What I can’t stop thinking about – The Undoing Project


I read a wonderful book last week, one of those rare books that you are completely excited about and that actually lives up to your expectations: The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. In the reliably engaging and entertaining style of Lewis, he told the story behind the creative collaboration of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversy that changed the world of economics and psychology.

Now, let me say that there are only 3 books (so far) in my life that I think are important enough that I wish everyone would read them and Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow is one of them. I was very excited to learn that Lewis had written a book about him and the subject of behavioral economics. I knew that Kahneman and Tversky had worked together for many years but I really didn’t know that much about their collaboration. I’m really glad for having learned more about Tversky and Kahneman as people and how the two of them together became such an intellectual force. Read the book, please. If Thinking, Fast and Slow is too technical or boring for you, you might get interested in the topic of decision making by reading this book instead, especially since it’s people-centered instead of idea-centered. And come on, Michael Lewis could write about carpet and I would read it.

But what I really want to talk about today is just one tiny aspect of the book that I have been thinking about since I read it. And of course it’s about the Enneagram. I really got the feeling through the book that Tversky was an 8 and Kahneman was a 4. I could see it both in how their relationship was described and how their individual personalities were described. Kahneman was described as introverted, easily hurt, prone to depression, with only a very few close relationships, very creative, and not the type to prepare (he gave his lectures as a professor off the cuff without notes). Tversky was brash, loud, extraverted, opinionated, and marched to the beat of his own drummer. He was motivated by revenge and a desire to prove himself. He was also well-loved by everyone, except his intellectual enemies.

Being a 4 myself, I was struck by something Kahneman said about fantasy and daydreaming that really sounded 4-ish to me. He mentioned that fantasizing and daydreaming about things could be just as satisfying to him as actually doing those things. Because of this, he learned early on to never allow himself to fantasize about things that could actually happen, because otherwise he might not feel any motivation to achieve them. I can’t help but be struck with the incredible value of that idea as a path of growth for a Type 4.

Type 4s, myself included, spend loads of time in the world of fantasy and daydream. We have a tendency to magnify the intensity of emotional experience and this occurs mostly in our heads as we imagine things that might happen or things that have already happened that made us upset. I’ve noticed this in myself first thing in the morning. If I do not get up right when my alarm goes off, I start daydreaming and thinking about stuff as I lie there in bed and it inevitably turns negative, which means I’m starting the day feeling badly about someone else or myself. Kahneman’s daydreaming rule has been popping into my head at these moments and helping me not only increase my conscious awareness of when I do this but also reminding me that thinking is not a substitute for doing and you can’t always believe what you think and feel.

It’s obviously not just Type 4s that could stand to adopt the rule to never daydream about stuff that could actually happen. Kahneman might not be a 4 and it doesn’t matter. It’s still a great piece of advice from an amazing man who continues to influence my life for the better.