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How to Make the Right Decision Every Single Time

How to Make the Right Decision Every Single Time

When’s the last time you had an important decision to make? How’d it go? If you’re like most people, you probably relied heavily on logic and reasoning. Maybe you wrote a pro’s-and-con’s list or consulted with your friends. I know that’s what I did.

So much advice is based on reasoning and why not? Most of us still think that intellect trumps all when it comes to decision making, and while this rational approach isn’t bad, it’s just not the most reliable method. And who would have thought that the one thing we can trust is the same thing we often dismiss and suppress?

Are Emotions Trustworthy?

And this one thing is nothing more and nothing less than our emotions. We should pay closer attention to them, because as leading neurologist and author, Antonio Damasio states, “feelings are not just the shady side of reason… they help us to reach decisions as well.”

That’s right, feelings play an integral role in every decision we make, according to growing research in neuroscience. Damasio’s discovered that if damage occurred in the area of the brain where emotions are produced, not only did people lose their ability to feel emotions, but they also lost their ability to make decisions; even something as simple as choosing between restaurants. Logically, they could distinguish the pro’s and con’s between different diners, but they couldn’t nail down a decision without the support of emotions.

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That’s because there’s a “sort of lift that comes from emotions…which allow you to mark things as good, bad or different,” Damasio found. These people couldn’t “conjure up an emotional state” for the choices in front of them and so they got stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Don’t Leave Home Without Them

This information relates to you and me, too. Just as these people were handicapped because they were unable to feel emotions, you handicap yourself whenever you ignore and suppress emotions and make decisions without consulting them. Decisions and emotions go together like bread and butter.

Here’s a real life example: Recently, I had to decide whether I would actually take a trip I had booked months before. My gut was telling me “No”, but instead of listening to it, I came up with lots of “good” reasons for why I should stick with the original plan. Even with a list of good reasons, I still felt stressed and agitated. This is what happens when we try to align ourselves with a decision that our body rejects (via emotions and feelings).

When I finally realized that my decision wasn’t actually a decision, but rather unfinished business between my body and mind, I stopped. I listened to my emotions and finally canceled my trip. What came then was an immediate feeling of peace and rightness. If I had continued to ignore my agitation and restlessness, I’d have ended up on what would’ve been a miserable get-away, thanks to all of those “good reasons”.

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Why weren’t my good reasons good enough? It’s because they were just one aspect of my intelligence and what’s more, they were ignoring my body’s response to them. Author Mary Lamia PhD explains that emotions “attempt to tell you if a situation is optimal, or not aligned with your goal.”  The key word here, is “attempt” and that’s exactly what my emotions were trying to do.

They’re like blunt messages (not very subtle!) but they inform us in ways that data and facts never could. Eckhart Tolle teaches that “the body has its own intelligence and this intelligence reacts to your thoughts and what your mind is saying. Emotion is the body’s reaction to your mind.” Feelings are your body’s voice and they say something meaningful and valuable. When I ignored my own feelings, they didn’t go away. Instead, they intensified, because they still had something to say.

The Problem with Emotion?

Emotions (especially negative emotions) speak up loud and clear, when the intellect is too busy thinking. Emotions, on the other hand, don’t think. They just show up.

And this is the problem with them, too. They don’t think; you have to do that for them. They don’t differentiate between real and imaginary threats. That’s your job.

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For example, your body might feel fear (shaking, nervousness, perspiration, etc.) when you think about getting on that stage and giving your first TED Talk. (Hey, we can dream, can’t we?) However, your body will also feel that emotion if a tiger’s chasing you. Obviously, one is real danger, the other is imaginary.

How to Make the Most of Your Emotions

So, if we need emotions to make decisions, how are we supposed to rely on them, if they’re really just blunt and nondiscriminating messengers? You could say, “Listen, I’m afraid of getting on that stage, just like I’m afraid of that tiger, so in both cases, my feelings must be trying to protect me from something legit, right?”

Wrong. And here’s the solution. It’s true that every emotion is equal and valuable, but according to Eckhart Tolle, “emotion is the body’s response to a thought” and thoughts are not always reliable.

If you’re scared of stepping onto that stage (or anxious, happy, sad or confused) it’s because both your intellect and emotions are saying something.  Obviously, you already know that the stage is tiger-free, but your emotions rage on. How do we know what they’re saying?

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The real way to think for your emotions is to stop thinking and pay them some much needed attention. Your fear isn’t really telling you that the stage is dangerous. It’s telling you that there’s something deeper you need to address (Maybe it’s something like fear of failure, judgement, disappointing, etc.)

The next time you’re feeling indecisive, go straight to your feelings and pay attention to them and ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. How am I feeling? (Remember, don’t judge your feelings. Just let them be.)
  2. Do I like feeling this way?
  3. What thought is this feeling responding to?
  4. Can I change my thoughts to change my emotions?

By adjusting your thoughts to create better emotions, you’ll be able to make decisions that align with your goals and serve your body and mind. Remember, your emotions are always telling you something, bluntly but truthfully.

Featured photo credit: Photo: Victor Bezrukov via flickr.com

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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