Role of Emotions in Decision-making

In nearly every decision we make, there are two aspects of our being that are essentially at war with each other. This fundamental conflict is between our rational self, the reality-based adult and our emotions, usually negative and fear-based.

Our rational selves look at facts, question assertions, want more information, and use all available knowledge to make a decision based on objective assessment of the best interests of as many of the parties involved as possible.

Our emotional selves react rather than assess, responding to events and situations based on fear, anger, distress, regret, and a host of other negative feelings that preclude any analytical process or evaluation. In many situations, we react without stopping to think about what the event or our reaction really means or what the most rational course of action would be. When negative emotions control our responses, constructive, rational analysis of best interests is impossible. These emotions are often covered up by rationalization, but you can spot them by the lack of facts behind potential or actual decisions and by the presence of words such as ‘might, could, maybe’.

So, how do we even know what our best interests are? Anything that benefits health and well-being, safety, comfort, functionality, constructive action, and creativity is in our best interests. Anything that reduces any of these conditions is against our, and perhaps others, best interests. To shift from the influence of negative emotions to using best interests as a guide, pause for a moment before making any decision, and ask yourself which part of your being is doing the deciding. If emotions make your decisions, your real best interests cannot be served. Nor can your best interests be served by doing anything that harms others as the price for that is very high.

This understanding is important to organizing because people often think that a little mess doesn’t hurt or that hanging onto more (usually many more, even when we are not talking about hoarding) objects than what they really use doesn’t matter. The problem with keeping things is that the price of any item is not just what we paid to buy it, but the demands that everything we own constantly make on us: ‘use me, take care of me, find space for me’. Although we don’t hear these demands as spoken messages, they are there as constant subliminal pressures to act that undermine our comfort and peace of mind. When we ignore these messages and do not act, we pay a greater price in terms of our self-esteem and comfort with ourselves. Clutter and disorganization exert a constant toll on well-being and mental health. It’s a heavy price for unused or excess items and clutter.

Negative emotions harm our time use decisions too. It is hard to be clear about how best to use our time when our emotions are in charge. They discourage us from focusing our energies, undermine our self-confidence, make us fearful to take on new projects or challenge ourselves, or keep us mired in regret. All of these states sap our energy and make it hard to think clearly.

©2011 Gloria Valoris

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