Emotional Decisions

By Chris Chittenden

“The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”

… Donald Calne, author of Within Reason

Each one of us makes many choices each day. Most of these choices are very trivial in the context of our lives. What shirt will I wear today? What will I have for breakfast? And so on. However, we often make much more significant decisions as we go through life. We each go through our own unique way of coming to a major decision. Some will exhaustively explore the various options before arriving at a decision. Others will jump right in and decide with little or no evidence on which to base their decision. No matter whether we are talking about the bigger or smaller decisions in life, it is useful to recognise that in the moment of making a decision, it is our emotions that are at the forefront. In other words, we decide to take action because it feels right.

The idea that we make decisions emotionally has been verified through the research into the parts of the brain known as the pre-frontal lobes that are associated with our emotional life. This research shows that people whose pre-frontal lobes are damaged in certain ways not only lose various aspects of their emotional life; they also lose the ability to make even the simplest decisions. They can come up with all of the rational pros and cons on which to make a decision, yet not bring themselves to actually make the decision.

What does this mean for you in life? As we have seen in previous articles, our moods and emotions are a predisposition for action. Hence our emotional space at any point in time will be a predisposition for the quality of the decisions we make. If we want to make more effective decisions, it would pay to make those decisions when our emotions are conducive to making the optimal decision.

Certain emotions predispose us to certain actions. For example, fear can predispose us to varying levels of flight or fight. Anger can predispose us to hurting someone who we may see as being to blame for a certain situation. Making a decision to make a major purchase when you are feeling fearful may not allow you to make the optimal decision. However, running away in the face of imminent physical danger may well be the most appropriate thing to do.

Research has shown that emotional intelligence (EQ) is a better predictor to success in life than rational intelligence (IQ). One of the reasons for this lies in the role our emotions play in making our decisions. The key to making better decisions is to be aware of the impact our emotions may be having on those decisions. This has to stem from self-awareness about our emotions and an ability to manage our emotional space to deal with situations in the best way possible.

More articles on Being Human

© 2005 Chris Chittenden