Are you more rational or more emotional?
At work if you’re going to be taken seriously, you need to think rationally before coming to a conclusion - the stereotypically male perspective. On the other hand, if you respond emotionally in decision-making you’re regarded as too “touchy feely” - the characteristically female view.
Which approach gets better results?
Actually, both. But it depends on knowing when to use your rational mind and when to use your emotional mind.
Here are Six Big Ideas to help you get the best out of your brain’s software and make better decisions:
The rational mind is a magnificent evolutionary development. But it seems we can only consciously process between 4 and 9 pieces of information at any one time.
So, always ask yourself, “can this decision be accurately summarized in numerical terms?”
It seems to work best if you think less about those things that you care a lot about. Don’t be afraid to let your emotions choose. On the other hand, there are a whole lot of everyday, mundane choices that could benefit from a little more conscious deliberation.
If the problem really is unprecedented, then you have to stop and think and let your working memory tackle the dilemma. From the perspective of the rational mind, new ideas are merely several older thoughts that occur at exactly the same time.
Ask yourself, “how does my past experience help solve this particular problem?”
If the emotional mind is pointing you in the direction of a bad decision, you can choose to use your rational mind instead. This is known as self-control.
Hard problems rarely have easy solutions. When you’re so confident you’re right, you neglect all the evidence that contradicts your conclusion. At these times rationality can become a liability, since it allows you to justify practically any belief. We are all rationalizers.
The only way to counteract this bias for certainty is to encourage some inner dissonance. Take the time to listen to what all the different brain areas have to say. When you force yourself to interpret the facts through a different, perhaps uncomfortable lens, you might discover that your own beliefs rest on shaky ground.
The emotional mind is constantly generating patterns based on experience: if this, then that. And it is incredibly fast at detecting prediction errors. Nothing focuses the mind like surprise!
The best way to get better at something is to refine the prediction-error rate of your emotional mind, which means focusing on your mistakes. Expertise is simply the wisdom that emerges from cellular effort.
So, use your rational mind to acquire all the information you need for making a decision. But don’t try to analyze the information with your emotional mind. Instead take a “holiday” while your emotional mind digests it. Whatever your intuition than tells you is almost certainly going to be the best choice.
The emotional mind is also vulnerable to certain innate flaws. We trust our feelings and perceive patterns, even when the patterns don’t actually exist. When the brain is exposed to anything random, like playing slot machines or the stock market, it automatically imposes a pattern onto the noise.
The emotional mind is also unusually sensitized to the pain of losing - loss aversion. In human decision making, losses loom larger than gains. And bad is stronger than good. That’s why in marital interactions; it generally takes at least 5 kind comments to compensate for 1 critical comment!
There’s no rational reason for us to treat gains or losses or compliments and criticisms so differently. But we do.
Thinking about the kind of decision you’re making and the kind of thought process it requires helps you to steer clear of stupid errors.
For example, the rational mind isn’t good at disregarding facts, even when it knows those facts are useless. This is known as the anchoring effect. That’s why the sticker prices on cars at the dealership are inflated. They serve as an anchor that allows the salesperson to make the real price of the car seem like a deal.
“Thinking too much” about some decisions can cause you to focus on all sorts of variables that don’t actually matter. It turns out that when you “overthink” at the wrong moment, you cut yourself off from the wisdom of your emotions.
You can’t avoid loss aversion unless you know that the mind treats losses differently to gains. And you’ll probably think too much about buying a house unless you know that such a strategy will lead you to buy the wrong property. The mind is full of flaws, but they can be outsmarted!