Imagine it’s 6pm and you arrive at the supermarket to shop for the birthday dinner you forgot you were hosting that night. Ahead of you is the challenge of buying all the items that you need, within 15 minutes, to get home in time to cook.
In your mind, you imagine a route through the supermarket, taking in the aisles you know the goods on your mental list are in; you plan ending up at the ‘basket only’ checkout at the far end of the store so you can pay quickly.
As you set off, you search for the colours of the more expensive brand packaging you want, focusing your attention away from the supermarket-own brand you normally search for. You scan the shelves, ignoring your normal items and the announcements of the supermarket Tanoy to recall the items for the Chicken Chasseur recipe you downloaded as you left home. The meat aisle is blocked by a group of confused tourists so you reroute in your mind, planning to come back round having got the vegetables in two minutes time.
The recipe uses Fennel, which you don’t normally buy, and you weigh up in your mind if it would be quicker to search the aisle signs or ask an assistant for help. Wasting valuable minutes searching alone, you spot a bored teenage shelf stacker. Reading his cold indifference to your plight, you pull out your most appealing manner to express your needs, and dutifully follow him to the Fennel. You hold in your frustration at his slow dawdle judging that, in this instance, the tortoise is better than the frantic hare approach.
One by one, your mental recipe list is ticked off and you make for the tills; on the basket only till is a girl chatting volubly to a customer and checking items at a snail’s pace, whilst the self-checkout queue is also long. You plump for the basket-only queue only to see the self-checkouts moving faster, but it’s too late to swap now.
Once the girl gets to you, you use your warm but formal manner to cut off any chance of unnecessary chat starting up, glancing at your watch to signal your rush. With your goods bagged, you stride home with a little under two hours to cook and clean up before your guests arrive.
Could you imagine that scenario in your mind?
If you could, then you were using your steering cognition to do so. Your steering cognition is your capacity to direct your sense of self in the world, using your imagination to direct your attention and regulate your responses.