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The Quandary of Decision Making

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We may not always be in charge of our decisions as much as we’d think. Emotions play a critical role and often hijack the process without our knowledge. We can sometimes be too impulsive or too deliberate for our own good or even become complacent and withdrawn when it matters most. One moment we might let our convictions get the better of us, and the next become paralyzed by uncertainty. While complex, emotions are the connective inputs and outputs that surround the decision-making process.

Neuroscientists are beginning to understand the role that emotions play in decision making and are discovering that at times we become hard-wired to make irrational decisions. In a study, MIT neuroscientists explored how the brain reasons about probable causes of failure after a hierarchy of decisions. They discovered that the brain performs two computations using a distributed network of areas in the frontal cortex. First, the brain computes confidence over the outcome of each decision to figure out the most likely cause of a failure, and second, when it is not easy to discern the cause, the brain makes additional attempts to gain more confidence.

This process elicits emotional reactions based on previous learnings and foreseeable emotional reactions. While often small and unnoticeable these emotional triggers are our body’s signals to act or restrain. Challenges often arise in this process due to the very structure of our brains. The frontal cortex sits atop of the brain and is nature’s newest addition built for planning, deliberation, and decisions. Beneath the cortex is our more ancient brain structures, responsible for survival modes through emotional reactions to threats and opportunities. These two systems are interconnected but physically separate, making the literal connective tissue of decision-making nature’s challenge to overcome.

This week consider this short video from TED-Ed about irrational decisions. Then, think about the emotions that have naturally shaped your decision-making style. Are you more drawn to logical or emotional outcomes? Do you rely more on instinct and feel, or on data and procedure? In either regard, how has that helped or hindered your successes and what might need revising to reinforce positive decision-making approaches?

“Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.”

– Mark Twain

Do you have an idea you want to share with an empowered community of self-aware professionals? If you’d like to contribute an idea or article to ‘In The Flow of Work’ on the Evolve blog, just send us a message or submit a post to our Head of Content, Adam Schneider

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