Rational or Emotional? The Truth About Your Decisions

by Haider on January 14, 2011 · 12 comments

in Emotions

reason-vs-emotion

There’s been a longstanding debate about the nature of decision-making and whether we base our decisions on rational reasons or emotional impulses.

Some say we should consult the mind and ignore the heart if we want to make the right decision.

Others say that we should follow our hearts and ignore the paralyzing calculations of the mind.

And still others say that there’s always a blend of rational and emotional elements to decision making.

I’ll save you the suspense:

All your decisions are driven by your emotions.

Sounds insane?

Then we need to revisit what “rational” and “emotional” mean, and what role they play in our lives.

The Role of Reason

Have you ever smelled something with your hands? Saw something with your nose? Tasted something with your ears? Touched something with your eyes? Heard something with your tongue?

I’m willing to bet the answer is no to all these questions.

You don’t smell with your hands. That’s not the purpose they serve in your life.

And when it comes to understanding the importance of reason to our survival and happiness, it’s essential that we identify the role it serves in our lives.

Reason allows us to make sense of the world.

We use our senses to gather data, and our rational faculty helps connect the pieces together and form an understanding of how the world functions.

We use past experiences (and other people’s experiences) in developing our understanding of the world and what we ought to do to make progress in life.

But reason only sets the destination.

It is emotion that drives us to action.

The Motion Of Emotion

You can “know” that junk food is bad for you and still eat it with pleasure.

Why?

Because reason has described the landscape and your destination. But if your emotions are set on a different direction, you will go in that direction.

Emotion is the ring that connects reason with action. Without emotion, we won’t feel compelled to do anything, no matter how much information we know about the importance of that action.

To be honest, the question of whether we decide rationally or emotionally is flawed in itself.

It assumes that reason and emotion are at war with each other, and you must choose between them.

But emotion is an extension of reason and it serves an equally valuable – but essentially different – role in our lives.

“Hold on!” I hear you shout (yes, I have good ears).

“If emotion is an extension of reason, then why are they in conflict? Why does reason pull us in one direction and emotion push us in another?”

A very sensible question and the answer is a very interesting one…

Mixed Signals

Just to recap:

There is absolutely no inherent conflict between reason and emotion.

So why do they often pull us in separate directions?

Because every emotion has its own reason, which we often neglect.

The conflict isn’t between reason and emotion, but contradictory reasons, each with a different emotional value attached to it.

What we tend to do is look at the “rational” factors and overlook the reasons that drive our emotions (because we consider emotions to be irrational).

But every emotion stems from a reason, and the cause of the conflict between reason and emotion is the mixed mental signals we’re giving our bodies.

Since reason doesn’t drive us to action (that’s the role of emotion), we go by what we feel most inclined to do.

Every time.

Anger doesn’t develop out of thin air. It’s the result of a thinking process. When you feel angry and want to lash out at those who have caused you to be angry, you don’t think – there and then – that your anger is uncalled for.

You believe that you are justified in feeling angry and those you lash out at deserve what they get. Somewhere inside you, you don’t believe that your anger is irrational. It makes perfect sense.

But there’s another reasoning thread – with a lower emotional charge attached to it – that asks you to consider the law, social etiquette, other people’s feelings, etc.

Which “reason” do you believe you will act by?

That’s right. The emotionally charged one.

Making The Right Decisions

If you’re not happy with the decisions you’re making in your life, don’t blame your emotions.

They’re on your side.

They deserve to be loved and respected.

But you need to identify their root and resolve the conflict between contradictory reasons.

Conflicts often arise when you were brought up to live by certain beliefs and values without questioning them. While you were developing your own reasoning, you were acting according to the values you were taught to accept.

You value your own happiness, but are taught that selfishness is a bad thing.

You believe having fun is good, but are taught that it’s irresponsible.

You think that you can be moral and wealthy, but are taught that money is the root of all evil.

Such conflicting opinions will naturally lead to mixed signals.

If you want to make the right decisions, you have to consciously address all your beliefs and listen to what your emotions reveal about the beliefs lurking in your psyche.

That’s the only way you can dissolve the false dichotomy between the rational and the emotional.

Photo Credit: CarbonNYC

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{ 1 trackback }

To Follow your Heart, or to Run from your mind!? | Take what you will
March 8, 2011 at 7:10 am

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Abdulwahab Alhajji January 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Wow Haider you really changed my point of view! I guess when everything is revealed you are 100% correct , emotions and reasons are completely connected, Thank you for clearing it out for me. I now make my decisions according to my emotions (but my emotions aren’t all that pretty :p)

2 Haider January 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Abdulwahab, my point is this:

Your emotions may not have a pretty face, but they have beautiful legs. :P

There is ALWAYS a reason that justifies your emotions, no matter how “cruel” or “ugly” your emotions look.

It’s important to know what reasons your emotions stand on, so you can do something about the conflict between what you think and how you feel.

3 Caffeinated January 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Interesting insight, I’ve always been a one to emphasize the concept of emotionally driven reasoning and it’s good to see it portrayed neatly.

The way I look at it, the only time when pure ration takes place is in those split-second instinctive reactions where the mind calculates your situation, equates a solution and drives you out of danger… It’s interesting how the mind works, but in general I find your conclusions valid.

Keep it up Haider, looking forward to reading more :)

Cheerios!
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4 Haider January 14, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Thanks, Caffeinated! :D

The mind is a wonderful thing and there’s a lot to explore about how it works.

I would say the “drive” in the situations you mention is emotional. Most likely fear, with a heavy dosage of adrenaline. :)

5 Fate January 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Finally Haider you are accepting emotions. Though I secretly thought of you as an emotional thinker :) I like the way you put things but there is more than meets the eye when it comes to making a distinction. It is good to acknowledge one’s emotions but acting upon them is not always favorable as they would generate a surge of other emotions and sometimes reactions with others.
Knowing how certain emotions arise is very important in self awareness, which would foster controlled and responsible actions when it comes to others. Like the post as I like our chats :)
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6 Haider January 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Thanks, Fate!

This post isn’t about whether we should follow our emotions or not, but that we DO follow them, whether we choose to acknowledge this or not.

When we “side” with reason over our emotions, what we tend to do is discharge our emotions by focusing on a separate thinking thread. To resolve the conflict from arising, we need to identify and address the thinking that caused our emotions to arise in the first place.

7 Alan March 8, 2011 at 7:08 am

This is great and confirms a post I wrote in my blog the other day – feel free to check it out – I enjoy your writings! http://alchurchill.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/to-follow-your-heart-or-to-run-from-your-mind/

8 Custom Self March 5, 2014 at 2:04 am

Rationalized emotions?

9 Sarfraz Ahmed March 19, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Sir, you cleared a complex topic inside me. I think its Fear Factor developed while building beliefs/Norms etc. The equation of decision making what i observed from reading this is
Decisions = Emotions+Reasons…… If we open “Reason” we will find Quantitative Logic+Fear Factor inside Reason. If we remove fear factor this will be a purely your own Decision based on gut feeling.

10 Haider March 21, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Hi Custom Self,

Actually, it’s the rationale behind emotions. Rationalizing emotions is the the root cause we (accurately or mistakenly) attribute to our emotions.

11 Haider March 21, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Hi Sarfraz,

The “fear factor” is an emotion with an underlying reason. So it’s not pure emotion, but an emotion tied to a thought, perhaps developed from an experience. The fears we hold in adulthood are mostly developed from a thinking pattern that we grew up with, whether it’s fear of natural consequences (e.g. I can fall and crack my head) or social ones (e.g. if I publish this blog post people will make fun of me).

There’s no hard distinction between reason and emotions. They’re interconnected, and they’re both important in a healthy life.

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