I’m not sure who said it first, but I always liked the saying “Never make a permanent decision based on temporary feelings.” This seems like opposite advice to adages like “trust your gut,” or “follow your heart.” I would never suggest ignoring our emotions when it comes to decision making. I do think it is helpful to understand what exactly emotions are and where they come from. Although we can feel them all over, emotions don’t come from our gut or our heart.
Emotions are temporary states produced in our brain, shaped by our memories and perceptions. They serve a purpose and are there for a reason. Like other feelings, such as hunger or pain, they guide our responses and help us to navigate life. Emotions in themselves are not right or wrong, but sometimes they are based on an inaccurate or outdated perception.
I like to think of emotions like the navigational systems we use in our cars. With a strong signal and a good mapping program, it can provide our location and directional assistance to help us get were we want to go. However, any navigational system is only as good as the data it was programed with and the ability to connect to the GPS satellites. If you have ever experienced using one that is operating on an old program or a weak signal, you know that they can lead you to make wrong turns.
Our brain has its own navigational system. The basic program we are born with is wired for survival, helping us to respond to threats and guide us to life sustaining actions. Our brain uses new data gained through life experiences to expand and adapt this programming. It is constantly rewiring and forming new neuronal pathways. When we feel an emotion, it is a signal giving us information on our current state. It is necessary to stay attuned to our present emotional states.
However, like any navigational system, distorted perceptions based on outdated or inaccurate information can cause our initial emotional response to be unreliable. A more effective decision-making devise is to practice value-based decisions. Values are the core principles and beliefs that we hold dear. Although they are shaped and developed throughout our lifetime, they can offer more truth and stability than a fleeting emotion. In the navigation system analogy, values are more like the compass that reliably points North. It provides both consistent and accurate information on where we are and which direction we need to be headed.
Whether it is an individual decision or an organizational decision, here are some helpful questions to make sure it is value-based:
What is the prevailing emotion? Begin by acknowledging the emotion without judgment. Remember that emotions in themselves are not right or wrong, they’re a necessary part of being human.
What outdated perceptions might be influencing my current emotional state? Examining our perceptions can help us root out negative or inaccurate thoughts that keep us stuck in unhelpful response patterns.
What are my top three core values? Prioritizing what is most important to us helps assure we are acting in ways that guide us in the direction we want to go.
What are the guiding principles to which I need to adhere? Both professionally and personally, it is helpful to have a standard set of precepts that remain the same regardless of our current situation.
What is the response that best reflects these values and principles? We are what we do. Decisions based on what you deeply value will always get you closer to your true goals than ones based on immediate relief or reward.