3 Paths to Better Decisions: Mind Over Mood


How do you make decisions? What goes through your mind?

Psychologists, neuroscientists, economists and Buddhism scholars are shedding new light on how we make decisions:

We make the best choices when we acknowledge our emotions.

In Western civilization, we’re taught that the best decisions are based on logic and reason. Businesses favor data analysis — hard numbers — over any subjective input colored by emotions.

Most decisions, however, are heavily influenced by emotions, often without our awareness. The brain is prone to making errors and succumbing to biases, no matter how much data we may have.

“Our decision-making capacities are not simply ‘wired in,’ following some evolutionary design. Choosing wisely is a learned skill, which, like any other skill, can be improved with experience.” ~ Reid Hastie and Robyn M. Dawes, Rational Choice in a Uncertain World: The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making (SAGE Publications, 2009)

It doesn’t matter if we’re determining major corporate strategies or considering minor purchases. Without emotional influences, we’d be incapable of making any decisions.

Dr. Antonio Damasio, a neurologist at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute, confirmed this theory when working with “Elliot,” a brain-damaged patient who was unable to process emotions. While Elliot’s IQ and mental functioning remained intact, his inability to feel emotion rendered him incapable of making any decisions.

If you want to refine your decision-making skills, you must become more aware of your:

  1. Emotions and moods
  2. Physical state
  3. Social systems and group dynamics

The first element to check before making a decision is your feelings. Avoid repressing your emotions, no matter how “right” or “wrong” they appear to be. Instead, become more aware of them—and learn to manage them so you can make smarter choices.

Studies of stock traders reveal that their level of success depends on two factors: self-awareness and the ability to identify emotional biases. Sentient traders make better investments. Studies of other professionals support this finding.

Even if you’re unaware of your underlying emotions, your decisions reflect their inherent influence. Increasing your emotional awareness helps you achieve greater balance and form more reasoned decisions.

In the work I do with clients, we explore the many decisions we make each day. What situations have you been in where your emotions influenced your choices?

Emotions and moods are just one of three key elements to make good decisions. In my next post, I write about how your physical state affects decisions.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences making decisions. Leave a comment.

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