There are countless studies out there which show that our emotions and feelings impact on our decision making. When we are attracted to someone or like someone for example, the good feelings that we experience tend to make us see that person as smarter and more competent as a result. This is known as the ‘halo effect’. We buy products often because we feel a certain way about a brand… or how something looks… or how much we like the sales person… or how much we admire the celebrity that endorses the product. We buy significantly more food for the week when we shop hungry than we do when we shop after a filling meal.
These are examples of us making bad decisions as a result of our feelings. Suggestions that we are given include spending time logically considering a person’s strengths and weaknesses or a product’s good and bad points or reorganising our lives so that we go shopping when we have just eaten. As effective as such advice may well be, the reality is that this doesn’t solve the problem. It just helps us cope and minimise the damage the problem creates.
What we really need is a strategy to help us think smartly when our feelings try and steer us in the wrong direction.
Of course, not all feelings lead to bad decisions. When people talk about our ‘gut instincts’ or ‘feel’ for something, they are talking about our ability to unconsciously read a situation and access our knowledge base and experience to produce an accurate answer. This kind of feeling differs from other feelings largely because we reach this feeling after we have responded to the decision in front of us as opposed to feeling something first and having that feeling distort our decision making process as a result. So, with gut instincts, we consider the decision and our brain figures it out and gives us a feeling of what might work. With other feelings, we feel fear or lust or greed or anxiety or desire and that feeling colours the choice we then make.
So, what can we do to protect ourselves from such feelings? Well there are a number of different steps to doing this well.
- First, understand what your goal is. Focus on what you want to have happen. When your mind is focused on this, you are less likely to be impacted by fear or anxiety.
- Second, be clear about what success involves and means. In order to make this happen, what would you need to do… what sacrifices would need to be made… what would you end up with?
- Third, be aware of the pitfalls and potential things which can go wrong and understand how you would handle them.
- Fourth, compare the first three steps of the various choices you have in front of you.
- Fifth, decide what you would walk away to if you didn’t make a decision or if you made any of the individual choices out there.
For example, if you are hungry… what is it that you really want? To be healthy and fit. This would involve you buying the right kind of food and eating the right amount of it. It would mean sacrificing tasty empty food in the short term for a more important goal. You would end up with a happy, healthy and fit body that would last you a long time. The pitfalls are that you cheat and struggle on your diet. You would handle them by reminding yourself of why you want what you want and creating strategies to handle any food cravings. You would see the alternative of you eating too much unhealthy food and the choice would be obvious. You would understand that if you don’t make this change the consequences could be really bad for you.
At this stage, you’ll have a much better idea as to which decision is the best for you. It doesn’t mean you will always make it, but it does mean that you will be much more aware and sure of the decisions you do make and how much they will help you.