Written by Carissa Abazia

Understanding the emotional basis for your actions is one of the most important aspects of evolving as an effective leader, a good partner, a new parent, a trusted advisor, an effective decision maker and so it goes. Striving for objective, fact-based decisiveness comes with fully understanding your feelings.

This relationship between our emotions and decision-making is an interesting concept.  Can we make decisions effectively and quickly if there are no emotions backing them up? Several studies have been conducted to show that our emotions and decision-making ability are linked. More specifically, damage to the amygdala, the center of our emotions in the brain, can affect our capacity for decision-making.

If we assume there is a strong association between our emotions and making decisions, how can we make better decisions?  When we are sad or impatient, do we react differently than if we were calm and happy?

What’s the problem?

It’s nearly impossible to conjure up a solution to an issue before you know exactly what the problem is.

As you confront and isolate exactly what problem needs to be solved, recognize that your emotions are inextricably intertwined in all aspects of problem solving. None of us — even the most objective and analytical — can make decisions based solely on fact without emotional involvement.

However, with this in mind, we can learn to leverage our emotions effectively.

We need water. We want soda.

The first step is acknowledging that there is a difference between needs and wants. The two are often confused, but once properly identified, the decision making process becomes simpler.

You think you need a new dress, for example. Do you really? If your old one is ripped or no longer fits and you have no other options, of course you need one for the wedding you’re attending next weekend. However, if you identify this perceived problem as satisfying a want (perhaps your best friend just bought a new dress), then you’re probably reacting solely on an emotional basis.

A need is something you can’t live without (well, for the most part) while a want is something that might make your life easier or more pleasant.

Once you identify something as a need, you know where to focus your energy — what to fight for. If it’s only a want, maybe your attempted resolution can wait for another day.

Knowing the difference is the key to controlling your reactions.

Integrate the following decision-making tactics to (hopefully) positively impact your emotions.

1. Generate alternative solutions, and choose the best one. Rather than just exploring the first possible solution that pops into mind, generate alternatives to help you see the bigger picture. Usually, problems have more than one solution.

2. Control your impulses. Be aware that your emotions affect your every decision and that you need to engage them in favor of facts when necessary.

3. Be real with yourself. Consider all the factors and individuals that play a part both when analyzing a problem and when attempting to solve it. When you set out to solve a problem, envision the outcome you want to achieve. Ask yourself: What does success look like in practice?

When it comes to more accurately understanding the relationship between your emotions, the challenge is to learn to be aware of your emotional response (which you cannot change), and instead work with your feelings, (which you can change), then assess how those feelings relate to the positive outcomes you desire.

Happy Decision-Making!


Thanks for reading!

Carissa Abazia