Mind Over Mood: 3 Paths to Better Decisions

“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 an Uncertain World: The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making (SAGE Publications, 2009)

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 tend to 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. 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

Next week, I will go into greater detail about how you can increase your awareness in each of these areas. In the meantime, you might want to think about the last big decision you made in your work or home life and how you made it—even if you think it was entirely numbers-driven, it probably wasn’t.

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