Have you ever regretted a decision you made in the heat of the moment?
We tend to believe that we make decisions rationally with some understanding of our feelings as a secondary component. In reality we tend to make decisions based on emotion, and then we justify or rationalise them using reasoning so we can feel good.
The advertising world understands that it’s emotion over logic. They build an emotion throughout an advertisement and place their product for association. The snuggly polar bear offers his cub a Coca-Cola while they watch the moon rise. The athlete who struggles through adversity to win against all odds happens to be wearing Nike sportswear.
How can we use this understanding to make better decisions?
Step 1: Tune in to your emotional state
Pause and calm your mind. Become mindful of the emotions that you’re feeling. Note what mindset you currently have.
Practicing mindfulness or a light meditation can help you to identify what emotions you are feeling without placing a judgement of good or bad upon them. Sometimes simply being aware of and owning the emotion you’re feeling can be enough to make a better decision(e.g. “I feel frustrated right now”, “I’m feeling envious”, “I’m afraid”).
Kelly hung up the phone after a confrontational call with her client. She was blamed for a stall in the project and belittled to the point of tears. She’s sick of being treated this way and her gut instinct is to quit right then and there.
Kelly goes to a quiet room and counts to ten. She’s feeling angry, frustrated, and apprehensive. She knows she currently has a negative mindset.
Step 2: Dig a little deeper
Write down the emotions that you’ve identified along with your best guess as to where they come from. If it helps you to be honest and fully open with yourself, then do this privately and tear up the paper.
This should help you to understand how the emotions you’re feeling are leading to the decision that you’re considering.
Kelly is frustrated that the project isn’t going the way she thought it would. She’s angry that she’s receiving all of the blame when it isn’t her fault. She’s apprehensive because she doesn’t know how to make this better and doesn’t feel comfortable continuing with this client.
Kelly recognizes that these emotions are giving her tunnel vision and are leading to a defensive state.
Step 3: Select a new emotion
Reconsider the situation and evaluate which emotion or mindset would be most useful. Is it compassion, scepticism, optimism? Once you have an idea of what might be more useful, think about how that state of mind would influence the decision you are making.
Kelly decides that she might find better solutions from a place of compassion and optimism. With this new mindset, she recognizes the client is under a lot of stress. She believes the project can be salvaged and wants to find a way to get a positive result.
Step 4: Decide
It’s time to make a decision and take action! Without a decision, your brain will stay fixated on the situation, leading to an overflow into other tasks and aspects of your life.
It’s okay if your decision is to postpone the decision making to a later time. This may be your best approach if negative or highly charged emotions are involved. You may need some extra time to calm down, get a second opinion, or allow your unconscious mind to work its magic and find a different solution.
Kelly decides to schedule a meeting with her manager about options to move the project forward and to request additional support for managing this client.
Kelly recognises that she’s not in the right frame of mind to consider her long-term career. She decides to give the job another month to see if things improve and sets a date for herself to consider her situation and career options.
These steps may sound easy, but in practice can be quite challenging. Try these in less stressful moments so you’ll be prepared the next time you have a crucial decision to make.
In addition to understanding your emotions, there are many factors to consider when making important decisions such as changing your career. Feel free to reach out if you are feeling overwhelmed by a decision.