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How To Win The Impulse War Inside Your Brain

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Fighting impulses depends on which cognitive mode you're in:

Kosslyn uses this top-brain/bottom-brain model to identify four cognitive modes, or default modes in thinking that we can find in people, depending on how active their top and bottom brain systems are. Those modes are:

  1. Mover: is someone who uses both the top and bottom systems of the brain—enabling them to both plan and see the consequences of their actions.
  2. Perceiver: tends to gravitate toward bottom-brain mode, tending to analyze and give context to a situation.
  3. Stimulator: tends to make elaborate plans, but doesn't always think through consequences of those plans
  4. Adaptor: is someone who doesn't overly gravitate toward either system and tends to go with the flow and let the environment or others dictate a situation.

"You can be in different modes in different contexts," says Kosslyn. "It turns out people have a default mode. All else being equal, people tend to be in one of those four modes."


Kosslyn uses these modes to unpack how we can better approach decision-making. Noticing which of these modes you fall into can help you take the right steps to balance out your own cognitive tendencies.

A Stimulator, or someone who tends to make plans without thinking through the aftermath, for example, might benefit from writing a checklist of consequences when creating a plan or collaborating with someone who tends to be more of a Perceiver. And a Perceiver who might brood on the consequences and resist making decisions, could benefit from creating a schedule of deadlines that forces action to be taken.

Just as a good leader needs a support system in place to run a company smoothly, our cognitive abilities need support to help steer us toward better decision-making, "Think about what is required to do what you need to do in a task," says Kosslyn. "It's about cognitive abilities and what you need to do certain kinds of things."

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