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Strangers to Ourselves by Timothy D. Wilson - 3 Big Ideas

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

Transcription Below


This book is mind-blowing and full of awesome, blown-mind supporting studies.

Quick Intro

This book is 262 pages paperback and eight hours and 36 minutes audible.

It is described on Amazon as follows,

"In an eye-opening tour of the unconscious, as contemporary psychological science has redefined it, Timothy D. Wilson introduces us to a hidden mental world of judgments, feelings, and motives that introspection may never show us. This is not your psychoanalyst's unconscious. The adaptive unconscious that empirical psychology has revealed, and that Wilson describes, is much more than a repository of primative drives and conflict-ridden memories. It is a set of pervasive, sophisticated mental processes that size up our worlds, set goals, and initiate action, all while we are consciously thinking about something else. If we don't know ourselves -- our potentials, feelings, or motives -- it is most often, Wilson tells us, because we have developed a plausible story about ourselves that is out of touch with our adaptive unconscious. Citing evidence that too much introspection can actually do damage, Wilson makes the case for better ways of discovering our unconscious selves. (...)"


So, what are three things we can use from this book?

3 Things You Can Use

1. Self-Psychotherapy

The unconscious is an efficient, multi-faceted pattern detector. It is a comprised of multiple, interconnected modules whereas the conscious is just one entity.

The adaptive unconscious, as Timothy Wilson calls it, develops chronic ways of interpreting information from our environments. These ideas become chronically acceptable and because they are chronically acceptable, the unconscious saves energy by forming habitual thought processes.

i.e. Your unconscious will get used to thinking a certain way, and will become used to firing in a certain pattern and recognizing situations and eliciting similar and consistent responses.

On the other hand, on the conscious side, there are ways in which we describe our lives and who we are - our narratives.

Because of the bias of the conscious, because of external influences such as social and personal expectations and recent experiences, our narratives don't always correlate with our unconscious patterns and habits.

Timothy Wilson cites that the closer our narratives are to our underlying unconscious motives, feelings and patterns, the more at peace we will be and the less our narratives have to do with our unconscious reality, the less at peace we will be.

Timothy Wilson shows you how to form your narrative by cutting out introspection in the popular sense, because of the conscious bias, and suggests to pay more attention to your behavior.

You can pursue this peace of mind either by yourself with a notebook, using only explicit behavior and not too much "introspection," or you can do this with an actual psychotherapist.

As long as you construct a life narrative that is supported by your unconscious patterns and motives.

2. Gut Feelings

Not all animals have a conscious awareness, yet they can still react and respond to dangerous or pleasurable stimuli.

How is that?

Timothy Wilson shows that the unconscious plays a large part in our responses. To explain it he uses an example of someone walking through a forest as seeing a snake shaped stick on the ground. Your quick process pattern detector unconscious winds you up to the idea of a snake, and then your slower conscious processing can decipher that it is only a stick.

Now that's an obvious and simple example of the unconscious taking control. That's easy. But there was another study done where people played a card game. There were four decks of cards, ABC and D. When you drew cards from the A deck or the B deck, you would have big wins and big losses. When you drew from the C and the D decks, you would have smaller wins and losses.

It was set up so that if you consistently chose cards A and B, you would lose.

This is where it gets cool. So after a little while of playing, when peoples' hands would move toward the cards in pile A or B, Skin conductance sensors on their fingers would detect an elevation in arousal. So the unconscious, would perceive the danger after detecting the pattern after so many trials and elicit a slight fear response that influenced physiological arousal.

There have also been other studies that show physiological responses to warn people of an underlying patterns.

Your senses at any moment are taking in over 11 million pieces of information. We can only consciously process 40 of those at a time. So if your unconscious is sending you signals that could potentially guide your behavior, you can feel good about trusting your gut and consoling your conscious with a, "maybe next time..."

3. The Chase

If you had the choice of sitting in an empty room and having every reward that you could every want, but in the downtime you weren't allowed to do anything or only getting the rewards after working toward them for longer periods of time, most people would choose to work for those rewards.

That's the thing. The rewards aren't even that great when you do get them too and the lasting euphoria from such a reward is physiologically limited by different internal processes. Just think of what it would be like to live just two days with that high-hearted feeling of a reward winning the lottery. Not only would it be exhausting, but you also wouldn't be able to think straight and make rational choices. So the body has a way of taking you back to baseline for your own sake.

So there's no such thing as perpetual euphoric happiness. That said, that doesn't mean that you can't live with a fulfilling pursuit of rewards. If you have a fulfilling activity that you do to fight for a reward or to fight for an eventual state of quality of living or rock-climbing ability, then pursuing that reward and engaging in that activity can bring about just as much positivity and pleasure over the course of the pursuit as the final reward itself.

A reward without a chase is an empty reward. The chase is the part that is important. Always be striving and growing and you'll find the real sense of pleasure and fulfillment.


Construct a life narrative that is supported by your unconscious motives by objectively studying your own behavior from situation to situation. Do this alone or with a psychotherapist.

In times of quick thinking, trust your instincts. Your unconscious has access to more information than you do and is an unbiased system designed to keep you out of danger.

Find an activity that keeps you engaged and do it and discover it's facets and pursue the rewards at the end of it's rainbow for a more pleasurable life.

This book was intense. It blew my mind at every chance it got. I loved all of the studies he cited and just this topic overall of the unconscious was just so fascinating. I think Timothy D. Wilson did a really good job explaining things in an understandable way and citing research while still keeping it generic enough for a layperson like me to be able to follow it.

And I don't know if I mentioned it but I loved the studies he cited. I've linked up a video in the description from one of the studies that he cites and I recommend that you check it out if this unconscious psychology stuff interests you. The video is short and is about what happens when you disconnect the two hemispheres of the brain and how you now, without the connection, practically have two different people in your head:


As always, my short little three things show doesn't go into all of the cool stuff and I recommend getting this book if you like psychology or are interested in understanding yourself and your unconscious motives better.

Want to Read it?

Audible Free Trial (get this book for free!)

Strangers to Ourselves (Audible Version)

Strangers to Ourselves (Physical Copy)

(disclosure: ^^^ these links give me a commission -- at no extra cost to you! They just give me a little bump if you decide to use them. Thank you!)


Punching Sounds (in video) by: Mike Koenig

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