Published on March 22nd, 2017 | by Nancy F. Clark0
Got 99 Problems? Use This Surprising Trick To Make Good Decisions
By Sukie Baxter—
Let’s face it, the murky reality of decision making usually bears little resemblance to the antiseptic evaluations described within the stilted pages of leadership manuals. Decisions are often fraught with nuance, no one option being completely ideal, and the whole scenario can feel like a brutal game of tug-o-war where you’re the one getting yanked around.
Decision making, despite its inherent agony, is an essential skill in the workplace. Knowing which path to take and how to steer a project in the right direction can mean the difference between stellar success or abject failure both for your career and for a business as a whole.
But what if everything you know about making decisions is wrong? The classic sterile cost-benefit analysis, taking the emotion out of it and looking purely at the numbers, might be crippling your ability to choose. In fact, emotions may actually be critical to the whole process.
The somatic marker hypothesis put forth by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio theorizes that decision making is a process dependent upon emotional signals. Emotions are like a shorthand language that the body uses to assess circumstances and quickly move you away from risk.
In the Iowa Gambling Task, researchers compared participants with healthy brains to those with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved with regulating your response to emotions.
The game used rigged stacks of cards to determine how well participants assessed risk and modified behavior accordingly. Participants with healthy brains quickly made changes to behavior, selecting the less risky stacks of cards even before they could explain what they were doing.
Those with damaged brains were unable to modify behavior even after they cognitively understood how the game was rigged.
The take away is that embodied self awareness—the ability to feel your emotions and their correlated physical sensations—allows you to tap into more information than data alone, resulting in better decisions over the long run.
But how do you employ embodied self awareness in your own decision making process? The answer is to build your capacity for interoception, or the ability to feel sensations within your own body.
Here’s a simple embodied process you can use next time you’ve got a big decision to make:
1 Identify the options.
For example, say you’re looking to leave your job in favor of a new opportunity. You’ve received a job offer at a different company and need to decide if you’re going to take it.
Your options are: stay at your current job or take the new one.
2 Try it on for size.
Select one course of action, let’s say taking the new job, and notice what happens in your body when you consider choosing this path.
Focus on sensory experience. Does it feel like a 10,000 lb octopus thunked down on your chest? Do you pull your toes off the ground, clench your knees and your teeth? Or possibly there’s a lightness, your breath exhales in a whoosh and your shoulders sag in relief.
Once you have a rough idea of the sensation, further define it. What shape is it? Sharp and pointy, soft and round, tubular? Does it have a color? Texture?
Stay in sensation and avoid creating a story about what you’re feeling. You’re examining your felt sense the way a scientist would describe a specimen in a laboratory.
3 Ask: If this sensation had wisdom to share, what would it be?
Beware the knee-jerk reaction. For example, maybe you felt immediate fear when you considered leaving your job—a fluttering in your belly, a vice around your lungs, the tissue around your throat shrinking like a wool sweater in the dryer.
You could take the fear at face value and decide to reject this option. But if you pause, you might find a much deeper wisdom arises, like, “I’m afraid I’m not good enough,” or, “Taking this new job means I won’t have as much time to spend with my son and I’m afraid I’m going to resent that.”
Those are two very different expressions of fear and may expose the root of your hesitation, thus allowing you to choose something that’s in alignment with your values.
Repeat step three with the second option (in our example, staying at the current job).
Once you’ve completed this process, you should have a more well-rounded view of your options. Embodied self awareness allows you to actually feel your own preferences—literally, in your cells. And it stands to reason that if you can’t feel what you want in the first place, your decisions aren’t going to move you any closer to that thing.
Interoception is a muscle that must be exercised. The more you employ it in your daily decision making, the more nuanced your awareness will become and the more natural it will feel to make decisions from an embodied place.