Okay, listen up guys. I don’t say this often but here goes…
I was wrong.
Well, maybe not completely wrong. But a little wrong.
You see, I’ve written a lot in the past about why letting emotions guide you in the decision-making process is a dangerous thing. I, like the rest of the world, have been trained to believe that emotional decisions almost always lead to disaster.
“Calm down,” people say. “Don’t make a decision while you’re feeling emotional.”
Logic, we’re told, is the key to rational decision-making. Use your head, not your heart.
Only, the problem is, that’s not entirely true. Emotions aren’t just there to distract us. They have a purpose, and a rather important one at that.
Ignoring your emotions or simply “setting them aside” while you intellectually evaluate a problem means you could be missing a critical message from your subconscious brain.
I’m currently listening to an audiobook called “How We Decide,” by Jonah Lehrer. In it, he talks about the psychological pathways that lead us to make good (or bad) decisions.
Emotions, he says, can be a great source of intuition. Sometimes, your brain is able to connect the dots of the information it receives in a way that is so subtle it’s actually not even understandable by the conscious brain. The brain can see patterns we aren’t even aware of. Often, this information is translated into a “feeling.”
Let’s say you’ve just received an offer for a new job and you have a gut feeling that it’s not the right thing for you. When you set aside the emotion and just look at the facts, you see no reason to decline the offer. After all, it pays well, it’s close to home, it has all the elements you said you were looking for. And yet, something just feels off.
That feeling could be your body’s way of telling you there’s a problem. Perhaps your subconscious brain has picked up on signals you missed. Maybe it sensed patterns that matched dissatisfying past job experiences.
On paper, everything might look perfect. But, just because you can’t see it or understand it or explain it, doesn’t mean your brain isn’t picking up on real evidence that this is the wrong fit.
Feelings can be red flags telling you to sit up and pay attention. Don’t discredit them just because they aren’t supported by the kind of “logic” you’re familiar with. The brain is a powerful thing. And feelings ultimately come from the brain.
Now, I’m not saying that you can set aside facts and solely rely on your gut. That’s just silly. But I do believe that emotions can and should play a role in decision-making. And that’s where I’ve been wrong. I’ve long advocated that rational, unemotional, intellectual evaluation is the best path to making a good decision. The evidence in “How We Decide” proves that isn’t always the case.
Photo Credit: Blizz (Flickr)
A few weeks ago, I hosted a free teleseminar with my good friend Sydni Craig-Hart (of Executive Assistant to Virtual Assistant) and she was kind enough to record it. For your listening pleasure, I’ve loaded it in here. Please take some time out of your busy day to sit back, relax and learn all about how to manage stress and emotions in the workplace. Remember, we’re coming up to the holiday season. Stress is coming, whether you like it or not!
This session IS NOT full of those generic stress management tips you’ve heard before. It’s got real, tangible tools to help you get stress under control right now.
Dedicate just an hour of your time and you will:
- Identify the ways in which you are experiencing stress emotionally, mentally and physically.
- Identify the circumstances that cause these emotional reactions.
- Learn techniques to improve your awareness of these issues and prevent them from creating unintended obstacles in the workplace.
- Learn fun and easy techniques for managing and minimizing all types of stress.
Ready to get help? Good.
Click the link below and listen now:
Additional Resources: Life Less Frazzled: An Interactive Guide to Beat Stress Before It Beats You
Photo Credit: Roadside Pictures (Flickr)
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a big fan of podcasts. Radio Lab (produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR) is one of my current favorites. A recent episode on the topic of “choice” discussed a fascinating scientific research study that had unexpected results and significant implications. Here’s a summary:
Two people are given two different sets of numbers to remember. One person gets two numbers, while the other gets seven. After being told their number sets, the two individuals are asked to walk down a hall and go to another room where they’ll be asked to recite their numbers. While walking down the hall, they’re approached (in a seemingly unplanned fashion) by a kind staff member who says that, as a special thank you for participating in the study, they can have one of two special snacks. The first snack is a big, gooey slice of chocolate cake. The second is a small, healthy bowl of fruit salad. They were asked to make a choice between the two.
Oddly, the people trying to remember two numbers almost always picked the fruit salad while people remembering seven almost always chose the cake. Coincidence? Nope.
Yes…But What Does It MEAN?
The researchers concluded that there are two parts of the brain involved in decision-making: the “rational” brain and the “emotional” brain. When the rational brain is busy trying to remember something significant (like a string of seven numbers), the emotional brain takes over in the decision-making process and, apparently, an unhealthy slice of chocolate cake is a thoroughly emotional choice. Those remembering just two numbers were more capable of using their rational brains and suppressing their emotional brains; thus, the healthier fruit salad decision was made.
It sounded like a stretch when I first heard it, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. When making decisions, we need our wits about us. When we’re distracted, even by something as simple as remembering a string of numbers, we’re more likely to make decisions that appeal to our emotions. These are the choices that feel comfortable and reassuring. They aren’t necessarily the rational, well thought-out decisions.
Let Your Rational Brain Focus on the Important Things
So, what does this teach us? The simple answer is this: If you want to make smart decisions, use your rational brain. In order to do that, you have to make sure that part of the brain isn’t distracted by something else, like your to-do list or some unresolved conflict.
If you’re trying to make rational decisions and avoid emotional ones, don’t clutter your rational brain with unnecessary fluff. Keep it as empty as possible so it has the energy to focus on the important things. An easy way to do this is to simply write things down and get them out of your head.
When I heard about this experiment, I wondered how it might have gone differently if the individuals had been allowed to write down the string of numbers. The conclusions seem to suggest that this would have led to everyone choosing fruit salad since, having written down the information, the rational brain would have been free to make all the smart decisions in the world.
Sure, it’s not always easy to keep the rational brain focused, but just being aware of this information will likely inspire you to view your decision-making process a little bit differently. Next time you find yourself at a crossroads, ask which brain is in charge. If your rational brain is busy doing something else, grab its attention and get it involved.
Photo Credit: Almoko (Flickr)