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Make Beautiful Decisions by Using (not abusing) your Emotions.

Ever wonder why you sometimes have trouble deciding? Do you want to know the science of how to make better decisions? Curious about what do our emotions could have to do with any of it? Read on to find out more.

Woman thinking with the words "Beautiful Decisions" emblazoned over her.



A month ago I finally pulled the trigger on a decision I had wrestled with for more than a year. A minor decision. Not even a big one.



Whether to keep a membership program that, while I absolutely adored it, was eating up big chunks of my time & if I’m honest, was a great way for me to procrastinate.


Or whether to cancel it and make room in my schedule to pursue more of my own work and fun.


This shouldn’t have been a hard decision. And yet month after month I’d come to a resolution, only to talk myself out of it *just* when the time came to either cancel or renew.


What in the world was happening?


I’d be more chagrined about this if I wasn’t a coach and didn’t know this one well-kept secret within the land of reasonably well-adjusted adults:


I’m not the only one in this impossible position.


This issue has dogged many of the woman I’ve worked with over the years. And it doesn’t just catch people off-guard with small decisions, it just as often rears it’s head with larger dramas, as well.


blurred image of a human head shaking back and forth

Women who have no idea what’s next for them or what might make them happy.

Women confused about whether to pursue Dream A or Dream B, so they start on neither.


Or who don’t know if they should stay or go in a now loveless & estranged marriage.


Should they attempt to reconnect and make things better, or stop trying all together and move on?


Being undecided, they, like me, end up living in limbo. Neither staying, nor going.


And if you’ve ever been there yourself, you’ll know how draining and time consuming being stymied and stuck can leave you. It’s hardly a restful state to be undecided. It can drive you batty.


All of which begs the question:


What makes for a good decision? How do humans even make decisions?


Adult swinging in a storm

In my own turmoil, swinging from one side of the fence to the other on a monthly, and even weekly basis, friends often extolled me to be logical, to leave emotion out of the equation. Be rational, they said.


One even suggested I turn to that bulwark of reason, the pro and con list. Surely, by doing that I could decide.


And most of us would probably agree with them that taking the emotion out of the decision-making process is the wise course.


Deal with that matter at hand with cool, calm, steely-eyed logic. That’s the essence of good decisions, right?



But is it? Is it true that logic and reason alone lead to good decisions?



Well, it certainly didn’t seem to help me with mine. The more logic I tried to apply, the more confused and stymied I seemed to get. Much to the frustration of my friends and family, who were, at this point really, really sick of hearing about it.


And by the time women had bounced into my coaching email box with their problems they were as frustrated with themselves as my friends were with me.


They too, had made the same lists, applied the same mix of logic and reason, and had come up short in being able to even make a decision. Let alone a good one.



All of which explains why I was hardly surprised to find out about Elliot.

Elliot, patient zero for the neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio.


image of a brain

Elliot suffered from an orange-sized brain tumor right around the area of his frontal lobe. Luckily, surgeons were able to successfully remove it and some of the surrounding brain tissue.


But afterwards, Elliot wasn’t exactly the same.


At work he was easily distracted and struggled to manage his schedule. Simple organizational tasks now required hour after agonizing hour of deliberation.


Would the task best be accomplished by taking path A, or path B? Elliot couldn’t decide.


This change in man, who’s memory, IQ, learning, and language seemed unaffected by his surgery, was stunning. His tests in these areas kept coming back normal.


Turns out Elliot had a completely different kind of deficiency post surgery. An emotional one.

When scientists showed Elliot disturbing photos of say, injured people or a home on fire, where as before, Elliot would have reacted emotionally, now he didn’t respond at all.


And somehow that emotional deficit had translated into an inability to make decisions his everyday life.


If you’re intrigued as to why, well you’re in good company, because so was Damasio, who went on to study 50 other patients exhibiting brain damage in areas of emotional processing and a corresponding inability to make decisions.


And what he found is that our ability to make decisions hinges on connecting our primal brains and their gut emotions with our rational, logical brains.


He found that:


When emotion was impaired, so was decision-making.




There is an interplay between our emotions & our rational side that has to take place for us to be able to decide.


Quote from Audre Lorde: Our feeling are our most genuine paths to knowledge.

If you take the emotions out of that process, the process doesn’t happen. You can’t decide.


Our emotions are key to the process of not just making a decision, they’re also implicated in our ability to make good decisions.


It’s interesting to note that patients with damage to the logic centers of their brain don’t have a corresponding inability to make decisions or a deficit in good decision-making.



All of which has had me wondering:

How many of us are stuck in our decision-making because we’re acting in an emotionally impaired way?


How many of us can’t decide because we’re either trying to keep our emotions out of our decisions, or because we’ve numbed out our emotions completely?


What if emotions are our guiding compass? They are the thing that helps us to navigate our world and make good decisions?


As for Damasio, his theory was that when we think about taking a course of action we imagine it first in our mind, and we get a read in our bodies on whether that course of action would feel good or bad.


That’s how we filter out all of our choices.


Whereas when Elliot sees all the potential courses of actions, they all seem “flat.” None feels good or bad in his body, so how can he make a decision?


Where’s the proof?

 

You can skip this section if you’d like and go down to the action steps, but there’s actually proof for our bodies’ ability to get a feeling for a course of action.


Science has actually done some pretty handy studies.


handles shuffling a deck of cards

Scientists conducted a rigged card game on contestants with normal brain tissue. One deck of the cards, the red deck, was rigged. The other deck was not. Contestants played a game of drawing cards.


After drawing just 50 cards players have a hunch, or a feeling that the game is rigged, but can’t yet explain their hunch.


After 30 more cards, the can tell you exactly how the game is rigged with the red deck of cards.


But here is the fascinating part:


The players are hooked up to devices that work the same way lie detectors do, by monitoring minute body fluctuations like skin temperature and sweat, i.e. the classic signs of stress.


Just 10 cards in, before they even get that hunch that something is wrong the contestant’s palm’s start to sweat and they begin to subconsciously avoid the red deck.


The body knows, before the conscious mind does that something is wrong.

How is this possible?


It’s the power of the subconscious part of our minds, housing much of the emotional centers, versus the conscious, logic and language producing, part of our brains.


Our conscious mind processes 2,000 bits of information/second at speeds of up to 150 mph.


Our subconscious mind processes around 400 billion bits of information/second at speeds of up to 100,000 mph.


Our subconscious mind processes and receives far more information at faster speeds, and often that information is centered around our emotions and how we feel them in our body.


It may be that there is certain kinds of information that we can only get from our subconscious and it’s emotions. And that that kind of information is vital to our ability to decide.


Damasio did the same rigged card game experiment on those brain damaged patients. Their results were strikingly different.


The brain damaged patients never got sweaty palms.

Not after 10 cards or 20. Eventually, they did figure out the game was rigged and could even verbalize that the red deck was rigged, but even then, even knowing this information they continued to draw from the red deck.


Damasio’s conclusion was that they lacked good decision-making even when they could make a decision. Without their emotions they couldn’t make decisions in their best interest.

 

So where does that leave us, normal brained people, stuck in indecision?


Well, I haven’t found any scientists that have studied us, yet... but if we were to draw out something from our tale so far I think it might be this:


1. Make sure your emotions are turned on.


Do you engage in behaviors to numb out on the regular? Over drinking, over spending, over-watching tv?


Have you just had a loss of some kind?


You’d be shocked how many people mention after a month or so of coaching, that they lost their husband recently or a job where they worked for over thirty years.


Grief is huge, and we often numb out in the face of a tragedy, particularly if we feel the sadness is going on for too long and should be over with by now.


Our emotions have to be turned on and we have to feel them in order for us to use them in our decision making. If you need help in dealing with your sadness, grief, rage or anger, go and get it in the form of a therapist who can help you.


Otherwise, if you’ve been numbing out over small frustrations, a job or coworker that is frustrating you, an unhappy living arrangement, etc. You gotta go through the feelings in order to get unstuck.



2. Engage your emotions as you consider your options.


Do not push how you feel, aside as you consider your options. Don’t try to logic it out. And skip the pro and con list.


Instead, invite your emotions into the process.


As you imagine each possible choice, close your eyes and envision living out each one. Pay attention to your body and how you feel imagining that scenario.


Does your stomach get fluttery and upset? Do your palms get sweaty with anxiety? Does your throat tighten and cease up? Or do you feel lighter and freer? Does one scenario feel much more relaxed and joyful?


Use that information to help you decide.



3. Dealing with Fear.


Some emotions can hijack our limbic system completely in a flight, fight or freeze response. When this happens it’s hard to imagine any scenario but a bleak one for all of our options.


Fear is great when it comes to avoiding a real physical danger, like running from a bear or not getting in an elevator with someone who gives you the willies. It’s terrible when it comes to intangibles however.


Like the fear of making a bad decision, or getting it wrong.


Or the fear that the future cannot possible get better, or that you can’t get another job or find another mate. The fear that others will judge us for our decision-making.



When this happens to you, borrow a little exercise I expanded on from a wonderful therapist I had once-upon-a-time.



You’re going to put the fear into a Tupperware container. You know, like those ones moms from the seventies used to stash cookies in.


Bring up a decision you want to make. Let the fear bubble up in you as you imagine your options. Locate it in your body. Is it showing up in a tight throat? Or a squeamish stomach?


Wherever it is, imagine pulling it out of your body, and putting the green gunky mess into that Tupperware container. Now put the lid firmly on. Go ahead and imagine stashing it in a cupboard or under the bed. Just for the moment.


You get to have the fear back in a minute. We’re just letting it go for a single moment, so relax. But for now, as long as that fear is in the Tupperware, you are incapable of feeling it. No matter how hard you try.


Now go back to #2 and imagine each possible choice.

Feel it in your body, and note what feelings coming up now that the fear is gone.


When you’re done, be sure and let the fear out of the Tupperware. It will probably have eased a great deal anyway.



As for me? What decision did I make once I got around my fear of making a bad decision?


Once I let my emotions into the process (and got dealt with my fear of missing out?


I couldn’t help but feel elated imagining having a schedule that was open, that was all mine, unencumbered by a monthly membership that was taking up 6 hours or more per month.


That’s the option that clearly felt the most free for me.


The other option, staying? It felt stifling and bad.


So that’s the decision I made. It still took courage to hit the cancel button, by the way. I still had fear, but I had a decision. And one that I knew felt good.


And I haven’t regretted it yet.


Hey there, I hope that this article on being stuck and using your emotions to help you get momentum and freedom again in your life has helped you!


Here are some links to more of the science behind the information I shared if you are interested:



Much Love,


Desirée Sommer


 

Desirée Sommer is a former Interior Designer, and a current Writer/Speaker who helps people just like you Style, Beautify and make their lives Fun again!



She happily resides in the rural beauty of Idaho with her pet pooch Bree, where she gets to take epic hikes, and plot her next big adventure/road trip/travel destination.





 

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Can’t get enough? Need more? I like your style! Here are some other articles you might enjoy:



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