The High Ground

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“What was I thinking?” This nagging question inevitably slices across our thoughts now and again. Did we buy that snazzy new car while our old car was just fine? Did we cheat on our diet because that cheeseburger sounded just so good?

Are we motivated by reason, or by impulse?

Great minds have pondered this struggle between reason and emotion for eons. A foundation of logic allows us to transcend from want to should. Yet, emotions thrive and soar on the currents of want. While acting on emotion, we might temporarily feel good because–boy, that cheeseburger was delicious! But then comes the inescapable, “What was I thinking?”

Writing for Lifehacker, cognitive scientist Tom Stafford attempts to unravel the ball of yarn of rationality and emotionality. When interacting with others, rationality can be used to persuade, but only when the other party is willing to engage in open dialogue. Yet, this seemingly rational party is also likely to adopt the contrary perspective.

In this TED Talk, neuroscience director, Dan Radecki expresses that the battle between emotion and reason is akin to that of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, an interwoven Yin and Yang. Radecki observes that residing in us all is the power of lower brain stressors—primal factors behind our impulses. Modern conveniences offer ample reason to ignore these primal factors. Many of us needn’t fear evaporating access to food or shelter. We are no longer fighting in the wilds of nature.

Why then do we still succumb to impulse and irrationality?

In this study on empathy and bias, researchers of the University of Milano-Bicocca determined that our lower brain triggers greater empathy for those similar to ourselves. Impulsive responses are undeniably built into us. This is unavoidable. We smell that cheeseburger and you bet we’re going to want it.

That is not to say that we automatically surrender to wants, however. We all have the ability to conquer irrationality through strength of conscious thought. We can engage the power of higher brain functions.

Today, when confronted by an impulse trigger—stop! Assess pros and cons. Walk away from the situation, research ramifications, and return later. Even ask trusted colleagues for feedback.

And remember, Obi-Wan Kenobi defeated Darth Vader by taking the high ground.

“It is not enough to recognize what is right and true. One must control the impulse to do what is wrong and easy.”
– Andy Andrews

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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