When Emotions Take Over the Decision Making Process

Decision-making is a systematic, conscious process that seems to leave no room for feelings. But you can probably think of many decisions you have had to make recently in which you had strong feelings that influenced your outcome. Perhaps you had to decide whether to order dessert when you were out for dinner. You ordered the cheesecake because it is a favorite, ignoring the fact that you were trying to lower your cholesterol level. Or, you left work early because you had tickets to a ball game even though you had a big project due the next day.

The first step in taking control of your emotions so you can use them effectively in critical thinking is to understand the decision-making process. It does not matter if you are making a big decision, such as whether you should change careers, or an inconsequential one, such as whether to have fries with your burger, the decision-making process is very similar. These steps have been examined in detail in preceding lessons in this book, but, to review, the eight steps are:

1. Recognize the problem.

2. Define the problem.

3. Practice focused observation to learn more about the problem.

4. Brainstorm possible solutions.

5. Choose a solution(s) and set goals.

6. Troubleshoot any problems that get in the way of your goal(s).

7. Try the solution and assess your results.

8. Use, modify, or reject the solution. Repeat the process if necessary.

As you can see, there is no step that says, "determine how you feel about the problem or decision, and let your emotions rule."What role, if any, do emotions have in decision making? The answer is a balanced role. They should neither be your sole criteria for making a decision, nor should they be ignored. For instance, in the first two steps, as you recognize and define the problem, also recognize and define any feelings you may have. Do not act on them, but rather acknowledge them. You might say, "this situation is making me anxious, and I feel like I don't want to deal with it." Or, "I'm excited about this. I want to jump right in and get going!"

What happens when you let your emotions rule the decision-making process? Here is an example: you want to go to college and have determined that it will help you prepare for the future by getting you the degree you need to pursue a certain career. But, you do not want to graduate with a huge debt. Your goal is to attend a school that offers a great education without charging too much in tuition and other fees. You apply to three schools and they all accept you. The first has a strong department in the area in which you plan to major, the best reputation of the three, and fees within your budget. The second is offering you a partial scholarship. The third costs more than the first, but it is where your best friend is going to school.

When you think critically about this decision, you use logic to conclude that the first two schools offer compelling reasons for attending. The academic strengths and strong reputation of the first school are both good reasons to choose it. The second school may be a slight notch down in quality of education, but it will cost you nothing to go there—a great reason to select it. The third school has one thing going for it— your friend. It does not satisfy any of the reasons you established for going to college. Choosing this school would be a choice of emotion (you enjoy being with your friend) over logic.

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