How to Improve Decision Making

How to Improve Decision Making

Written by Dr Alan Watkins

We’ve all found ourselves in the middle of a heated argument saying something stupid only to think of the most brilliant comeback five minutes after the other person has stormed out of the room. Unfortunately, it is impossible to think of smart comebacks or great ideas when our internal emotional signals are going haywire.

Whether we feel the emotion or not doesn’t alter the fact that the emotion is present. And it’s already impacting your clarity of thought and the outcome.

Ultimately chaotic physiology and turbulent emotions cause the frontal lobes to shut down. So the clear thinking that we believe we are engaged in is just the emotional early warning system of the amygdala, not the neocortex. Emotion is constantly influencing our clarity of thought and ability to learn. The only real question is whether that influence is unconscious and potentially negative or consciously managed and therefore positive.

This biological phenomenon means that we are all living half a second behind reality and also explains why feeling dominates thinking and not the other way around. The feeling is faster than thought. Thoughts are slower and they are emergent phenomena, they do not occur independently of changes in our emotions. The thought wouldn’t have emerged had our physiology and emotion not changed first.

This mechanism can be useful in alerting us to danger but without greater emotional intelligence our amygdala can become “trigger happy” and that’s not that useful in life, business or relationships. It can be extremely costly. If we are aware of a tiny fraction of what we could potentially be aware of it makes sense to develop a much greater awareness of our internal data.

By doing so we can make better decisions and accurately determine what’s relevant instead of making knee-jerk emotional reactions that can pollute our thinking and hamper performance and the outcomes we achieve.