fact? Well, we know that memory is constantly being rewritten – remembering something is also altering it. Rooney has no time to consciously process the goal-scoring event, but plenty of time to consciously re-process it, replacing his memory with something more structured. This is also what’s happening when you ask people to talk you through a buying decision.

Here’s another idea, too. Rooney talks in terms of visualisation – which is a technique a lot of successful people swear by. The idea is that you will be more likely to take advantage of opportunities if you visualise them first – rehearse in advance what you’ll do. Rooney is obviously very good at visualisation – he can reconstruct and break down a goal moment very clearly.

Visualisation – much like reconstructing an event for an interviewer or researcher – involves taking a system 1 decision and processing it using system 2: consciously imagining or recalling an event. It creates a convincing account of what happens or might happen.

So maybe what the Rooney example tells us is that the better you are at making particular system 1 decisions, the better you also are at using system 2 to explain them. This would explain why visualisation seems to work – it’s not that visualising something helps you do it, it’s that the more likely you are to do it the more likely you’ll be to visualise it well too.


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