How to tame your emotions and make better decisions

Source: Nathaniel Flowers/Unsplash/00nathanie00

emotions and choices

Source: Nathaniel Flowers/Unsplash/00nathanie00

emotions and choices

Have you noticed that you’re probably not thinking your best when you’re really upset? As I watched the Will Smith “slap in the face” incident at the Oscars last year, I thought about how a simple comment from another person can trigger very different behavior in us.

Similarly, when we experience fear, physical or psychological, we tend to focus less on long-term results. While this is natural, many people live in this kind of chronic, stress-induced, narrow-lens decision-making. It makes a lot of sense if you’re running away from a traumatic or dangerous situation, but don’t make this your habit! Repeatedly making these types of choice patterns creates chronic decision fatigue, as well as other problems.

The other day, I was trying to commute to work to give a presentation at a conference. I considered normal traffic and I wasn’t even late. But, during my short two-mile drive, I encountered just about every form of detour, construction, accident, and delay. Two miles took almost 45 minutes of driving! Worse yet, I thought I could outsmart my map app and kept looking for shortcuts, all of which ended with detours and construction. No matter what choice I made, it just kept getting worse. I allowed all that stress to alter my mood.

Most of us would agree that anger and fear destroy our decision making.1 But we are a little less sure about how other emotions (including joy, sadness, and indifference) can affect our decision-making and quality.

Our Rationality

An important theoretical model of the functioning of the human brain is that we rationally assess what we want to achieve and work on the best path to get there. Of course, we all know that this is not reality at all. Emotions affect the internal circuitry of our brain and alter patterns and rational thought. While disruption can be good (such as breaking negative habits), it can also be quite destructive.

Unless we stop to think about it, we are not aware of the importance that our mood and emotions have in our daily choices. Especially those that involve our precious resources, such as time or money. But, if you remember some of the big decisions you’ve made over the years, a specific emotion will be attached to it. Whether he was sad, elated, angry, jealous, or anxious, some emotion probably helped him quit that job. There was probably some emotion involved when he was trading in that expensive car or when he decided to open his own business.

While I would love to think that we have perfectly rational minds, a mind that ponders whether we need something, what the best alternatives are, endlessly researches the pros and cons, and then analyzes and chooses the best, it just isn’t. Well, at least most of us don’t. Some people think so, but it is not the norm.

emotional alignment

Our emotions vary from very positive to very negative. Sometimes our emotions (moods, feelings, disposition) can help us immensely. They help us get excited about and take advantage of a new job, opportunity, or partner. Other times, they can destroy us: falling for scams, paying too much, buying a warranty we didn’t need, or simply not understanding what we’re committing to.

As in everything, the key is balance. Healthy people seek balance, alignment, or congruence between our emotions and our analytical patterns. Use your emotions to your advantage and activate your analytical mind to confirm things. This can be difficult.

Identification of emotions and self-awareness

Start by identifying how you feel about something. Ask yourself, why do I feel this way? What makes me feel this way? Make a regular practice of reviewing or evaluating how emotions impact your results every day. Get regular by controlling your feelings. Review your choices each night and consider making the appropriate changes for tomorrow if a similar situation arises. Journals are very useful for creating long-term memories and help us learn.

If you can build self-awareness, you’re in a much better place to know when not to make a decision. If you find yourself extremely emotional, try practicing decision abstinence: refrain from making major life decisions.

Modulation and Enhancement

Once you identify how and why you feel a certain way and the impact you observe, work to improve your physiological responses to emotions and practice deep breathing to get more oxygen flowing to your brain whenever you notice strong positive or negative emotions. Practice mindful observation and listen to your thoughts. This can help us tune in to our thoughts and feelings. Work on self-modulation and regulation of your emotions, and try to gain insight by observing yourself regularly. When you do this, you keep yourself in a continuous improvement mode.

Remember, you are in control! Tame your emotions to improve your decisions.

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