The Balancing Act in Your Brain

Your brain is a battlefield. Two warring forces wage a constant struggle for dominance.

Okay, they’re more like a couple teenagers fighting over who gets the window seat on a long drive. Chances are, you keep giving the same kid the window seat.

And putting the other kid in the trunk.

balancing act

Be Reasonable; Make the Logical Choice

We’d all love to think that logic and reason are the foundation of our choices. Gotta keep those emotions in check when we’re making life’s big choices. After all, when we’re buying a house or car, choosing a life partner, or deciding what to eat or whether or not to have children, we want to make the best choice possible. We give logic the window seat, and put emotions in the trunk. Pure logic, we assume, leads to the best choices.

We’re wrong.

Pure logic is, in fact, incapable of decision. Incapable.

Research involving people with specific brain injuries which render them incapable of emotion has led scientist Antonio Dimasio to a surprising truth: without emotion, we cannot make decisions. These folks, instead of becoming Spock, the ultimate logic machine, always making the cleanest decision, become incapable of any decision at all.

Isn’t it nice that we have an old wives’ tale to rescue us?

Women’s Intuition

That’s what it used to be called back in the good old days of gender inequality. Men, obviously, used their brain to make smart decisions. Women, poor fragile things, just guessed at the answers to life, and when they got it right once in a while, they called it intuition.

Guys, we were such dolts.

We all have intuition. Research into how the brain works has revealed that our emotions, our intuition, our unconscious mind, are capable of miraculous feats when it comes to decision-making. In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explains the science behind thin-slicing—the brain’s remarkable ability to piece together cogent conclusions based on nearly instant analysis of broad swaths of information.

With training your intuition, your gut, can take on some of the decision-making load. In order to help our logical brain benefit from intuition, some decisions are best made with less information.

Tell Me Less!

Science writer Jonah Lehrer describes the process of buying a car. Read his book How We Decide for all the groovy details. Here’s the short version:

Car buyers who tried to research all 23 million aspects of prospective purchases (I made that number up) ended up choosing cars which failed to meet the criteria they had originally set for their new car. Another group of buyers went through a very different (and far more successful) process.

First, they compared a very limited number of options. Next, they slept on it. Finally, they were shown photos of the cars they were considering and simply chose one without thinking about it.

And, on the whole, made the best choice considering their original criteria.

Feeding your unconscious just enough information to matter, then letting it chug along unhindered, leads to better choices than endless research and analysis.

Fair Doesn’t Mean Equal—With Kids Or Your Brain

Choosing the spread for your morning toast or which Nero Wolfe novel to read next doesn’t require algorithmic input from your neocortex. Choosing who to spend the rest of your life deserves more than the whim of your libido (or facsimile thereof.)

Most of life’s decisions fall between the extremes. During the past decade, research has shown that good decision-making is a balancing act in your brain.

To learn more about how it works read How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. You might also like Descartes’ Error by Antonio Dimasio, The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, and The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar.

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