Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Learning to Walk…and Think…Again

Written by: on February 29, 2024

During college I suffered a torn ACL that later required surgery. Because I was a part of the football team, my trainer was responsible for my rehab. He was a bit of a no-nonsense guy, a perfect trainer for a college football athlete. After the initial surgery, there is a period of rest to allow for swelling to dissipate before rehab begins. During that time, I had learned how to walk around gently on my recovering leg to be able to do everyday activities. I had gotten pretty good at moving around. When the day came to begin my rehab, the trainer asked me to stand up and walk in place. So, I stood up and began walking in place and he burst out laughing.

“What are you laughing at?” I asked him.

“You! You look ridiculous.” He responded in between laughs.

The strange thing is that I didn’t feel ridiculous. In fact, I felt like I was walking normally. It wasn’t until he turned me around and made me walk in place in front of the mirror that I saw just how ridiculous I really did look.

Kahneman’s book on Thinking, Fast and Slow observes the important role that two systems play in our ability to think and observe the world around us.

System 1 is your automatic brain that helps you think fast, make quick judgments and decisions. However, it can also give you impressions and information that is biased.

System 2 is your effortful thinking that helps you do complex math and think slow. However, one of its main characteristics is laziness and has a reluctance to invest more effort than is strictly necessary.

System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification. This is where biases and error can occur.

Kahneman suggests that, “the best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high. The premise of this book is that it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.” (28)

In my need to walk around my house post-surgery, I had developed a significantly ‘biased’ way of walking that felt completely normal to me, but that looked ridiculous to everyone else. I needed someone to criticize me and show me in a mirror just how “biased” my walking was so that I could learn to walk properly again.

Kahneman’s book has shown me the desperate need each of us have for a trusting community of mirror-holders who will lovingly, and but critically, help us see the errors or bias in our thinking.

It also reminds me of the importance of food and rest.

In a study done of parole judges in Israel (pg. 44), it was discovered that the judges were less likely to grant parole when they were hungrier, then when they just had a meal. This research, as well as others, shows the importance of nutrition and healthy eating to fuel a properly functioning brain. Am I aware of the food that is fueling my body? Is it making me a better thinker? “People who are cognitively busy are more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language and make superficial judgments in social situations.”(41) This is neurological in many ways. Baumeister’s group discovered that “when you are actively involved in difficult cognitive reasoning or engaged in a task that requires self-control, your blood glucose level drops.” (43) In fact, I’m posting this blog past my lunch time and realizing as I’m writing and editing that my desire to put together a meaningful and effective post is dropping because of my hunger. I need to eat something 🙂

Also, while much of what I do is think for a living as a pastor, teacher and parent, am I taking the time to engage in restorative practices that support rest and critical thinking?

Am I taking time to check my work? Evaluation and reflection with the presence of the Holy Spirit (the prayer of examen as a daily discipline, for example) and from others that know me, are differentiated and can critique me, is in my best interest if I want to grow and mature. How do we cultivate this?

Kahneman also helped me to think about when and where I do my best thinking. For me, I’ve realized that I do some of my best thinking when I’m walking outside. There is something about movement that seems to activity my System 2 thinking, some about being outside that helps. My co-workers call it, “going outside to look at trees” but it’s where I’ve done my most creative thinking.

One of Kahneman’s most critical conclusions is that no one can completely overcome their biases. We need communities and organizations that we trust, who will critique us and slow us down, so that we make better decisions in important situations.

Kahneman’s book has left me with more questions than answers for my own life and leadership.

What about for you? When and where do you do your best thinking? Why might that be? Who do you have in your life than can be a mirror to help you see your bias or thinking error? Will you believe them when they do?


About the Author


Ryan Thorson

Follower of Jesus. Husband. Father. Pastor. Coach. I am passionate about helping people discover the gift of Sabbath and slow down spirituality in the context of our busy world.

10 responses to “Learning to Walk…and Think…Again”

  1. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Ryan, I enjoyed reading your post! I hope your recovery was short.
    How can communities and organizations help individuals recognize and overcome biases, according to Kahneman’s conclusions?
    I am a night owl – my best thinking is at night. I have a roll out table at my bedside, my second-best place. Beach is my best place.

  2. Daren Jaime says:

    Hey Ryan! I can see how you look after that ACL. I had a nasty ankle infection a few years ago that kept me down for 8 months, and I looked crazy amid my recovery, too. So I have a T-shirt! I read the part about the judges as well and said those parolees who were seen in the morning needed extra intercessory prayer. Looking at nutrition as a part of the decision-making makeup, with all that you have staring you in the face, how would you describe your work/life/nutrition balance?

  3. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Ryan! I once did a chronotype assessment and found that I work best from 7 – 10 am and then go downhill from there, haha. I have also found that some of my best thinking happens when I am in a confined environment and freed from household distractions (like on an airplane, in the library, etc).

    To your point about needing people around us to point out our error: how do you do that as a lead pastor? I imagine it requires an environment where people feel freedom to be honest with a superior. How have you created that environment when you are the top leader?

  4. Debbie Owen says:

    “What about for you? When and where do you do your best thinking? Why might that be? Who do you have in your life than can be a mirror to help you see your bias or thinking error? Will you believe them when they do?”

    I seem to wake up full of ideas. I’m my most creative first thing in the morning, especially when I go for my morning walk. However, I’ve also found that’s when I am my most negative, repeating useless stories that make me feel bad about myself or others. Now that I recognize this mental habit, I try to catch myself. Good question. 🙂

    Another question for you Ryan. What about what you’ve learned from Kahneman’s book will you take into your work as a pastor?

  5. mm Chris Blackman says:

    I am thinking Sabbath rest should also play into your post and thoughts on food and rest. Now, if we only knew someone who knew something about Sabbath…
    The way you described learning to walk properly again after surgery reminds me of times when I’ve been blind to my own mistakes until someone else pointed them out. Having people around who can give us honest feedback is super important. How do you think we can encourage this kind of honest feedback in our everyday lives? And the next question is, will you listen to what is being said to you? I am certainly guilty of not listening – sadly, Nancy can attest to that 🙁

  6. Graham English says:

    Ryan, thanks for your post. Great reflections. The role of the community is vital in engaging System 2. I have often found that leaders don’t love to be questioned, yet questions are crucial in critical thinking. How do you seek to cultivate critical thinking in the community you pastor?

  7. Julie O'Hara says:

    thanks for your post. I also like to walk outside, but when I do, I need to resist the temptation to be ‘cognitively busy’ even in that setting. There is always another podcast I ‘should’ listen to, a call to make, etc. One of the most important takeaways for me this week is how desperately I need to make more space in my brain. I have become far too reliant on System 1 and it is starting to show. Thanks for reminding of this important insight.

  8. Chad Warren says:

    Ryan, I appreciate how you brought attention to the discussion of hunger. This was not something that stuck out to me, and I am glad to revisit the idea. I am curious what is the most prominent question that lingers on Kahneman’s work?

  9. Elysse Burns says:

    Hi Ryan, thank you for your post. Last year around this time, I had the unfortunate experience of breaking my foot. Like you, I looked a little funny when relearning how to walk. However, that event did stop me in my tracks and caused me to think about some life-habits that were unhealthy.

    I do my best thinking at the dining room table. The chairs are comfortable and I like the aesthetics. It’s one of the most unique places in my house. As for someone who keeps me in check, my colleague Kari is that person in Mauritania. I trust her insight because she has a very strong relationship with the Lord and great self-awareness. I know she desires the same for me.

    Your post brings Proverbs 11:14 to mind, “but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Thank you for the reminder of that accountability factor.

  10. Akwése Nkemontoh says:

    Ryan, I absolutely LOVE this post! So much of it resonates with me and affirms things I know and experience. Your statement that “We need communities and organizations that we trust, who will critique us and slow us down, so that we make better decisions in important situations,” highlights a theme Ive been sitting with for some time. What have you found are vital to creating these types of communities, not just for yourelf, but for others?

    Also thank you for your questions. I’ve actually been thining about these alot lately as well since I know my decisons are much better when I have a set sleep routine, start and end with devotions, do daily movement, regularly fast and eat whole foods. Sadly I’ve not been in a good rhythm and the people around me can see it. If Im being honest this is why I’ve been isolating myself a bit, but to your point about needing mirrors for our growth, this does me no good so I’m currently working on upgrading my stress management techniques and asking for help.

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