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.
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.
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…
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.
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