By Tara Rae Bradford
Here are 5 steps you should go through before making any important decisions so you can avoid regretting your decision later and you can try to avoid learning things ‘the hard way’.
Antonio Damasio is seen here during his TEDtalk on The Quest to Understand Consciousness(Photo Credit: TED)
As much as you would like to believe you are a very logical person and you do what is best for your business based on facts and data, your emotions also play an important role in decision making even if you think you are not an emotional person.
In his book Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio discusses one of his most well-known cases: a successful businessman, loving father, and husband whose life fell apart after he underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor. The surgery did not affect his IQ, but it did affect the part of his brain that controls emotions. After his surgery he struggled to make decisions, and as a result lost everything.
Damasio’s groundbreaking research proves that emotions are very closely tied to thought and reasoning, especially when our decisions involve social or personal matters.
As a society when we describe someone as “emotional” it is often a criticism of an individual’s judgment, when in fact we need our emotions as guides to help us make the right decisions for us. This societal belief about emotions has made us perceive them as a bad thing and has created a culture where we ignore negative feelings, sweep them under the rug, and feel ashamed if we have to go to therapy to help us get through a rough patch. That shame and embarrassment is holding us back from using our emotions (both the good and the bad) to consciously guide our decision making process.
Here are the steps I walk my clients through when they are faced with an important (and oftentimes life-changing) decision:
This is perhaps the most difficult one for the successful, ambitious, high-profile individual who thrives on crossing things off a to-do list and making things happen. It can feel even more uncomfortable than the emotion itself, but by the time they get to the point where they are ready to make a decision and react to the trigger, they are always glad they waited because their decision often changes as they go through the next steps.
2. Notice the emotion.
Once you get over the discomfort of feeling impatient and uneasy, lean in to the emotion. Notice what it feels like and where in your body you are feeling it. You know that saying, “trust your gut”? This is what it is referring to. Usually a gut feeling is a warning that you are supposed to stop and maybe not go through with the decision you are about to make.
Remember a time where you may have felt this feeling before. We store memories in our mind so we can access them when we are faced with similar situations in the future. If you have felt this before, it might remind you of a situation where you may or may not have made the right decision in the past.
If you haven’t felt this before then it may be triggering the part of your brain that is signaling something dangerous is happening and you may feel like you need to fight (or get angry) and run away (or reject the idea).
3. Collect more information.
Now that you have identified the emotion, tried to process what it is trying to tell you, and paused to reassure your mind that you are not in immediate danger, you can breathe. Think about the possible outcomes of this situation. It can be helpful to write them down.
If you are deciding between two options, write down the pros and cons of each of them. Then ask yourself what specifically you are hoping to achieve with each possible decision. Looking at the options, determine whether or not either or both of those decisions could get you to that specific outcome.
If you need help coming up with the possible options here, it can be helpful to confide in someone who has either been through what you are going through in the past and ask them how they resolved it, or to confide in a trusted confidante who can help you remove bias from the situation.
4. Acknowledge your belief system.
Whether you know it or not, your emotions are reflecting your internal belief system to you. When something makes you feel uneasy it is because there is a part of you that is in conflict with that decision. It can be helpful to ask yourself, “For what purpose do I want to make this decision?” to check in and see if your decision is aligned with your beliefs.
5. Weigh your options.
Take all of the information you have collected both rationally and emotionally to evaluate your options. Sometimes assigning a value to each of the pros on your list in number 3 can also help you quantify your decision if you still do not know which is the appropriate decision for you.