Follow Your Instincts


Decision making occurs on a moment to moment basis. Sometimes it is automatic. We make decisions that are so second nature we don’t even realize they’re decisions. Sometimes we think long and hard. We try and gather all the information we can and rely on reason to guide us on making the right choice.

Rationality is a powerful agent in the decision making realm, but what is truest in its rawest form are our emotions.  Basically put they outline and motivate us toward our instinctual desires – what we really want.  But more times then not, we are met with decisions that we try to over think, causing the outcome to actually fall astray from what we really want.

Psychologist, Timothy Wilson, replicated several distinct studies examining the decision making process.  He asked college females to pick their favorite poster from five possible options: A Monet landscape, a van Gogh of some purple lilies, and three funny cat posters.

He split the participants up in two groups. One group was the non-thinking group.  They were simply asked to rate each poster on a scale from one to ten.  The second group had the harder task explaining why they liked or disliked the poster before rating each.  At the end each participant left with their favorite poster.

It was interesting to observe the different decisions made between the two groups.  Ninety-five percent of the non-thinkers chose either the Monet or van Gogh pieces.  While, the thinking group, was spilt down the middle between the paintings and the humorous cat posters.

A follow up interview revealed that the non-thinking group was much more satisfied with their decision. While 75 percent of the people who had chosen the cat poster regretted their selection, nobody regretted choosing one of the artistic posters. How is that, through greater means of thinking and analysis, decision making became skewed and reflected distorted choices?

An explanation of our likes or dislikes requires us to use language.  Thus, bypassing out instinctual cognitions and forcing us to describe an external stimuli solely through verbalization.  Descriptions of Monet’s landscape on van Gogh’s lilies, although generating a positive reaction, were tough explain.  Perhaps, we don’t know how to put language to the one’s we really like, we just know we like them.  While the simple, humorous cat posters were much easier to explain. Participants had a much more in-depth explanation of why they liked the cat posters and therefore chose those for their favorite pieces.

This simple study uncovers a decision making process that might otherwise be masked in rationality.  No doubt there are decisions in life that require laborious analysis and in depth consideration.  But there are also times when we have to act on our instincts.  They carry with them a deep rooted emotional cue that would otherwise be lost when trying to rationalize the decision.

We also like to do things in life that we can explain.  It is like the pavement of our choices.  A justification for why we made them and an aid in trying to see them through.  But at times, certain things we do in life we cannot explain.  We shouldn’t neglect those parts of our life just for that reason.  Emotions are strong – they are charged with the essence of you.  They are crucial to your decisions and to living a life that is your own.

It might be uncomfortable to be at the crossroads of an unpredictable decision – an unfamiliar choice, but if the idea excites you, then your heart is in it.  Making the choice is easy because it is driven by the most unbiased, seeker of joy.  You are behind it, it might not make sense to you right now, but it feels right.  As wide as the scope of language reaches, it falls short at digging into our emotions – emotions which should not be left out when trying to navigate through your legendary adventure.

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