There are many times in our lives when we encounter stressful events, and our emotions drive our decisions. Emotion-based decisions can potentially cause us more stress in the long-term even though there may have been good intentions behind the decisions made. Emotions is not a bad thing, and having emotions is a positive, natural reaction to the people we love, things we are passionate about, etc. Making decisions from pure emotions may not be a positive outcome, and learning how to make decisions by using a ‘logical’ mind is most likely to help promote better decision making.
Emotions drive how most people respond to a situation. For example, when driver 1 is cut off by driver 2; driver 1 may have a negative reaction based on negative emotions by driver 2 cutting them off. Driver 1 may have had a bad day, in a hurry, have children or loved ones in the vehicle with them, and scared there may be a accident. Driver 1 may be afraid to drive, and this sets off their anxiety. Driver 2 may not have even noticed cutting off driver 1, been in a hurry themselves, moved over quickly due to another car, etc. However, driver 1 is now upset, using the middle finger toward driver 2, speeding up to be close th driver 2, and allowing their emotions to drive their decisions. Driver 2 is also getting upset because driver 1 is driving closely behind, and flipping them off with their middle finger. Both drivers can continue to allow their negative emotions drive their behavior, and in the end get into a fight, an accident, their mood may change and be unpleasant, etc. This does not need to be the case, and it takes only one driver to realize ‘logically’ that reacting with emotions may cause more damage. Driver 1 may think to themselves when driver 2 cuts them off, “that driver scared me, however, we are safe now.” There was an emotion identified, and then a logical response connected afterwards ‘we are safe now.’ This reaction most likely would keep both drivers safe, and both drivers can move forward with their day.
Example 2: Mindy and Matt are getting divorced and have three children, 6, 9, 12. Mindy is very upset because Matt is saying he wants to have the children half time; and Mindy is saying ‘no way’ because she has stayed home for the past twelve years and raised the children while Matt was working, traveling, and having an affair. Although Matt states his work is accommodating his personal life, Mindy does not believe this and says ‘no babysitter or extended family will raise our children if I’m available while you are working.’ Matt becomes upset by this, and responds in emotion that he will go for full custody of the children, and hires an attorney to begin the process. Mindy hires an attorney too, and the custody dispute begins. Both Matt and Mindy are responding from emotions. Mindy is feeling threatened and scared that Matt is going to ‘take the kids away, and that has been Mindy’s life for the past twelve years.’ Matt is angry that Mindy is threatening him, and knows he has rights as a father to their children. Instead of Matt and Mindy seeking a co-parent counselor, pastoral counselor, etc., they go right into court with ugly declarations trying to paint the other parent ‘bad’ and not a ‘good parent.’ This causes more splitting of the family, and the children are placed in the middle regardless if the parents intended for this to happen (most likely not). Possibly Mindy and Matt may have been able to work this out if both of them had thought about their responses to each other prior to saying them, and thinking solely of the children. Instead their emotions drove their behavior, and now these behaviors have become their new reality or perception of the other parent. Logical thinking is most likely gone, and most of their decisions are being made by emotion.
Both of these examples show how our emotions can drive our behavior. Emotions may get in the way of making good, solid decisions because of our fears, anger, worries, etc. Most people are not evil, and do not mean to punish other people; their emotions dictate their reactions, and in the end may cost them more (financially, emotionally, physically) than necessary. Negative emotions not only cause us to make poor decisions, it also causes us negative physiological responses (muscle tension, heart racing, headaches, stomach issues, insomnia, depression, moodiness, etc.) to our bodies and well-being.
There are positive emotions as well that may dictate our decisions, and cause us to make irrational decisions as well. For example, Carl won $3,000.00. Carl and his family were financially not doing well, and had bills that were overdue. Instead of Carl paying bills with the money he won, he went out and bought a new kayak for the family. He justified spending this money on a kayak so the family could have quality time together, and finally have something fun to do. Carl did not take into account (logical side) that by paying off their bills, and helping the family budget their spending, he may have been able to purchase the kayak later once the obligatory finances were caught up. Carl may have been able to set aside $100 of his winnings, and placed in savings so he could save for the kayak purchase. Additionally, Carl may not have wanted the kayak or may have realized this was not a wise purchase if we would have had more time to think about how to spend the money. Instead, Carl went to the store, and purchased the kayak without giving much thought into this large expense. Again his emotions, although positive, drove his decision to make a hurried decision rather than thinking about all the pros/cons prior to his purchase. By spending all the money on the kayak, and not applying the money toward bills and other needs, he may have unintentionally placed his family at more risk of financial burden and stress.
The big question is how are people to know when they are making a decision based off emotions or logic? This is a great question and sometimes a hard one to notice. The biggest clue if this is an emotional based response versus a logical response is whether emotion is attached to the response and/or reaction. If there is an emotion (which there usually is especially when loved ones are involved, money, things that we are passionate about, etc.) attached to the situation. Look at the three examples above, and each one has an emotionally driven reaction versus a logical one. This is not to say they are wrong, it is to say the examples above did not think out their decisions, and wait until their emotions calmed down some and they could think more logically.
Here are some ways to make logical decisions and move forward without thinking back and wishing “if only…”, seconds guessing yourself, or looking at the all or nothing.
1. Allow 24-48 hours after the incident, argument, winning, etc. before making a decision or response.
2. If a decision must be made sooner than 24 hours, check your emotional scale and see if you are having physiological signs. If the emotional scale is high, ask a friend, colleague, family member, counselor to help talk you through your decisions. These people are here to help you, not hinder you. Some people get upset when their friend, family, or therapist may ask additional questions because the person making the decision wants you to agree with them. However, if you seek help from a trusted person, they may not give you the advice you want to hear. They are in their logical mind.
3. Ask for an extension on time if possible, go through your thought process, and connect your thoughts to your feelings to your behaviors. Write these down, and see whether your behaviors are congruent with your thoughts and feelings. Also look for the rational behaviors versus the irrational ones. Be true to yourself, allow yourself to have emotions, and then put your logical hat on and make a sound decision that you can live with (and have no regrets).
4. If you are unable to do this on your own, and continue to find this cycle repeating itself, seek professional help with a licensed counselor that can help you learn ways to avoid making emotionally driven behaviors.
In the end, this is your life. You may chose to move forward, learn from the past, and make solid choices based on your logical mind. Or you may chose to live in chaos, live in the past, make emotional decisions, and stay stuck. Remember we have no control over others, we only have control over our behaviors and actions. Learn from the past, heal from the past, do not stay victim to the past, and no longer allow the past to dictate our decisions.
Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
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