When faced with big decisions, some prefer to make a detailed list of pros and cons, while others check in with their feelings and prefer making emotional decisions. But there’s another aspect we fail to consider: how we process what we know. Decision-making is conventionally believed to be a logic-driven process. However, emotions drive most decisions. Learn how emotions can be an asset in decision-making and how to do it right. (Estimated reading time: 11 minutes)
“Balanced emotions are crucial to intuitive decision making.”— Michael Eisner
“Should I go with my head or my heart?”
Have you ever faced this dilemma?
The question could be as simple as “What would I like to eat for lunch?” or “What outfit should I wear to a party?” The stakes are low, and the outcomes are relatively benign.
But it’s a whole different story when you’re considering bigger, more life-changing decisions like, “Should I invest in my business idea?” or “Is this the person I would like to spend the rest of my life with?” What we choose can change the trajectory of our lives.
When faced with big decisions, some prefer to make a detailed list of pros and cons, while others go with their guts based on their knowledge and insight.
But there’s another aspect that people fail to consider: how we process what we know using our thoughts and feelings, and the correct ratio of each when choosing.
The mechanism for making emotional decisions is not clear-cut. There are many facets to consider, both internal and external. And yet, we are not trained to handle the nuanced and multifaceted nature of decision-making.
Instead, we’re told to pick either mind or heart. Rational mind-focused decision-makers caution us about the perils of getting carried away with our emotions. The heart-centered folks tell us that relying on logic alone makes us cold, unfeeling, and ultimately dissatisfied.
As someone who used to give more weight to feelings when making emotional decisions, I can tell you it was not a good strategy. This lopsided approach made me overlook crucial factors and ignore red flags because my intense feelings fogged my mind.
Perhaps you’ve experienced the same in your own life and regret allowing your feelings to run the show. But, over time, I’ve realized that emotions should not be blamed. They can be an asset when we know when and how to factor them into our thought processes.
Making emotional decisions is an art we can all master, provided we’re willing to do the inner work to strengthen our decision-making muscles and appreciate the yin and yang nature of our thoughts and emotions.
Logic vs. emotion: how we make decisions
Decision-making is conventionally believed to be a logic-driven process. But, although logic and emotion are intertwined, most decisions are driven by emotions.
We like to think that we are logical and carefully consider all our alternatives when making decisions. When buying a new home, most people consider the location, size, personal needs, and financial situation , choosing the most suitable and economical option.
This is a logical way to make a decision. We make many decisions in this rational way, and yet, there are several daily decisions we don’t put as much thought into.
Research shows that most decisions are made unconsciously and tap into our emotions.
This is efficient because it preserves energy and prevents us from experiencing decision fatigue. We have limited mental bandwidth and can’t possibly think through every choice we face and process all the data. Many decisions require little effort, as we’re accustomed to doing them, like choosing what to order at our favorite restaurants.
Even when we think we’re making a logical, conscious decision, chances are that we’ve already decided what we want on an unconscious level, unaware that we have looked at the situation in the backstage of our minds. In fact, researchers can predict what people will choose a few seconds before they decide by observing their brain activity.
Should our predominantly subconscious decision-making set alarm bells ringing? Not necessarily. But, it should encourage us to build awareness and adapt. Trusting your gut isn’t irrational, bad, or faulty – it’s a double-edged sword that works in our favor when we use it well.
A history of emotions
Discussions about emotions were ubiquitous and varied in history. The study of emotions created links to other areas of life, like art, medicine, literature, and several practical matters.
Confucius stated that feelings are essential to self-cultivation and virtue, and give credence to the moral mind. Aristotle had a similar view, saying that emotions play a fundamental role in ethics and are essential to moral reasoning.
However, several philosophers were skeptical of the efficacy and validity of feelings. Others took a middle ground, Stoicism being the most prominent and popular.
Stoicism is a 2000-year-old philosophy that centers on accepting what can and can’t be controlled, and, instead, focusing our energies on what we can influence. It was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BCE.
Marcus Aurelius, one of the most prominent and celebrated Stoic philosophers, said, “You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Traditionally, Stoics taught that if emotions aren’t tempered, it can result in errors in judgment. They prescribed the development of grit and self-control for overcoming destructive emotions so we can become clear and unbiased thinkers, capable of sound reasoning.
The Stoics did not invalidate emotions, but encouraged people through inner calm, reflection, and self-discipline. Nassim Taleb said, “Stoicism is about the domestication of emotions, not their elimination.” If we can remain stable and rooted in our beings, we can deal with the ups and downs of life. No storm can uproot us, and no win can overinflate us.
The word Stoics used to describe this state of being was “apatheia” — a kind of serenity devoid of frenzy, irrationality, and free of clutter. In this state, you are in control, not your emotions.
When emotional decision-making works and when it doesn’t
Many of us worry about relying too much on our feelings and making emotional decisions. We’re worried about being impulsive, reckless, and moving too quickly. These reactions are commonly associated with making emotional decisions.
Despite knowing that hasty decisions seldom lead to desired outcomes, why do we still do it? Many of us don’t like to sit with the anxiety and discomfort that difficult choices bring up. We prefer to get it over with, which often makes us feel worse.
While emotions can get in the way of sound judgment, as the Stoics pointed out, the key is to make decisions based on emotional intelligence, not raw emotions.
This anxiety is called an “incidental” emotion, an emotion caused by our environments, which may or may not be related to our current situations. Based on a Yale University’s Centre for Emotional Intelligence study, incidental emotions can be managed when we improve our emotional understanding.
Both logic and emotion help us make good decisions if we understand their origins and how they impact our thinking and behavior. When emotional intelligence informs our choices, we can manage our responses and achieve better outcomes.
It also helps us become more aware of other people’s feelings which are vital if they play a crucial role in our decisions. For instance, if you would like to switch careers and need your partner to support you financially as you make that transition, you must understand how it would make them feel so that you can reach an agreement that works for you both.
Emotions vs. intuition: what’s the difference in decision-making?
Following our intuition or “gut instinct” has become a popular catchphrase. But how do our intuitive hunches differ from the visceral responses that produce emotions?
Intuition differs from feeling because it comes from a different source. New Age belief purports that intuitive senses are guided by a deeper force connected to a higher realm of consciousness. When we tune into its wisdom and remain detached from specific outcomes, we experience a deep sense of knowing – a feeling of certainty that might not seem rational and logical.
Practically, intuition is a manifestation of many years of learning and experience. Successful entrepreneurs and experts can rely on their intuition because of all the accumulated knowledge they’ve gained.
On the other hand, emotions come from a group of interconnected structures called the limbic system located deep within our brains. This region of the brain is responsible for emotional and behavioral responses.
Emotions serve a distinct role in our survival. They prompt us to strike, avoid danger, make decisions, and understand and connect with others.
When we feel emotions, we feel them higher up in our bodies, like the upper area of the heart and the throat. It’s the butterflies in your tummy when anticipating something exciting. Intuition, on the other hand, is a full-body sensation. It’s the calmness you feel when you step into a new environment that tells you it’s for you.
Intuition and emotion play an essential role in decision-making; knowing how to distinguish between the two within our interior world will make the process smoother.
How to make emotional decisions the right way
Despite common belief, emotion can be an asset in decision-making if we know how to process the information it provides. Here are some tips that can help you achieve this:
1. Create distance from your emotions
When emotions stir, you can feel it in your body and mind. When you feel this, hit pause and examine what’s happening within you. Try to separate your feelings from the decisions that need to be made.
Are your feelings helping or hindering you? You must remove the charge before moving forward if it’s the latter.
2. Process and balance your emotions
If you feel overwhelmed, you must engage in practices to bring balance. This can range from meditation, exercise, deep breathing, EFT, speaking with someone you trust, journaling, music, or bodywork. Keep checking in with yourself to measure your progress; when you feel a sense of equilibrium, you’ll be in a better place to decide.
3. Engage your logical side
Once you’ve taken care of your feelings, you can tap into your rational mind and let it do its thing. Here are some tools and frameworks you can use:
- Get clear on your goals and objectives: Before starting an evaluation, get clear on what you want to achieve. What outcome would you like to see by the end of the decision-making process?
- Create a list of pros and cons: This may be old-school, but it still works. Creating a list of pros and cons is instrumental in understanding the barebones of the matter and separating feelings from the situation.
- Notice any biases or heuristics: Several biases may sway us in an unfavorable direction. To get familiar with yours, learn more about the different types of heuristics and speak to someone objective about your situation. They can help you highlight any holes in your logic.
- Evaluate the facts: Look at the hard facts and assess all aspects before deciding. Rational analysis can only happen when we’re out of a heightened emotional state.
- Examine your options: Look at the potential options available. Envision what it would be like to go through with each one. You could do this alone or with the help of those with experience and insight.
- Look at the obstacles and challenges: What are the things that could get in the way of success? Based on that, you need contingency plans to handle them in case they hinder your progress.
- Take action and reiterate: You’ll never know what will happen until you see how the world responds. Based on that, you can decide whether to stick with a plan or to pivot and engage your contingency.
4. Integrate emotions with reason
After evaluating your decisions, it’s time to bring your heart into the situation. Remember, your aim Is not to get rid of emotions but to develop a higher awareness so that you can see their impact. Asking open-ended questions without judging yourself is one of the best ways to do this.
Ask yourself, “How am I feeling about what’s ahead of me?” “What kind of emotions do I want to experience as a result?” and “Which options will make it easier to experience those desired emotional states?”
It’s also equally important to get in touch with any negative emotions that could get in the way, like fear, low self-confidence, and concern about failure. Coming to terms with these unpleasant feelings can prevent us from self-sabotaging and underperforming.
5. Don’t rush the process
In an age of AI, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are not robots and often need time to make effective decisions. Like brainstorming, there is divergence, followed by convergence. We can express our emotions, but then we need time to reflect on them.
Allow your cognitive side to weigh in without completely taking over. Avoid making decisions too quickly and stay in the present moment as much as possible. Make space for your head and heart to connect when awake and grounded. Remind yourself that investing the time will prevent you from making mistakes you regret later.
Human beings are, first and foremost, emotional creatures. We are motivated and driven by how we feel. Tuning in and paying attention to our emotions is intrinsic to our natures. Without that information, we can never be fully satisfied with what we choose because our feelings hold the keys to our happiness and freedom.
All my best on your journey,
Questions for you: How do you make emotional decisions in your life? What are techniques that you use to make sure you balance it with logic and intuition?
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